December 04, 2018


STUDENTS of the school enjoy their lunch break. The boys and girls learn to read the holy Quran in the morning and have regular lessons after a quick recess.
—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
STUDENTS of the school enjoy their lunch break. The boys and girls learn to read the holy Quran in the morning and have regular lessons after a quick recess. —Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

THREE years ago, Shahid’s parents decided to send him to school — he is the only one among his siblings to be receiving formal education.

Why did his parents decide to do this? He believes it’s because his amma and baba — who crossed into Pakistan during the 1980s — felt that he was spending too much time playing and getting into trouble.

After a long search, he said, they found the Imam-i-Azam Abu Hanifa Middle School in Chita Plaza.

Packing his school bag to head home after class, Shahid said that he enjoyed studying. His favourite subject, he added, was Islamiat.

Other children at the school, for instance Akbar, 9, and his friend Jumma Gul, said they liked coming to school in the mornings.

“We have madressah during the morning. Then we study subjects like maths, science and sometimes get English lessons too,” said the nine-year-old as he dusted his uniform.

Jumma Gul, like Shahid, joined the school three years ago. But, he says, his parents send three of his younger sisters to school as well.

“While there are a lot of private schools around Al Asif Square (near Sohrab Goth on the Superhighway), there are only a handful of good government schools,” said the middle school’s principal Jabbar.

Jabbar, who is in his late 30s, took over after his predecessor retired.

“After 9/11, there were more than two million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and a large chunk of them settled in Karachi. From the refugee camps some of them moved on and settled into surrounding areas such as Al Asif Square,” he said.

“This school was founded in 2003 and is open to all children. We have a lot of Afghans, Uzbeks, Pakistanis and others as well,” he added.

When the school started, the principal claimed, there were fewer than 50 children, but after 15 years the school now had 200 boys and girls.

According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Pakistan currently hosts 1.39 million Afghan refugees, out of whom more than 63,000 live in Sindh, mostly in Karachi.

Next year, the UNHCR will be commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Afghan refugee crisis.

Last year, the UN agency got 52,550 children enrolled in primary schools. Their target for this year was to get another 54,000 children enrolled in schools.

Drinking kaawa in a replica of a fine bone china tea cup, Jabbar, the principal, said: “Our aim is to prepare young Afghan and Pakistani children for further education and give them confidence.”

The school, which goes up to the eighth grade, gives students lessons in maths, English, Urdu, Islamiat and social studies. besides teaching them how to read the Quran.

“Our mornings are reserved for teaching the children how to offer their Namaz, read the Quran, learn about the Holy Prophet’s (peace be upon him) life and other religious matters,” he said while talking to Dawn.

“More than 50 to 60 children finish their Quran with us every year. Many of them also do well in their studies and go on to do their matriculation in the city. I am very proud of everything these children achieve because they, compared to others in Karachi, are at a disadvantage,” he added.

According to Jabbar, sometimes it gets very hard to run the school. “It gets quite depressing and frustrating for me when I have to turn children away. People in this neighbourhood are very poor. They can’t afford to pay Rs600 per child, so sending all five or six of their children to school is out of the question.

“We don’t take money from orphans and also offer scholarships to children who really want to study but can’t afford it,” he said.

“We don’t get any help from any NGO or the government. Whatever money we make here we put back into our school — for paying rent, clearing electricity and gas bills, and for paying salaries to teachers. By the end of this year I am hoping to rent another room in this building to accommodate more students,” he added.

Currently, the middle school is run from one of the five flats on the ground floor. The school’s management also rents a flat on the first floor.

“Many times children come to the class because their friends are here. But they cannot afford to pay our fees. This upsets me because without education these children have a bleak future.

“With education they will move forward and build a better life for themselves and their families,” said the principal.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2018