It took a global funding campaign – and a little help from her friend pop queen Madonna – to get Humaira Bachal her dream school. “The Dream School is finally finished. 1,200 kids attending. Knowledge is Power!” singer and social activist Madonna announced on the photo-sharing website Instagram on Monday, with a photograph of the Dream Model Street School in Karachi’s Mawach Goth.
“Half the funding came through crowd sourcing,” explains 26-year-old Humaira Bachal, president of the Dream Foundation Trust. “Madonna promised that she would match the amount donated and now the school has been completed at a total cost of $57,648.”
In June last year, Humaira was introduced to the world by Madonna and award-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy at a live concert in London held by Chime for Change, a global campaign promoting education, health and justice for girls and women the world over.
At the time, the Dream School was a one-storey building with four rooms, catering to more than 300 students. “Let’s help Humaira build a bigger school in Pakistan! You build the first floor, I’ll build the rest of the school,” Madonna had said at the Chime for Change event, encouraging fans to donate to the project.
The school is now a four-storey building with 28 classrooms, a science and computer lab and play area. And while a total of $57,648 went into creating these four floors, it took 940 children to get one last thing right: the colour of the school.
“The children had two demands: the school would be a rainbow of colours and there would be lots of plants and flowers. This was a project for all of us,” Humaira explains. “The school uses an integrated system of learning and so construction went on while the kids were at school – we just got involved in the construction and learned everything we could about it.”
Students and teachers helped out on site, grabbing measuring tapes and colour swatches to make sure they had the school they wanted. “I never wanted this to be a project where an engineer swoops in, makes something and then leaves,” Humaira says.
The project was completed in a record 11 months and Humaira admits it has been “challenging but interesting”. “I was accountable before the whole world because the money had been crowd sourced and was available for one year only,” she explains. “Pakistani projects are known for one thing: the money disappears and no one knows where it has gone. I wanted to end that perception.”
Madonna’s team at the Ray of Light foundation stayed in touch with Humaira through the process and in April, she attended the Women of the World summit in New York. “I went to Madonna’s home for chai with Sharmeen (Obaid Chinoy) and gave her a big painting made by the students as well as a thank-you card.” Was she nervous? “I had no idea she was such a big deal,” Humaira says, laughing. “Madonna hai kya, ye nahin pata tha. But when she said she would support us, I was so happy, I went and found out more about her and I was very proud.”
Most of the people of Mawach Goth do not know about the school’s rockstar foundations and Humaira prefers to keep it this way. “Madonna didn’t ask us for anything like a plaque in the school and we chose not to tell people in Pakistan,” Humaira says. The main star here, she says, is the school.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 30th, 2014.