How a group of dedicated friends changed the lives of 150 children

Published: January 8, 2014
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Renaissance Pakistan was initiated by a group of friends who were determined to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the most needy. PHOTO:OFFICIAL FACEBOOK PAGE (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Renaissance-Pakistan/269211783106308?sk=info)

Renaissance Pakistan was initiated by a group of friends who were determined to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the most needy. PHOTO:OFFICIAL FACEBOOK PAGE (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Renaissance-Pakistan/269211783106308?sk=info) Renaissance Pakistan was initiated by a group of friends who were determined to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the most needy. PHOTO: OFFICIAL FACEBOOK PAGE (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Renaissance-Pakistan/269211783106308?sk=info)

For a country with a population of 180 million, out of which 36 .7 per cent are under the age of 15, the education system of Pakistan is simply disgraceful. Although there is always a hue-and-cry about the importance of education by our leaders, little is actually done to implement the extensive measures that the government claims to pursue.

As a result of the state’s negligence and the sheer inadequacy of infrastructure, millions of young children are unable to fight their way out of the poverty-stricken struggle that seems to be their destiny.

Pakistan is currently rated number two on the global ranking of school children which means that a staggering 25 million children are out of school in the country, although this is perhaps not too surprising given the fall in education spending to a miserly 1.5 per cent as opposed to 2.5 per cent during Musharraf’s era.

Of course, for Pakistan’s demagogic leaders defence spending, investment in property abroad and conspiracy theories appear to be more viable alternatives to the country’s problems than improving the education budget and facilities. However, the recently elected PML-N government has promised much and given their performance in Punjab over the past five years, one can perhaps be very cautiously optimistic.

It was in this perilous environment that three university students got together in 2010 and initiated a project which has since given hundreds of young children a chance to build a much vaunted educational foundation.

Renaissance Pakistan was initiated by a group of friends who were determined to make a meaningful difference in the lives of the most needy. They were able to raise funds from local as well as international donations, in order to build free schools and other facilities for economically deprived Pakistani children in 2012.

However with all the red tape, bureaucracy and corruption a mere portion of the original funding makes it to its desired destination in our country. Thus, it is imperative to be on the ground and ensure that all the resources are channeled correctly and reach those who require them the most.

The scheme got off to a modest start in a single room in a katchi basti (slum) area in the outskirts of Islamabad with a mere 15 students and one professional teacher who had earlier been affiliated with prestigious private institutions.

Renaissance Pakistan ignited hope in the lives of children who seemed destined to live a miserable existence. Photo: Official Facebook Page

The demographics of the area stipulated that the students were mostly Afghan refugees and Pashtuns who had become internally displaced as a result of the war in the tribal areas and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK).

Before they were afforded this opportunity, these children typically polished shoes or sold fruit for a living or desperately looked through trash heaps for a scrap of barely edible food.

However, Renaissance Pakistan opened a new chapter in their lives and gave them the hope of a better future as well as a pedestal from which they could achieve their ambitions of being doctors – a popular choice among the girls – and pilots or army generals – the professions that most of the boys aspired to.

Boys and girls are given the chance to study, play and enjoy – things which seemed only a dream to them. Photo: Official Facebook Page

Of course, this organisation aims to develop the ambitions of these children far wider than the conventionally envisaged ‘traditional’ professions.

Taking into account the ethnic and lingual diversity of students, those who can communicate only in their native Pashto are first taught Urdu and once fluency in the national language has been ensured, they move on to learning English. In addition to linguistics, core subjects such as mathematics and science are also covered with all textbooks and dictionaries provided absolutely free-of-charge.

From this modest start-up, Renaissance Pakistan has now expanded to include a continuously growing base of 150 students and four fully-paid and qualified teachers. In addition, with the completion of legal formalities with the government and its resultant legibility for zakat, the project seems to be growing by leaps and bounds towards its aim of providing quality education to the downtrodden members of society.

The project has even gained limited recognition abroad.  In a fruitful visit by the international NGO, Secours Islamique France (SIF), the organisation agreed to supply the school with canvases and art supplies for a day of fun.

Secours Islamique France (SIF), supplied the school with canvases and art supplies for a day of fun. Photo: Official Facebook Page

The team has even made a promise to make another such donation later on in the year. The team of Renaissance Pakistan hopes that the project will be able to progress at an even faster pace through the SIF’s continuing aid.

As a result of this initial success, the masterminds behind Renaissance Pakistan have decided to open another branch in the Gharibabad district between Islamabad and Rawalpindi. This is another poverty-stricken area and its residents have not even been touched by the relative affluence of the twin cities.

The initial plans include renting three or four rooms and hiring four teachers who will be responsible for approximately 100 students. Further plans include the development of a comprehensive English medium syllabus based on those used in the Beacon House and Roots school systems in order to equip the students with skills which will prove useful in the real world. The syllabus in use at Head Start is also under evaluation.

There is no doubt that these are exemplary efforts by the founders of the organisation and they deserve recognition for trying to open a whole new world for children who had resigned themselves to lives of poverty and violence.

And it is projects such as these that have managed to keep Pakistan chugging along despite the criminal negligence of previous governments. It is purely the work of these philanthropists which keeps hope alive in conditions as dismal as ours. Renaissance Pakistan, like the Edhi Foundation and others, aims to provide a ray of hope for a population beleaguered by terrorism, an unstable economy and general social turmoil.

But the question is, how much can individuals like these do for a rapidly exploding population of 180 million people?

And so, all I have to say to the current Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, is this,

“It is time to stop depending on the kindness, humanity and generosity of individuals to fill in the gaps in our education system, among other equally failing sectors. It is time to fulfil your pre-election promises. It is time to build a Pakistan based on the enlightened humanistic ideals of Jinnah and Allama Iqbal.

After all, among our achievements is the fact that Pakistan has almost become an associate member of the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) and our software developers are among the best in the world. If we can achieve this, we can definitely achieve much more. So, please use this tenure to ensure that all the children in Pakistan have the opportunity to excel to this level and higher, in the future.”

usman.chatta

Usman Chatta

A student based in England and a cricket enthusiast who is passionate about Pakistan and improving the lives of the people there. He tweets as @UnzaAhmed (twitter.com/UnzaAhmed)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.