In the densely populated cluster of houses in Baldia Town’s slum settlement of Mawach Goth, residents believe that a young woman in her early 20s has the potential to pave the way for their future.
In this neighbourhood, where education was deemed worthless merely a decade ago, now stands a one-storey building in Bohri Muhalla, where over 1,200 children, receive formal and vocational education by 25 volunteers in 11 spacious rooms.
The school is named Dream Model Street School and residents of the neighbourhood know only one face behind the change – 24-year-old Humaira Bachal – whose incessant efforts, spanning over a period of 12 years, they have witnessed, opposed but ultimately welcomed.
A long journey
Bachal’s journey started back in 2001, when she was merely a grade six student. Along with her sister and three friends, she took up teaching the neighbourhood children at her house on her own expense. At that time, her higher education was at stake in the face of stiff resistance from the elders of the family, whom she grew up with in the feudal setting of Tando Hafiz Shah in Thatta district. Bachal’s father moved with his family to Karachi and settled in Mawach Goth but could hardly break free from his family traditions.
Humaira Bachal, 24, has finally succeeded in opening up Dream Model School in Mawach Goth. She had been pursuing this dream for the past six years. The school is open to both girls and boys. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS
Mawach Goth comprises different communities, who cumulatively shaped a culture, which Bachal believed was not any different from that of rural Sindh. “Going out for girls even for the purpose of education was considered a taboo. The lone public school in the locality was not functioning as parents did not want to spend money on even educating the boys.”
In this setting, she mustered the courage to take responsibility of the education of other girls. An incident that cemented her determination was when she witnessed the tragic death of her cousin’s eight-month-old son. “The child turned blue one day and everybody believed the mother had killed him,” she recalled. “She had given the child an anti-fever syrup which expired around two years ago as she could not read.”
By the time Bachal got her Matriculation in 2004, she decided to expand her small home-school to a bigger premises. “It was certainly odd for the elders that a 15-year-old girl was asking them for a place to educate others.”
Finally, they managed to acquire a two-room place at Rs1,000 monthly rent , which they paid for from their pocket money until 2007, when Shirkat Gah- a women’s rights organisation- took notice.
“The school managed to survive due to the books collected from public schools in nearby areas. We also organised door-to-door campaigns to counsel parents,” said Bachal. “On one particular instance, some people got so infuriated that they pelted stones at our school.”
Inspired by the title of a Shirkat Gah documentary, the makeshift school finally got a name in 2009 with Bachal also establishing Dream Foundation Trust through which she intends to focus on 114 similar slum settlements located across Keamari.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2013.