RAWALPINDI: A few dozen children gather daily at a small school in a slum near the Railway Station and Usman is one of them.
As a child of a lesser god, all he wanted from life was to make enough money from alms and rag-picking to make ends meet but could hardly earn Rs100 daily. The calluses and scars on his pale hands narrate the story of his hard work.
Usman had never thought of attending school, but is now enrolled in one and wants to contribute to society and become a responsible citizen. “I want to become a good human being first, a job comes next,” said Usman.
The ray of hope for children like him was realised when Fareedud Din Tariq set up a makeshift classroom in a Rawalpindi slum six years ago with a dream to equip local kids with education.
The institute has now been upgraded to a two-room apartment with three teachers and a watchman. The school, partially funded by a local NGO, is registered with the Rawalpindi Education Department and has 90 children enrolled till grade six. The school also provides them with books and uniforms.
Recalling the efforts, Tariq said that he used to go to every slum house to take children to the school known as Slum-Based School. The most difficult part was to convince parents to send their children to school as they were earning money through rag-picking, begging and labour. “We had 25 children in the beginning. The number has now increased to 85,” he said.
The school is changing lives. Six-year-old Latif wants to take action against anti-social elements by joining the police force. “I want to become a policeman and arrest all the thieves in the city,” he said.
Finding it difficult to make both ends meet, most parents still try to engage their children in begging. Only some of them succeed in doing so as education has changed their children’s mind. “I would not do the ugly job [begging] again. I want to read and learn,” said seven-year-old Salmaa, whose parents came to take her from school. They want her to start begging but she resists the approach.
“We know that education is good for our children but one cannot go ahead with an empty stomach,” said her father while elaborating on financial issues of his family.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 21st, 2015.
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