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Opinion

April 25, 2011

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Unsung heroes

Unsung heroes

Struggling to find something positive to write about in Karachi after a week of blood and tension and fear was not easy, but once again it was my old friend ‘education’ that saved the day. At risk of being accused of repeating myself I visited another school, but this time far from the genteel environs of ‘Pindi Cantt area and deep in the muckiest most noisome place you might not hope to find a school – darkest Korangi.
Two young men on a motorbike led us through a maze of increasingly narrow streets, unpaved and with deep holes to swallow the unwary. Eventually we stopped in the middle of a road which smelled like an open sewer and which I found out later often was. The street was strewn with rubbish. Those that saw a gora getting out of a car stopped mid-movement and looked hard. There was a prickling-itching between my shoulder blades and my feet had an urgent desire to be anywhere other than out in the open.
The principal and founder of St Sarah’s school and his wife stood on the doorstep to greet me. Theirs was a longstanding invitation that I had finally felt unable to refuse any longer, and they welcomed me into the maze of tiny rooms that were home to 130 pupils and their teachers. This was education at its most basic. The school did not have enough of anything. There were not enough desks and chairs, no computers, no library, no pleasant sitting areas or shady places for introspection and reading. Teachers were clustered around papers on a low table, marking in full swing. They looked up and smiled at me and the few children present (it was a holiday) smiled rather more nervously.
This little school serves a Christian community that is surrounded on all sides by neighbours who cannot be guaranteed to be friendly. The community is desperately poor, just about scratching a living and many cannot afford the 250rps a month fee. The teachers – all Christian bar one Muslim recently joined – are paid a pittance and the principal and his wife are paid nothing at all.
The tour took me minutes. There was not much to see. We arrived back in the office and talked of the difficulties of education on the edge of the possible. The light from the door was interrupted and several small children advanced towards me, one carrying a bouquet. I accepted it and admit to a tightening of the throat, a wetness of the eye. I thanked all and sundry, shook hands very solemnly with boys and girls, bade farewell to the teachers and promised to try and conjure up a few of the basic necessities for them – like pens and pencils and rubbers. Perhaps even a computer.
Looking up and down the street before I got in the car to retreat back into my middleclass and comfortable bubble, well-heeled and well fed, I realised that I had just spent time in the company of heroes. They are never going to get rich doing what they do, and seem to have little interest in doing so. They come to this place every day to deliver the rudiments of wisdom to a marginalised and poverty-stricken group of people for no other reason than they believe it to be the right and proper thing to do. Their duty.
A few days later I posted pictures of my visit to St Sarah’s on my Facebook page. A friend in Holland got in touch. What do they need, said Harald. He’s sending pens and pencils. A computer can come another day, perhaps.
The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: [email protected] com

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