At a distance of about 32 kilometres in the north-west of the Chakwal city lies the Thaneel Kamal village nestled snugly at the midst of a vast green tract covered with blossoming trees of Phulahi and the blooming fields of wheat with a stream of fresh water passing by.
There are as many as 18 other villages around Thaneel Kamal. For years development projects have hardly been initiated in this area because of the neglect by politicians and officials. As a result, the whole area remains the most backward in the Chakwal district.
A few years back, higher education was a dream for female students of the area as there was no college for them.
The students were forced to remain confined to the four walls of their homes after matriculation. But now the situation has changed, at least in terms of women education.
As one enters Thaneel Kamal, they are captivated by a grand building the signboard of which reads: “Al Rehman Degree College.”
The college offers classes of intermediate and graduation levels for girls without charging a single penny from them. Even deserving students are provided monthly stipends. Currently, 39 students are getting Rs500 to Rs1,500 per month.
The college was founded in 2009 at a cost of Rs500 million. Initially, there were 152 students and 18 teachers in the institution.
The two-storey building consists of 14 classrooms with air conditioners installed in every room. There are costly and comfortable chairs for students besides a well-equipped laboratory, library and a kitchen where food for 50 persons can be prepared at one time. A museum is also being constructed on the premises.
The idea to establish the college was floated by Yaqub Khan when in 1964 while pursuing a master’s degree in English Literature at the Gordon College Rawalpindi he came across a photo published in the now defunct Pakistan Times newspaper.
“President Ayub Khan was pictured with landlord Baba Fareed, who was running a college free of cost at that time near Faisalabad. I got so impressed by Baba Fareed that I resolved to construct a college where free of cost and quality education would be imparted to the students,” recalls Yaqub Khan, the owner of the Al Rehman College.
The 78-year-old philanthropist now takes four classes of English daily. “I teach for four hours while standing,” he told Dawn.
He keeps an Ipad in which he has saved a number of videos and pictures relating to his lectures.
When he was born on December 31, 1935, school education was taken as a secondary thing in the villages. However, Yaqub Khan landed at a school built by a Sikh in Munday, a village located some 14 kilometres away from Thaneel Kamal, and did his matriculation in the first division.
“My father was a poor farmer and I started working as a labourer at a factory in Chakwal at the meagre salary of Rs13 per month,” he recalls.
Meanwhile, he kept on testing his luck for a job in Rawalpindi and was once called by an insurance company.
“My mother told me that either I could catch a train from Dhudial (52 km away from Thaneel Kamal) or a bus from Chakri which was near to his home. I chose the second option.”
Yaqub Khan was 16-year-old when he set out for Chakri on foot with a note of Rs10 in his pocket.
“On the way, I met four farmers who were busy in cutting dry grass for their animals. When they asked me for a lunch I could not resist their offer. Then the man went out for arranging the lunch and came back carrying one chapati (bread) made of jowar and bajra. The chapatti was divided into five pieces and I got one of them.”
After serving for a few months in an insurance company, Yaqub Khan joined the Military Accounts and was transferred to Lahore from where he passed his intermediate and graduation exams.
Later, he again moved to Rawalpindi and got admission to the Gordon College from where he did his MA in English Literature. He was appointed as a lecturer in English and kept on teaching in colleges at Sialkot, Attock and Karachi for three years.
The life of Yaqub Khan was changed when he was appointed as an English teacher at Baitlay High School of Yorkshire in United Kingdom in 1967. From here he never looked back and kept on studying at various educational institutions of UK as well as Saudi Arabia.
During his long stay in the UK, he also started a property business. Yaqub Khan a British nationality holder and his whole family is settled in the UK where he owns 14 apartments which he has rented out. “Neither I need any donation nor I need it as Allah has given me enough money.”
Yaqub Khan also donated Rs100 million for the construction of a hall at a public school in the village.
“When I started constructing the building of Al Rehman College, people of the area opposed me. Proclamations were aired from the mosques warning the parents that this man would spoil the girls through western education,” he says.
But despite the opposition, Yaqub Khan remained constant and resolute in his purpose and now parents also thank him.
“Hadn’t there been this college, I would never have been able to continue my study after matriculation,” says a student of the college.
The journey of Yaqub Khan has not stopped rather he is expending his college by constructing another campus near Chakwal city which would be opened in the upcoming academic year.
The girls who want to pursue their master’s level education are also financed by Yaqub Khan. Currently, five students are doing their MA at a private college in Chakwal city and their educational expenses are borne by Yaqub Khan.
“I’m quite satisfied and happy. All my desires have been fulfilled and this college is my plant which one day would become a tree,” he says.
When asked who would look after his college after him, he replied: “I founded this college in the name of Allah as Rehman is one of Allah’s names and He Himself would look it after.”