Generation next

Published: May 16, 2010
For 15 years, The Citizens Foundation has been empowering children who wouldn’t otherwise get a shot of a quality education. A meeting with some of its first graduates reveals just how their lives changed.

For 15 years, The Citizens Foundation has been empowering children who wouldn’t otherwise get a shot of a quality education. A meeting with some of its first graduates reveals just how their lives changed.

For 15 years, The Citizens Foundation has been empowering children who wouldn’t otherwise get a shot of a quality education. A meeting with some of its first graduates reveals just how their lives changed. For 15 years, The Citizens Foundation has been empowering children who wouldn’t otherwise get a shot of a quality education. A meeting with some of its first graduates reveals just how their lives changed. For 15 years, The Citizens Foundation has been empowering children who wouldn’t otherwise get a shot of a quality education. A meeting with some of its first graduates reveals just how their lives changed. For 15 years, The Citizens Foundation has been empowering children who wouldn’t otherwise get a shot of a quality education. A meeting with some of its first graduates reveals just how their lives changed.

Anum Fatima wants to be the Chief Financial Officer of a multinational company and she is well on her way.

Studying at the College of Business Management (CBM), one of the country’s most prestigious private universities, the 20-year-old exudes confidence. She credits her teachers for inspiring her to do better. “I remember when I was in Class IX, my teacher Miss Nighat told me to keep working hard because I would go far,” she says. That Anum is a chauffeur’s daughter from Bhains Colony makes her progress even more inspirational.

She is only one of the students of The Citizens Foundation (TCF) whose lives have changed dramatically, who have, for the first time, been presented with real opportunity. “If I had not gone to TCF, I would not have studied beyond Intermediate,” she says. “It would have been much too expensive for my father.” With five children to support on a monthly income of Rs 7,000, Anum’s father could not really see the use of higher education till he sent his younger ones to the TCF school that had opened in the Landhi Buffalo Colony in Karachi’s suburbs. Anum remembers looking through her siblings’ schoolbooks.

“Their text books and homework seemed so interesting, I wondered what the school was like from the inside. I longed to go but I was afraid my father would be angry,” she says. But when her father saw the difference in his younger children, he himself enrolled Anum at TCF’s Shireen Sultan Dossa Campus. Across Pakistan, TCF schools are empowering children from disadvantaged backgrounds to take charge of their lives and their environment, breeding a new set of thinkers, enabling what TCF director Ateed Riaz calls ‘full citizenship’.

We’ve heard the TCF story before ­— how, 15 years ago, six business heavyweights, frustrated with dinner party banter about the country’s dismal state, decided to devise a solution; how, when they listed the country’s most acute problems — poverty, health, intolerance, population, education, water and sanitation — they realised that they were all linked to a lack of education; and how they pledged to battle ignorance by developing a programme to build 1000 schools.

In 1995, five TCF schools were built in Karachi’s biggest slums. Fifteen years on, TCF has 92,000 students studying in 660 schools in Pakistan. However, what has really set it apart is its unique philosophy. Unlike other non-profits, the TCF head office on a weekday is buzzing with purposeful energy. It was from this office that Haleema Sadia received a call that changed her life. A TCF student in the Al Ameen Campus, Jumma Himaiti Goth, Sadia got a low mark in her Intermediate exam which made her give up her studies. “I’d got engaged,” she says, “and I had a low percentage in the Inter exam. Even before my family started pressuring me, I’d given up.

But it broke my heart to think that I would not be able to pursue my dreams, that my education would terminate at an Inter degree. Then I got a call from Naima Hasan encouraging me to apply to university. I think she must have made this call to every student, but for me that call had a special significance. The thought that my education mattered to somebody goaded me into pursuing my studies.” Today, Haleema Sadia is a graduate of the Federal University and plans on working after finishing a short course in web design. Her sister Azeema, who did her Matric in 2006, is studying for a Bachelors of Computer Science at the renowned Bahria University.

Azeema gets up at the crack of dawn everyday for the two-hour commute from her town on the outskirts of Karachi to Bahria University. She frequently arrives home well after maghrib for which she is scolded by her grandmother. But she loves every minute of her life. “Attaining this kind of education was unthinkable for us before,” explains Haleema Sadia. “We want to change the attitudes in our community which prevent girls from studying or working.” Young women from Pakistan’s rural areas are doing just that.

