SUKKUR: Two years ago, plastic tables were an integral part of 10-year-old Atif Ali’s life - he would scrub them all day long for a pittance. But thanks to a support programme, he was introduced to a different kind of table - this one was full of numbers and taught him how to multiply.
Atif was one of the children from impoverished families selected by the National Rural Support Programme for enrollment at a school. “Recalling the past isn’t pleasant for me,” he told The Express Tribune. “Being born in a poor family means that every child has to work.” His father works as a labourer and his brothers have also taken up an assortment of odd jobs to help make ends meet. Before he got his break, Atif used to work at a roadside tea stall too, washing cups and saucers from 9am all the way to 9pm. At the end of the day, the owner of the stall would deposit Rs100 into his tiny but weathered palm.
Ten-year-old Asif studies at the Government Girls Primary School in Sukkur. His studies are being funded by the National Rural Support Programme. PHOTO: EXPRESS
In 2010 an opportunity presented itself and Atif capitalised on it, trading his mop and washcloth for pencils and erasers. “My mother took me to a training centre where many children of our neighbourhood were being taught.”
The place was one of the 46 non-formal training centres, which have been established under the programme in Sukkur. They serve as a limbo where children are groomed over a period of six months so that they can adjust to school life. After being trained, the children sit for admission tests of different schools. If they clear them, the programme funds them till they sit for their Matric exams.
“I was brought to Government Girls Primary School where I was granted admission to class III,” said Atif. His mother Aisha Abbasi said the family felt the pinch when they decided to send Atif to school instead of the roadside stall. But she said that it would be small price to pay if Atif gets to fulfill his dream of becoming a soldier. Seven-year-old Maira, a student of class II, was also one of the children selected by the programme.
Her father earns too little to feed the family of eight. “I used to work as a maid in two houses and earned just Rs500 per month,” she told The Express Tribune. Maira would often look wistfully at girls of her age heading off to school in crisp uniforms and wished for one of her own.
And one day, her dreams did come true - her mother decided to take her to one of the programme’s training centres.
“The lady who I worked for used to scold me, telling me that I was not good at dusting and sweeping at all,” said Maira. Though she might not have been good at shining floors, she really did shine in the classroom - the school’s headmistress, Najma Pathan, said that Maira was one of the brightest students in the school, as was Atif. “We have given admission to 175 children who have completed training at non-formal education centres across the district,” said Pathan.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th, 2012.
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