When Sabahat Noor, the headmistress of the MAA Primary Government Girls’ School in Lyari, entered her school building after the operation, she had with her a collection 540 bullet shells. She still has all 540 bullets, wrapped in a plastic bag that is stored in a cupboard at her school.
“The furniture inside was broken, there were shards of glass everywhere, and there was an eight-day-old dead cat at the spot where I’m standing right now,” she recollects.
“All my students had run away and they were too scared to come back.”
And, if not for a group of concerned individuals, things may never have returned to normal.
The Lyari Resource Centre (LRC) repaired the school building, acquired essential furniture and gave the students free books and uniforms. Now, even though the boundary wall of her school is riddled with bullets, inside some 700 girls bustle about from class to class.
For the past year and a half year, the LRC – a group of social entrepreneurs, bankers and political activists based in Lyari – have been toiling to gradually restore the losses their community has suffered at the hands of “political victimisation” of the present government.
The LRC’s goal is a relatively simple one: to bring back students to government schools by ensuring quality free education.
The organisation has, since its inception, renovated about 100 schools, distributed free books and uniforms to children, hired teachers and helped schools through the bureaucratic process of getting repair funds from the works department.
“I wouldn’t say things are perfect now, but at least my school is heading in the right direction – it has found its Mecca,” says a beaming Noor.
Parveen Sultana told The News that, in her ten years as principal of the Government Girls Secondary School in Gharibabad, she has never seen so many girls applying.
Such was the turnout this year that she had to ‘borrow’ three class rooms from the adjacent primary school. “There are 834 students enrolled and more are coming in. Much of the turnout is from private schools which were flourishing in the absence of quality education at government schools,” she said.
Government schools in Lyari recently introduced kindergarten, a system not available in other government schools of the city. Many of these schools are English medium, and regularly experiment with modern education techniques. One school uses phonetics to teach English, and its first grade students can already read simple English words fluently.
According to statistics gathered by the LRC, there are 300 schools in Lyari. “That is a very big number considering the entire area is a mere 4 square kilometers,” said Hasan Habib, Chairperson LRC and vice president of the Karachi chapter of the Pakistan People’s Party.
He attributes the high density of schools in the area to residents of Lyari who donated land to the government for the construction of schools.
“Families here are large and primarily belong to the middle and working class. They want their children educated but find government schools unsatisfactory and, as a result, are forced to send their children to small private schools which – more often than not – mint money on the pretense of education.”
The LRC works in close coordination with government officials employed in the area. “I report to LRC and tell them which schools are facing problems. The system has worked wonders, as enrollment in government schools has increased by 25 percent,” said Imtiaz Ali, assistant coordinator education in Lyari.
“The seeds we had sown over a year back are gradually giving fruit in the form of increased enrollment. It is though studies that our children study will be able to compete on equal terms with the outside world,” said Hasan Habib, chairperson LRC.
Habib admitted, quite frankly, that Ozair Baloch, the notorious gangster and leader of the banned People’s Aman Committee, had funded a large amount of the books, computers and uniforms being used by at their schools.