Rural Pakistan has an abysmal literacy rate and few women from Roranwala, Punjab venture into higher education. Durdana Rehman is a remarkable exception. After completing her Matric from TCF’s Shirin Sultan Dossa Campus II she went to Defence Degree College for Women in Lahore. Now, she is doing an MBBS at the highly competitive Fatima Jinnah Medical College which not only has students from all over Pakistan but also expatriates from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other countries. By pursuing her dream of becoming a doctor, Rehman has become a trailblazer, a role model that other women in her village can follow.

There is Irfan Kilyar, who says he never gave much thought to his studies before joining TCF. Now he is a confident and driven young man with experience in the real estate business, a stint managing the Unilever account at The Resource Group, and plans of doing an MBA and CFA. He has now left his job to study for the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) entrance test. Education is, among other things, a status symbol and Pakistan’s bastions of learning — the Grammar School, LUMS, Aitchison — also present barriers of class.

Students from low-income communities are crossing this barrier with TCF’s aid. Thirteen-year-old Saqib Shaukat, the son of a police constable from Bhai Pheroo, has received a scholarship at the traditionally elitist Aitchison College and is studying at an institution which nurtures the country’s leadership. TCF’s achievement is not simply ‘educating the poor’ but, crucially, bringing them into mainstream society, liberating them from their narrow orbits, equipping them with the vision and zeal to follow new paths. Many TCF students return to their alma mater to serve as teachers and managers, others opt for higher studies.

This contrasts sharply with the performance of other educational NGOs where producing even Matric graduates is considered a major big achievement. One of the reasons for this, naturally, is the network of connections and influence available to the captains of industry who comprise the board. Anees Hussain, the preparatory lessons provider, gives free classes to select students from TCF. Similarly, universities like IBA and CBM give special consideration to students’ background when deciding admissions, taking pragmatic steps to fulfill great ambitions. In the maze of Pakistan’s hazily defined education system, TCF has made available the practical channels these children need to succeed.

Moreover, TCF is a charity which is run as a corporate entity, with audited accounts, publicly available financial statements and maximum transparency. The set manuals, software and strong management system give the organisation such a powerful potential for replication that founding member Ateed Riaz likens it to McDonald’s. But the real determinant of success is the commitment to making the school experience meaningful for each and every child. The aim, says Riaz, is to create ‘full citizenship’. “The first thing is to take these children through eight to ten years of a positive environment. Your environment has a subliminal effect on you.

We are all products of the formal system [of schooling] and we want these children to have the same experiences.” This is the reason that, while other NGOs see the lack of education as a problem and are content to impart it in make-shift premises, TCF sees a beautiful, spacious, purpose-built school-building as integral to the process of empowering children. “We are breaking a barrier,” says Beena Kohati, who manages marketing relations “We’re telling these kids that you can also have this sort of a life — through education.”

As for Anum, future CFO, she laughs when recounting how her father shows people her photograph in the TCF newsletter. “He boasts about me every chance he gets.” These first few graduates of TCF — young people from backgrounds devoid of opportunity, resistant to change — will be role models for the next generation in their communities and harbingers of societal change.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 16th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • Afshan Y. Jujara
    May 16, 2010 - 12:50PM

    Education itself is not suffice till it reaps results. The fact that they are even making an effort to bring the students into mainstream society, post schooling, speaks volumes about how much vast they consider ‘education’ to be. Its about time, the rest of us too, come out of our shells and look upon education as learning instead of studying.Recommend

  • Ahson Rabbani
    May 17, 2010 - 4:33PM

    Pakistan’s problems can only be solved when Pakistanis stand up to solve them. TCF and many other well meaning nonprofits continue to inspire the imagination of Pakistanis. Kudos to The Express Tribune for covering news that really matter.Recommend

  • Umair
    May 17, 2010 - 5:40PM

    The Citizen Foundation is like a beacon in the darkness of greed and selfishness that is Pakistan. I really salute it.Recommend

  • Tabish
    May 18, 2010 - 12:47PM

    “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” ~Victor Hugo
    This is what Pakistan needs. Recommend

  • Imtiaz Ahmad
    May 18, 2010 - 8:57PM

    Indeed TCF is dreaming these big dreams for theses honest and hardworking kids. They will be Pakistan’s new elite generation which will change the landscape and surely will make a “dent” in Pakistan’s future for a better tolerant and civil scoiety. As John Ruskin, an English critic once said, ” Education does not mean teaching people to know what they do not know; it means teaching them to behave as they do not behave”. Recommend

  • May 18, 2010 - 10:03PM

    The Citizens Foundation “TCF” has, above all, provided a level playing field to the underprivileged population of Pakistan. In a country where the quality of education is so distinctly inferior for the poor and less fortunate that they stand no chance to ever compete or challenge the few elite and affluent, TCF has changed all that for a 100,000 or so children of Pakistan. Any support to an institution like TCF is like supporting the mankind.

