As long as there are dreamers like Chenu, I am hopeful about Pakistan’s future
Go home, turn on your television, switch to the news channel and keep watching it for at least one hour. Next, pick up the newspaper, skim through the headlines and read the main stories on current affairs. If the feeling that the world is falling apart and we are all doomed does not hit you, then you are in need of serious help.
We live in a world where every day we are bombarded by negative news through all the major mass media outlets. In light of this, we crave for a story that might make us believe in good again. Fortunately, last week I came across one such story – an individual who, in his right, is no less than a super hero.
Last week, during my visit to District of Umerkot in Sindh, I met ‘Chenu’.
On the fringes of Umerkot city, at the junction of the barrage and desert, is a small village spreading out on more than three kilometres with around 200 households. These are families who have migrated from different parts of the Tharparkar desert to settle here. Approximately 1000 people live in this village and among them is an individual who left school in grade five and who, now, sells items of daily use from his stand at the road side.
Chenu (pronounced with a sound of ‘Shh’ in the beginning) left school because he had to make a living to support himself and his family but the love for education never left him. With his shabby clothing and ‘ordinary’ physical appearance none of us would spare a second look towards him if we were to see him on the street on any given day.
But little would we know that what Chenu has achieved is what most of us hardly ever achieve in our entire life time. You see Chenu had a dream, and his dream was that he wanted every child from his village to be able to go to school one day. With the village at a distance of more than 10 kilometres from the nearest school within the Umerkot City, it was not possible for any of the children to travel that distance each day and hence none of the children were school going.
All the inhabitants of this village are harees (farmers) and therefore it is safe to say that there was an extreme lack of financial resources and hence the idea of developing a school that the society would support itself was out of the question. Also, with none of the people in the village being able to read or write, applying for a grant from a government or private institution was also a great challenge. But none of these were going to stop Chenu in what he had set out to achieve.
Great things happen if you are true to what you believe in and it is rightly said that God works in mysterious ways. It was during this very time that the British Council decided to expand its Take A Child to School project to the district of Umerkot. Under the project, a nationwide enrollment campaign is being run in around 60 districts and efforts are made to increase enrollment in the remotest of areas through a network of local organisations and volunteers.
During a field visit, Bhansi Malhi (project coordinator at a local organisation, working on the TACs project) stopped at Chenu’s roadside stand to inquire about the status of enrollment in his village; this is when Chenu shared his dream with Bhansi. Bhansi Malhi, a man driven by passion and dedication to work towards the development of his community began lobbying for people with the financial resources who would be willing to support the development of the school in the village.
During this time Bhansi approached Tayyab Arifar to provide financial assistance and proposed pitching the idea to the Sindh Education Fund (SEF) for a public private partnership. Together Tayyab and Bhansi applied for a partnership and exactly one month later their application was approved by SEF. What started out as a dream was finally about to be become a reality.
With the initial investment by Mr Tayyab, a structure of five classrooms and one staffroom was developed on a small piece of land donated by Chenu. The furniture, stationary (for the school and the children) and books were procured by the initial investment made by Mr Tayyab. Finally the day arrived and on April 7, 2016, Chenu’s dream became a reality and the school was officially inaugurated.
Chenu, who is now working as an Ilmmassador (a volunteer under the TACS project), along with Habib Ullah, another Ilmmassador, went from door-to-door everyday to convince parents to send their children to school and it is because of their efforts that approximately 306 children have already been enrolled since the inception of the school.
The banner on the school building reads ‘The Umeed School’, a name proposed by Chenu himself, and it is safe to say that the name it is befits what the school symbolises perfectly.
In a country where 25 million children are out of school, it is important that such stories are highlighted. They give you hope again, like a breath of fresh air. There is no denying the fact that there is still much work to be done before a day can finally arrive when every child in this country gets an opportunity to go to school. But as long as there are dreamers like Chenu, I am hopeful.
All photos: Abdal Mufti
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