Students of class two learning their lessons for the day.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
Students of class two learning their lessons for the day.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: Later this month, one of Syed Latif’s dreams is going to come true. A school that was attacked twice by the Taliban in 2012 and 2013, will stand tall again.

In 2012, the Naunehal Secondary School — a project of a non-governmental organisation called the Bright Education Society — was threatened by the Taliban for the first time.

According to the school’s co-founder Latif, who has worked as a polio vaccinator for 20 years, they received a letter accusing the management of being involved in “un-Islamic and immoral activities” for their work related to polio eradication and being a co-education school.

School has been accused of being involved in ­un-Islamic and immoral activities for being a co-education institute and taking part in polio vaccination

A few days later, Latif was shot in the leg and hospitalised for three months. When he was recovering, eventually moving to Mansehra, KP, the responsibility of running the school fell on the shoulders of co-founder Abdul Waheed until May 13, 2013, when militants threw grenades at the school and opened indiscriminate fire. The militants escaped and Waheed lost his life, while his daughter and brother sustained injuries in the attack.

Four days after the attack, the school administration along with Waheed’s childhood friend Nazir Khan (current principal) attempted to reopen the school but militants threw another hand-grenade onto the school’s premises.

The legacy

Latif and Waheed’s journey started sometime in the 1990s when the boys started volunteering with the Orangi Pilot Project and were introduced to social workers and researchers such as Akhtar Hameed Khan, Arif Hasan and Par­ween Rahman. In 2004, the school was officially set up.

The aim of the two friends was to educate all the children in their locality by providing them with basic necessities such as education and health. “This area has been plagued by the Taliban and criminals. I have seen our students, especially the ones with bright future, shot in the head because of how bad the city’s situation was,” he told Dawn.

Starting off as a katcha school with 45 children, by 2013 they enrolled 1,000 children. However, due to the attacks by the Taliban and a lack of funds the school came to a standstill.

“A major problem we faced was the fact that parents were afraid to send their children to us,” Latif said. “It took us years to regain the trust we had with them. Once again they are sending their sons and daughters.”

According to Latif, the plan to make something happen took root again when he received the Louis Pasteur Award on World Polio Day in 2016. Now with the help from the Rotary International and Sanofi Pasteur, Latif’s school has undergone a makeover. From the new furniture to the fresh paint on the walls, from the proper bathrooms to a permanent polio vaccination centre and dispensary, the Naunehal Second­ary School is ready to host and educate students from Islamia Colony and surrounding areas.

These days, Latif and Nazir are busy ensuring the school is ready before the formal inauguration. Students have started coming in for the new academic year and are excited about the new chairs and fans in their classrooms.

A teenager said he had been attending the school since nursery class and was happy to come here to see the changes.

“There was a time when we weren’t allowed to cross the school, now my mother wants to make sure that I attend all my classes,” he said.

According to Latif, security is much less of a concern now after the efforts by the Rangers to clear the area.

As the enrollment forms are being filled up, Latif hopes that the dream he saw with his late friend will come true.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2019