    Abdullah S. Jafari

    Houston, Texas, USARecommend

  • Murtaza M Hussain
    May 18, 2010 - 11:04PM


  • Dr Nadeemuddin Qureshi
    May 19, 2010 - 5:36AM

    A major difference between developed and developing countries is education. History demonstartes that when nations were conquered the first thing demolished was library and educational institutes so that the defeated nation cannot develop a bright future for generations to come. Pakistan will change its image when the people of Pakistan develop independent ideology and creativity. This will happen with knowledge and knowledge only. TCF is guiding Pakistan towards this goal. Providing education to those who could only dream of acquiring it means that these citizens will stand up one day to make Pakistan a better and a stronger place to live. My sincere wholehearted support for an NGO who has illustrated the right pathway of success for this beloved nation.Recommend

  • Mustafa S. Ali
    May 19, 2010 - 9:26AM

    Commendable work!

    There is not double that the nation’s fate can only change through it’s educated masses. The sooner we realize, the better!Recommend

  • Zubair Faiz
    May 19, 2010 - 10:20AM

    Basic education is an inherent right of every child born on a Pakistani soil. Its not just for the privileged few. I agree with Ahson’s comment above and like to Thank Tribune for bringing these stories to the masses. Every story is quite touching and amazing and I salute these individual for achieving and following their dreams against all odds. And BIG Thanks to TCF for providing the Education Platform. Recommend

  • Asif Misbah
    May 19, 2010 - 10:37AM

    The benevolent intent of the founders and the hardwork and commitment of the management team is reflected in the accomplishments of TCF. Organizations like the TCF set a wonderful example for all Pakistanis to start believing in themselves and start contributing and becoming part of a purpose greater than the self. I pray that the TCF experience would not just provide the children the education they need to get a job but the desire to be life long learners and the vision to achieve greatness regardless of one’s station in life.Recommend

  • Qasim Kazmi
    May 19, 2010 - 12:50PM

    Keep up the good work. It may take decades but over time, let us hope and pray, that the next generation would reap the benefits of your efforts, Insha Allah.Recommend

  • May 19, 2010 - 7:13PM

    All of our employees in Islamabad have made the TCF effort our education organization of choice. We have been in Pakistan for 7 years and there is no question that the solution to most of the issues in the counrty can be improved through EDUCATION at every level.Recommend

  • Aysha Khan
    May 20, 2010 - 3:09AM

    Well done TCF! Your efforts to establish egalatarianism & education are truly exemplary. This is key to Pakistan’s bid to secure prosperity and success for generations to come, insha’Allah.

    Instead of emulating and investing in nuclear power of the West, we should look at how they recovered from wars and rebuilt their nations. Recommend

  • Beenish Piracha
    May 20, 2010 - 3:35PM

    This article is such an eye-opener for people like me who know that TCF is doing a great job but how and to what extent is what I just came to know.While I was reading about the significant contributions made by TCF I could not help crying because it is just so amazing to see these under-privileged people getting ahead in life through education. Hats off to TCF for providing such beautiful, real-life success stories for print media like The Express Tribune!May Allah Almighty help us to make real difference in the lives that we touch and May He continue to shower His blessings upon TCF family.Ameen. Recommend

  • Hera Shaikh
    May 20, 2010 - 4:54PM

    This is Brilliant indeed!Like a famous Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” TCF has been that first step for those 92 000 childre, and has taken them a long long way. I hope, and pray that this journey will keep going on, for all the students who have made TCF what it is. Inshallah.Recommend

  • Amna
    May 21, 2010 - 2:13AM

    Kudos to you for bringing The Citizens Foundation’s literacy efforts in the limelight. Two Thumbs Up, Ms. Zehra!Recommend

  • May 31, 2010 - 6:15PM

    The citizen foundation is doing a great job indeed, illumintating the lives of 1000s f children with education is not an easy task, Hats off for the great efforts of TCF.Recommend

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