KARACHI: Six-year-old Hassani watched from one side of the road as the students of the Footpath School in white jerseys and caps settled down in their chairs on a vacant plot in Badar Commercial Area of DHA Phase-5 on Wednesday. Some of the staff of the Ocean Welfare Organisation also saw her and thought of approaching her to invite her into the open-air classroom.
Hassani didn’t speak Urdu. Realising that she understood Balochi only, Syeda Anfas Ali Shah Zaidi, the president of the organisation, asked one of her staff who spoke the language to talk to the little girl. Maham Baloch, who spoke her language, then invited Hassani to come and sit with the other children but the child’s eyes quickly darted to her in-charge, a teenage beggar girl carrying a baby on one hip, who shook her head. Hassani then also shook her head.
But Maham didn’t want to give up on her. She told her that if she sat in class she would get a new notebook, pencils and even a schoolbag. Hassani longingly turned her head to the students again. She looked at her supervisor again. Tears started to well up in her eyes. She was torn between both sides.
This was the start of the Footpath School’s 10-day campaign titled ‘Stop begging start learning’ and already there were some four to five beggar children sitting in their class singing nursery rhymes such as ‘Nani teri morrni ko morr le gaye’ and ‘Machhli’. A few minutes later, Hassani’s young supervisor’s heart also melted and after surveying the area to check for her own supervisor, she allowed the child to forget about her begging duties for a little while and join the students. She was on top of the world when presented with a notebook and pencils of her own.
Kids urged to ‘stop begging start learning’
Syeda smiled. “This is how my children, who also just like her begged in the streets, motivate others to learn,” she told Dawn. “My children have come a long way. I mean look at them now. Besides learning how to read and write they are also so well-mannered,” she said watching them with pride.
There were a few working on posters with positive messages about education and how it can help you. Ahmed Rafiq and Shaan Haider were busy colouring while Shahzaib, Farhan and Shahzad were busy putting different colour shiny stars on them. Finding no new place for a gold and silver star on a finished poster, they stuck the stickers on their cheeks.
Some also shared their dreams for the future. Ahmed Rafiq said that he wanted to become a policeman after completing his education; Shaan Haider wanted to be a doctor; Shahzad an army officer and Ruqayya, who was helping with the decorations, a teacher.
“We will continue with our campaign in various areas in the coming nine days,” said Syeda. She shared that they would hold classes at Teen Talwar, near PIDC, Tariq Road, Shahbaz Commercial Area, Hassan Square, Jauhar Chowrangi, Hyderi Market, Gulshan-i-Iqbal, etc.
She also said that with the support of the Sindh police, celebrities, civil society activists and the media, their campaign is about requesting citizens to stop giving out money to street children which they usually do out of sympathy, and instead donate it to those working for children’s education.
“Your money totally destroys their lives and then they make it [begging] their lifestyle resulting in even fewer chances for these children to leave the streets,” she said.
Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2018