Artistic bond: Mothers, children choose flowers, not guns to paint life in Lyari neighbourhood

Kiran School and Integrated People exhibit works of Lyari residents at Koel gallery.

About 21 children of Kiran School, between four and twelve years, and their mothers display their art works at Koel Gallery. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

KARACHI: When Lyari residents paint about their life in the city’s most volatile neighbourhood, they choose flowers and playgrounds, instead of guns and grenades.

Nearly 21 works of these graduates of Kiran School System, most of whom are between the ages of four and 12 years, were on display at Koel gallery on Thursday. Against the backdrop of these innocent images of Lyari, the young artists’ mothers displayed trendy and vibrant accessories that they made in workshops held at Kiran school by the Integrated People’s designer Sara Khatri.

About 21 children of Kiran School, between four and twelve years, and their mothers display their art works at Koel Gallery. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

Teaching life skills

The exhibition was the result of a one-year-long mother-child programme that Kiran school offers. “We teach mothers’ essential life skills,” said Sabina Khatri, the director of Kiran School Systems in Lyari that has over 100 students.

Once the year-long programme is completed, the preschooler is transferred to mainstream schools, she explained, listing proudly that 19 of her students were admitted to St Michael’s Convent School, 32 to Happy Home, nine at Habib Public School and four at Head Start. Each student has a donor who covers the school expenses, she added.

Making sure they maintain ties, Sabina invites the alumni to attend school programmes. “Most of the students belong to uneducated families,” she pointed out. “So we try to provide informal training to mothers so when their child is in a mainstream school, they can fit in easily.”

Every now and then, the school arranges master speaker sessions for mothers to help them learn basic life skills. “There is a need to eliminate the class differences,” she insisted. It is equally important that a child from Lyari gets out of his bubble and mingles with a diverse group of students and a child from a rich neighbourhood also needs exposure to children from all backgrounds.

About 21 children of Kiran School, between four and twelve years, and their mothers display their art works at Koel Gallery. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

Sabina plans to seek the government’s help to designate five seats in private schools for underprivileged children. More preparatory schools will help parents and children who are passionate about education, she said.

Innocent expressions

For the exhibition at Koel, visual artists Madiha Sikander and Ahsan Jamal conducted a five-week summer art workshop for Kiran School alumni. Sikander told i about how Kiran School is not only grooming the child but also his family and then placing them in mainstream schools. “Teaching these children changed my perspective about Lyari as the children and their families are very brave,” she said. “Even though death is a common dialogue for them, they still bounce back to normalcy.”

Jamal also appreciated the honesty in the art works. Young children are encouraged in schools to draw butterflies and houses as art and that is how we perceive beauty, he said, adding that the idea that a child needs to visually express what he feels and sees is not appreciated. For example, Rehan Shah, a student of class two at St Michael’s draws a police car in these artworks. “He could be drawing a sea full of fish but somehow there will be a police car present in his works,” he said. “His honest expressions and his need to comprehend and express the effects of his surroundings on his psyche need to be appreciated and encouraged.”

Cottage industry empowering women

With NGO Integrated People, the Khatris plan to start a cottage industry in underdeveloped areas.

Sabina Khatri’s daughter, Sara, teaches workshops on the process of making handicrafts and accessories to Lyari mothers. “My purpose is to empower these mothers and to give them confidence in their work and their abilities,” she said. Nearly 70 per cent of the women who attend her workshops are the mothers of Kiran School students. The rest of them are residents of Lyari dreaming of starting their own businesses.

In the future, Sara wants to make better accessories and to brand them better. “When people buy these accessories because they like them, not because they pity these women, it is a great compliment to the participants,” she said. The profits from the sale of the accessories are paid to the artisans. “Integrated People is empowering these women who then contribute 10 per cent of their earnings to another NGO.”

Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2013.

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