KARACHI: When asked if they would avail the opportunity to study, the little labourers of Bengali Para had wondered in amazement if that could really be possible.
Noor-e-Ilm School founder Sohail Khan was addressing students of the Benazir Bhutto Shaheed University, Lyari, during the second session of the ‘I Am Karachi Talks’ on Tuesday.
Khan made the audience stand in honour when he narrated a poignant tale of the obstacles he faced to acquire education and then impart it to others — all the while living in Bengali Para.
Speaking about his journey, Khan said that his admission in Korangi Academy became a turning point in his life. “I got a good education for Rs300 per month,” he said. “During my stay at Korangi Academy, I learned about the English Access Micro-scholarship Programme sponsored by the United States (US) Embassy in Islamabad.” Khan was later chosen as the official representative of Pakistan to fly to the US.
According to Khan, the real struggle began on his return from the US. “I was selected for the BE Electronics programme at Iqra University but my parents refused to provide financial support,” he said. “Meanwhile, I heard about Infaq Foundation that provided interest-free loans to underprivileged students.”
He finally got enrolled in Iqra University thanks to the loan provided by Infaq Foundation. Living in the US had infused a sense of community work in Khan. While studying, he looked around the environs of Bengali Para. He realised that the families living in the area were sending their children to work for daily wages. “I talked to many children, from the child who collected garbage to the child who served tea at a local dhaba,” he said. “I asked them if they would like to study if an avenue was provided to them.” According to him, the children curiously asked if this was really possible.
Khan had successfully sparked a curiosity for education in the children of his area. However, this was not enough; the real mission then was to obtain the approval of the parents to let their children get an education. “I was mocked by the people when I went from door to door to persuade them,” he said. “People even called me an agent of the US sent in to brainwash the children of Pakistan.”
Undeterred by the criticism, Khan persuaded the parents in the area to educate their children. “They agreed to send their children to my school, which was named Noor-e-Ilm, in the evening after their working hours,” he said. “It was difficult for me to manage my academic load along with teaching the children. But it did not hinder my passion to educate children.”
Starting from 25 children, Noor-e-Ilm educates over 100 children from Bengali Para today.
“I want to thank the ‘I Am Karachi’ team for providing me with adequate funding to manage the expenses of my school,” he said. “Noor-e-Ilm still stands on its feet today with an aim to provide free education to all the children involved in child labour.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 20th, 2015.