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Although this happened a year ago, it feels as if I am recalling only yesterday’s events. We, the students of Grade IX from Origins School, Karachi, were given an exceptional opportunity to visit a government school and teach the primary students there. We were informed that we would be dealing with 30 students (depending on their attendance) from a government school situated in the suburbs of Karachi, for the community service programme.

We were accompanied by our class teacher and some teachers as our mentors and facilitators. Before visiting the school, we were briefed on the educational standards of the students. We were made aware of the language barrier and certain issues we could face during this programme. This community service was spread over four Saturdays. These four days were rooted in irreproachable learning and real-life exposure. We were enthusiastic and confident about undertaking this enriching experience.

There were about 30 students in grades three to five and our team comprised nine student-volunteers. So we divided ourselves into three groups, based on our diverse abilities, knowledge and skills. Each group was assigned the responsibility to teach 10 students. Each group member was transformed into a ‘teacher’ and was tasked to teach one of the following subjects: maths, English and arts. I taught them maths.

On each visit, we gave the underprivileged students some pre-prepared worksheets of the subjects mentioned earlier. To our amazement and delight, they were eager to learn with the help of this strategy. We also encouraged them by giving some candies as an incentive.

Going around the make-shift classroom and correcting mistakes which they made, we got familiar with the challenges a teacher faces during each teaching session. By the same token, we felt empathy towards them for working so hard and never neglecting our needs. A great deal of patience was required while teaching them the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication and ascending-descending orders.

There were a few exceptional students who raised their hands to participate and answer almost every question, but overall, it was a very low percentage. It could be seen that most of these children hadn’t received even the basic form of education. Even the school itself was a worn-down building, with half-broken tables serving the purpose of desks.

It was truly a sorry sight but the principal of the school claimed that we had cheered them up. Succeeding in making them learn something was achievement enough for us.

On our last day, along with performing a skit, we arranged a mini carnival for the school kids. Their faces were beaming as they made their way toward various games stalls, such as twister, mini-golf, tic-tac-toe, musical chairs, bow and arrow, etc. They all waited for their turns patiently. Although it was challenging for them to win and receive gifts, some of them succeeded and their pockets were full of small goody packs.

In order to make our visit more memorable for them, we decided to give away a set of notebooks, stationery items and a storybook (compliments of the younger classes of our school).

What turned out to be the real surprise for them came later ­— we had brought a piñata filled with sweets. They chattered nervously amongst themselves, trying to guess what it was. We tied the piñata to the ceiling fan and called forward one girl and one boy to try their luck. The girl couldn’t smash it at all; but with one swing, the boy, named Arifullah, broke it open.

The eager mob rushed forward and fell upon the toffees to collect as many as they could. The kids were so excited that their gestures were just indescribable. Feelings of fulfilment and joy filled our hearts as they enthusiastically saw us to the gate.

Even though it has been a substantial learning experience for both the parties involved, what really made us ponder was that there are thousands and thousands of other schools across Pakistan which fall in the same category and have such poor conditions and standards. Some may not even have proper classrooms or blackboards, as a result students are deprived of quality education.

Nelson Mandela has said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” It is poignant to witness that our government and most of our citizens ignore the challenges faced by these underprivileged students.

If we gave these poor kids a chance, they would end up as successful businessmen, CEOs of companies, or artists someday. I would therefore like everyone to experience this kind of service, which changes the perspective with which you view society and your life. And maybe, you will feel a little warmth in your heart, as a change for the better takes over you.

Published in Dawn, Young World March 18th, 2017