LAHORE: There exists a school in the provincial capital where students gather underneath the open sky, next to the highway, and claim their right to an education. The school is a haven for nomadic and homeless children between the ages of five and 15 who are taught by a retired teacher of the Pakistan Air Force.
The makeshift school is located at a distance of one kilometre from Shaukat Khanum Cancer Memorial Hospital, near the highway and a heap of trash. The students at the school can be spotted in their bright, tattered clothing, drenched in sweat, at the mercy of the elements.
The students attend classes in the morning and in the evening. During the rest of the day, the boys can be spotted on the city’s roads, selling flowers, cleaning cars and engaging in other tasks to earn a living. Meanwhile, the girls look after the homes and other domestic chores.
Retired from the Pakistan Air Force, Waheed Abbas has dedicated his time and energy towards educating the children living in slums.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Abbas revealed that a large part of his life has been spent teaching. “After retiring from the air force, I decided to dedicate my life to teaching and educating homeless children as well as those living in slums,” he explained.
He maintained that education is the basic right of each and every citizen of the country. He added that he has been teaching the children living in the slums for the past few months in the morning and in the evening.
“These children have an immeasurable amount of talent. If they are provided with proper tutoring, opportunities and mentorship, they too can play a part in the prosperity and the development of the country,” he stated.
He expressed that often times, the biggest obstacle is convincing the parents that their child can become successful in life by reading and writing. “Now, boys and girls between the ages of five and 15 come to me regularly to learn how to read and write,” he said.
He stated that the biggest issue they were currently facing was the fact that the children have to sit beneath an open sky during the intense summer heat and humidity.
“There are hundreds of slums in Johar Town. If the government cannot construct a proper building for the kids, then they can at least make arrangements to reduce the problems they are facing,” he said. He said that the country’s children are the key to a bright and prosperous future.
“Their hands are not meant to beg for alms by the roadside. They are meant to pick up pens in higher education institutions,” he expressed. By focusing on such children, the prime minister’s dream of a prosperous Pakistan can be fulfilled, he added.
And this dream is also shared by the students Abbas’ school who unanimously expressed their commitment to contributing towards the nation. When asked what they wanted to be when they grow up, a chorus of ‘military officer’, ‘doctor’, ‘engineer’ and ‘businessman’ reverberated through the air.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, they said that schools located near their homes have changed their lives for the better.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2019.