“Everything starts with a single thought,” said Rabbiya Abdullah, a final-year student of textile design at the Textile Institute of Pakistan. “Sooch was an idea that we thought could change lives and shape destinies.”
In 2010, Abdullah started teaching 15 children of the people working at her institute with her cousin, Nussebah Osman. Soon other students and teachers joined in, the number of students grew and Sooch was established.
Within a span of two years, Abdullah had not only registered her organisation as an active NGO but also accomplished the task of sending at least 59 children to different schools with the help of sponsors. The schools are: Happy Home School and Kids Heaven in Steel Town, Ahmed Public in Muslimabad, Landhi, Haji Ibrahim Community School and New Sunshine Public School in Bin Qasim, Shahnawaz Public School in Pipri, and Iqra Baitul Atfaal in Liaquatabad.
Abdullah said that out of the 59, 15 children still come to Sooch for tuitions and other recreational activities after school.
The organisation now has a total of 25 members – 10 are the founding members while the other 15 are board members. Abdullah herself is the president. “We do not have any grand designs to change the world,” said Abdullah. “Our ideas, like our mission, are humble.”
“We wanted to help the less privileged but with something more permanent and substantial than giving a beggar a few rupees and sending him away,” she said. “Initially we started with feeding people on a daily basis and would raise money for it. But later we decided that instead of giving people a fish every day, we should teach them to fish.”
This thought led the group to emphasise educating people. “We started teaching the children who lived in the squatter settlements around our campus,” said Qasim Ahmed, the general secretary of Sooch. He is currently in his third year of textile science programme. “We went to houses and spent time there so that we could gain the confidence of parents .”
Sooch also organised a couple of free medical camps to gain the trust of the people. One was set up in Steel Town and the other in Razzaqabad. Medical students and doctors volunteered their services and a couple of pharmaceutical companies donated medicines to treat common illnesses.
Talking about the experience of the past 22 months, the most interesting thing the team experienced, said Abdullah, was a change in the attitudes of the children they taught.
The children, when they first came in, wanted to take up the same profession as their parents and never even thought about anything more. “But after classes and countless counselling sessions with us we now have children who want to be firefighters, doctors, and engineers... even astronauts!”
Two years back when Abdullah asked Nauraiz, the son of a janitor, about what he wanted to do with his life, Nauraiz had said that he would help his father with his work. “But now, new horizons have opened up for him,” she said. “He dreams about being a pilot.”
Initially the team found it difficult to teach the children at times because they hailed from such diverse backgrounds. “We have lots of Christian and Muslim students,” said Abdullah. “Their parents used to tell them not to mingle too much with the ‘others’.” But with time the children looked past their differences and learned to tolerate religious differences.
The most difficult hurdle for Sooch was to get the girls to study. The parents of teenage girls did not allow them to leave homes and felt that there was no need for it.
Abdullah estimated that presently the organisation spends a minimum of Rs2,000 on a single child per year. Ahmed said that so far the sponsors had covered the cost of books, uniforms and other accessories for the children. “But we would like to educate as many children as we can in the future.”
Those who want to help Sooch educate children can deposit their money at Muslim Commercial Bank, Defence Housing Authority Branch, Account title: Sooch Welfare Organisation; Account No. 0557834861005029; Branch Code: 0061. They can also give cash to the organisation itself.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 8th, 2012.
Correction: Due to an editing error, the article had incorrectly named "Textile Institute of Pakistan"as "Textile Design Institute of Pakistan". The error has been rectified.