The sign at the entrance of one of Karachi’s most notorious neighbourhoods reads, “Welcome to Lyari” — an area known as much for the champion boxers it has produced as it is for gang violence, drugs and other nefarious activities.
Lyari is not for the weak-hearted. Perhaps that is thought behind Sabina Khatri's smile as she drives into the neighbourhood each morning.
“When I enter through these gates all my fears disappear,” she says. Clearly, Sabina is cut from a different cloth!
Follow Sabina into the dark and sinister alleys of Lyari, and you will see mothers wave to her, children smile and fathers nod acknowledgments. She knows most people by name and reciprocates each greeting personally. Her walk ends at a brightly coloured pre-school building bearing the sign reading, “Kiran School”.
Sabina has created an oasis of sanity in a neighbourhood where others have packed up and left
“My brother-in-law played a key role in getting me involved with Kiran School. He laid the foundation of this school 14 years ago. I felt I needed to become involved for some real change to happen,” she says, as children file into classrooms.
“At Kiran, we induct intelligent and capable children from Lyari. Then we prepare them so that they can get admissions into private schools, an opportunity they would never get otherwise.”
Read on: The stars of Lyari shine on
The incredible thing about Sabina is that her work with the students does not end at school. She is eager to open up the world to them.
“In Lyari, their exposure to negative things is very severe. It makes them unable to notice the simpler things in life. From a young age, they are shown violence, not compassion,” she says. Several times a month, Sabina takes the children on outings to parks and monuments and introduces them to exercise, music and films.
“When we introduce them to the more positive aspects of life, they return to Lyari lost in those happy thoughts, oblivious to all the terrible things around them and seem to float in air, counting butterflies and flowers,” she tells us as the children gather around her.
Kiran School works to educate parents as well. There are monthly parent- teacher meetings and after school classes so that they are able to understand what their children learn.
“It is important to teach parents because they are the child’s first environment,” she says. “We teach them the same topics that we teach their children. But we teach parents before children so that they are aware of what their child is being taught.”
“I really enjoy meeting with the fathers. One meeting with them is as effective as six with the mothers. Because even though the mothers understand, they are not the decision-makers in the house.”
Sabina often finds herself in front of a room full of fathers. One afternoon while we were filming a meeting between her and the fathers, a heated argument ensued. One of the fathers refused to begin working because he claimed that the job was “beneath him.” Sabina tried her best to explain to him, that given the circumstances he had to work.
“Who will feed your family?” she asked him. “Put your ego aside and begin working. A better job will eventually come. But if you don’t begin work now, then your wife and children will suffer.”
He didn’t look convinced, but eventually relented.
“I really enjoy meeting with the fathers. One meeting with them is as effective as six with the mothers. Because even though the mothers understand, they are not the decision makers in the house. When a father understands, he immediately goes home and makes changes.”
Hammad, Samia, Adil, Shehrbano, Aqsa and the other children we met, all have dreams. One wants to become a pilot, another a teacher, a third wants to open up a library and yet another wants to become a doctor. They all want to return to Lyari to make it a better place for everyone. Sabina doesn’t just educate these children, she actually gives them the ability to dream. To be able to think of a future that is filled with hope and ambition.
“I try to inspire others to follow in my footsteps,” she says. Having spent considerable time with Sabina at Kiran School, I know that it is impossible not to feel inspired as Sabina is championing a cause we should all be a part of.
Title of account: Kiran Ibtadai School Current account number: 232305, Habib Metropolitan Bank Limited, Main Branch, Spencer Building, I.I Chundigarh Road, Karachi, Pakistan Bank Swift code: MPBLPKKA001
To watch Sabina’s story: https://vimeo.com/70852123