KARACHI: Muhammad Soomar, 9, has been visiting the Shahnawaz Bhutto Public Library Larkana (SBPLL) for the last one year. He sold candies and other confectionary items in the morning and tried to learn a few words in the evening.
On Monday, Soomar attended school for the first time in his life. He is also the first member of his family to sit in a classroom.
At his new school, Soomar may plenty of catching up to do with his peers but he is already off to a flying start – courtesy a good Samaritan who agreed to teach him the alphabet at the public library.
It all began in July, when Soomar convinced a regular visitor to the SBPLL to teach him how to reach. In a few weeks, he could read and write basic sentences. During this, another student took a picture of Soomar, neatly tucked in a wooden chair, engrossed in his book. The student uploaded the picture to their Facebook page and it soon went viral. In all this time, Soomar’s family was none the wiser that the child was using the time to study.
“His family had no idea that he was also studying in the library,” said Shams Kalhoro, the assistant director of the SBPLL. “We received many calls and texts regarding his presence in the library,” he added, referring to the photos that went viral.
Soomar used to sell sweets in different portions of the library and started requesting students if they could teach him some basics. “I have never seen a child studying in the main portion of the library with so much enthusiasm,” Kalhoro added.
The family was equally surprised to learn of the child’s affinity towards getting an education. “We had no idea that Soomar was also studying in the library,” said his elder brother, Waheed Ali Chandio. “We can’t afford schooling.” He said that with the support of Soomar, he barely managed to cover the family’s expenses. “My father used to sell sweets but now he can’t even walk,” he said.
First day at school
Soomar attended school for the first time at The Eastwood School located in Sachal Colony of Larkana city. “It was not easy to convince the family to allow him [Soomar] to go to school daily,” said Ahsan Abro, the school’s owner.
When Abro saw the picture on social media, he started asking around about the child. “I thoroughly checked his books and found him to be an intelligent boy,” he said, adding that boy’s father was unwilling as he wanted him to support the family.
Waheed said that Soomar was earning at least Rs300 daily. “Now, I have to look after all the financial matters of my family,” he told The Express Tribune.
“We’re trying to arrange a part-time job for the boy so the family will allow him to continue his education,” pledged Abro, who is also trying to arrange free tuitions for the child.
“The boy wants to join the army. His aims are so high. He seems curious to learn,” said Abro. He added that the school’s management has provided him with a uniform, books and stationery. “We want to help him realise his goals,” said Abro
The foundation stone of the SBPLL was laid in 1974 during the reign of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In 1984, it was inaugurated by the then federal minister, Ellahi Bux Soomro, through the efforts of former Larkana deputy commissioner, Mohammad Hasham Memon.
The library was handed over to Sindh Culture Department in 1987.
There are 105,000 books available in the library that is divided into different sections, including two halls reserved for those appearing in competitive exams. The total seating capacity of the library is 1,250, including 250 seats reserved for women.
During working days, the library opens its doors at 8am but the students line up at the entrance even before 7am. “It’s like a daily morning assembly at a school,” laughed Kalhoro.
“The contribution of SBPLL is tremendous. It has produced top bureaucrats of Pakistan. It offers an ideal environment to the candidates for competitive exams,” said Dr Ghulam Mustafa Bughio, a PhD scholar, who used the facility during his schooling years.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2019.