By Muhammad Shafique Raja
ISLAMABAD, (APP): Ten-year-old Zulaikha had never thought to go to school as unlike her peers she had to scavenge through bins, garbage dumps and even drains of sector I-10 of the Capital to find out some sellable rubbish every day before returning home in the evening in a slum of the same sector.
But thanks to National University of Modern Languages’ (NUML) programme ‘Charagh-e-Badr’ for giving hope to her and several other kids like her, now she has a bag full of books and notebooks and a tidy uniform.
She is happy and enthusiastic and determined to become a doctor when she grows up. “I wanted to go to school but my parents said they did not have money to buy books and notebooks for me.
“We are a big family and I had to earn to help my parents to feed my younger brothers and sisters,” she said as she writes on her notebook in a brightly decorated classroom in Johar Block of NUML. Sitting on a nearby desk twelve-year old Jumma Khan explains how he used to go outside in the wee hours of morning to earn by polishing shoes in Islamabad’s various markets.
“I would leave my home early in the morning with my wooden shoe polish box. I never heard my parents talking about my education. They were simply satisfied that I was contributing to increase family’s income,” he said.
Zulaikha and Jumma Khan are among 30 children, registered with the ‘Charagh-e-Badr’ programme that targets marginalized kids to prepare them for entry into mainstream life. Many of them have hair raising stories to share.
They describe their previous life as years of begging, picking pockets, scavenging and sniffing solvents. But now they are determined to become educated and make their lives better.
“Now I have my new bag. I spend most of my time in reading and writing and thinking to become a professor like him,” added Jumma Khan with a flashing dimpled grin while pointing towards Professor Arshad Mahmood Raja, the coordinator of ‘Charagh-e-Badr’.
Started in November, last year, the programme is a brainchild of incumbent Rector of NUML Major General ® Zia Uddin Najam, who believes Pakistan’s impoverished kids can play a pivotal role in driving economic development provided all, including the universities feel their responsibilities and extend helping hand to the government to increase literacy rate.
“One important purpose of the universities is community outreach. They (universities) have funds and human resources. They can approach the underprivileged class, particularly by imparting education to their children,” he said.
He said that NUML had also initiated a school patronizing project under which it was assisting schools in less developed areas of the Capital. “Currently, we’re patronizing a private school in sector G-12 and are planning to extend this programme in the near future.”
“We’ve sufficient funds. Money is also coming to us in the form of ‘NUML Zakat Fund’ and we’ll ensure it should be transmitted to those who deserve the most,” a resolute Zia Uddin added.
He said he would make sure that NUML’s ‘Charagh-e-Badr’ and school adoption projects remain alive in the future and nobody stops them. “Good deeds should never cease. We’ll approve these projects through our executive body and make them a permanent part of our university ordinance.
We’ll also avail expertise of our former rectors and engage them in these projects.
“We’re also considering to involve our university students in these projects by adding social welfare works as credit hours in their courses,” he said.
Professor Arshad Raja explained the difficulties faced by him and his team in convincing the parents to send these children for education. “For them (parents) there was no point in education. They were relying on income from their children.
“But now they’ve started realizing that their kids are doing well. We can witness a change in their minds now,” he said.
“Since these children did not have even a bit of formal schooling, we’d to teach them very basic things – such as how to hold a pencil and how to sharpen it,” said Fatima Shigri, a BS student, who has been hired by NUML to teach these kids Mathematics, Urdu and English.
“We even teach them how to wash hands, take bath, brush teeth and take lunch,” added another teacher, Mohammad Ali Khalid.
“But the good thing about these children is that they have a strong desire to learn. They are different from other kids – highly obedient and eager to excel,” both the teachers added.
According to an official of Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training the total spending on education had been increased significantly in last three years. “Owing to this the number of out-of-school children in the country has significantly decreased. Two years earlier, around 25.9 million children were out-of-school, but now the number has come down to around 24 million,” he said.
The number can be further reduced if all, including the universities follow the precedent set by NUML and play their role in increasing literacy rate.