AT the far end of Korangi, much beyond the densely built-up sectors interspersed with wide roads, is a complex of neatly laid-out structures designed by renowned architect Habib Fida Ali. It is set in the midst of a cluster of shantytowns, an oasis in a desert of underdevelopment.
This complex houses the Centre for Development of Social Services (CDSS) which oversees a school, a community health centre, an intermediate college, a teachers' training institution, a craft training and literacy centre and a vocational training centre.
The first question that comes to mind is what are these symbols of civilisation doing here? You could get the answer from the speakers at the founder's day function last Saturday which commemorated the man to whom the Infaq Foundation owes its existence, the late Agha Hasan Abedi, premier banker-philanthropist of the country.
And it is the foundation that runs these projects. As Mr Fakhruddin Ebrahim, former governor Sindh and the chairman of the board of Infaq, pointed out the CDSS translates into action Agha Sahib's philosophy “To give (with humility) is to gain.”
Giving does not necessarily mean giving money. Meet Saira Zaidi, head of the Teachers' Training & Elementary College, and you learn more about the art of giving. Since 2002 when the college and the other institutions were set up and Saira was hired she has been giving knowledge and inspiration to young women of the neighbourhood. The lives of young women are changing — and through them the lives of communities that had been left on the fringes of the development process.
Change is in the air. The school known as the Korangi Academy admits children from the multi-ethnic communities in the neighbourhood. They are the downtrodden poor of Karachi, with an illiteracy rate of 85 per cent. Sobia Alam, the principal of the academy, understands the challenge that students of multilingual backgrounds pose.
They speak nine languages — ranging from Urdu and Sindhi to Punjabi, Hindko and Seraiki as well as Burmese and Bengali. The first two years are a period of linguistic adjustment for the new entrants — to make communication possible and to live in a diverse society.
Saira with her enterprising spirit has gone beyond her mandate of training teachers. She has pulled the downtrodden women out of the state of oppression and illiteracy they were consigned to earlier. It was not an easy task because the men of the locality nursed fossilised notions as did the maulvis who run the madressahs of Korangi.
She actually went from house to house talking to women, interacting with them and opening their minds. She launched tutorial classes to make them literate and then helped them pass their Matric exam in three years — 90 have done so. Forty-two have passed their Intermediate while eight have appeared for their B.Com exams, while 33 have obtained teachers' training certificates.
Others are serving as counsellors visiting homes to teach their compatriots the virtues of sanitation, nutrition and so on. They are provided transport and security with a guard accompanying them. There are others who have opened home schools for children and 1,500 have benefited from these informal efforts. Parents have been discouraged from marrying off their girls at a very young age when they are still studying. Now they prefer to send their children to school rather than to madressahs.
This change has come through philanthropy. This is not charity — the conventional concept being of giving alms to beggars. It is a kind of 'giving' of a different kind that is the expression of love and compassion that the Infaq Foundation stands for when it finances these institutions.
Agha Sahib died in 1995 but is still remembered for his services to the deprived of Pakistan. There would hardly be any institution in the country that has rendered honest service in the cause of public welfare and has not received support from the Infaq Foundation.
A sum of Rs4.75bn has been donated to 342 organisations in 28 years (1982-2009) that has benefited hundreds of thousands of people while students have been provided interest-free loans and scholarships. In 2005, the social services complex was launched and Rs700m have been earmarked for it for a 15-year period.
Infaq is described as a living monument to the memory of its founder who became a victim of the cut-throat banking system of the West that singled him out for vengeance when other western institutions in similar situations were — and still are — being given a free rein.
Some have actually been bailed out by the strong and the mighty for sins which cost Mr Abedi his bank. Infaq — 'help' in Arabic — was built on the profits that the BCCI earned in Pakistan and which were kept in the country for the benefit of the people.
The BCCI in Pakistan continued to be sound until it was forced to close shop in 1991. These funds are invested in government securities and provide the returns that are used for the services it is rendering. The donations are equally distributed between institutions that are working in the field of education, health and social welfare following the precept of unity of the moral and material.
In keeping with the axiom of the founder — greatest happiness for the greatest number — the foundation has tried to disperse its donations so that the message spreads far and wide. Sobia Alam says they admit only one child from a family to the academy which means the lives of 439 families are being touched. By reaching out to the people in the goths, Infaq is attempting to change conditions. Now the people have a health facility and a craft centre in their neighbourhood. Hundreds of jobs have been created for teachers
All this has been possible because the man behind Infaq was a rare individual whose inter-personal management style — professional or otherwise — encouraged people to discover their full potential. That is what Infaq is all about.