Globally celebrated every year on 20th November, World Children’s Day brings forward important issues and this year’s theme strongly sheds light on an imperative and prevailing issue; the need for equality and inclusion. It reflects ardently upon the fact that every child belonging to any society, community or nationality is entitled to equal rights and equal education. It also emphasises on the eradication of discrimination among children. Unfortunately, children who are underprivileged or come from a poor background are the ones who get marginalised the most, simply, because they had the bad luck of being born into a poor family.
For most people, the term ‘underprivileged children’ often evokes an image of emaciated children from far-off continents. You may feel pity for them but you don’t really give them much thought. Majority of the time, we equate it to being poor but being underprivileged is more than just coming from a low-income background. These children also often don’t have access to quality education, shelter, healthy food, and medical care. In essence, they are robbed of a normal and happy childhood - something that we can all agree every child deserves. In this regard, there are many non-government organisations that are working towards poverty eradication and gaining rights for the needy and underprivileged children, three of which we are highlighting this week. Read on…
Education is for all
There are at least two categories of out of school children - children who have never been to school and children who may have enrolled at some point but dropped out later. Not all ‘out of school children’ are ‘street’ children. Reasons for dropping out of schools are many: none of them are surprising.
There are numerous reasons also for children to resort to street life in Pakistan. These reasons include abandonment and escape from the miserable conditions in orphanages. Among children with families, the reasons at home that make children live on the street were poverty forcing some families to take children out of school and putting them to work, which can sometimes be more than they can take, forcing them to flee. For such families, sending a child to school costs food, shelter space, school fees, school supplies, and, when children are otherwise expected to work and earn for the family, a loss of income.
The ‘Footpath School’ in Karachi provides free, basic education for children in need and prepares them for their future by teaching them to become self-sufficient. Last year, 22.6 million kids between the ages of 5 and 16 were out of school in Pakistan with only 6 million others in that age group attending classes regularly. This is a school in Pakistan looking to alleviate such obstacles by providing free education to street children and low-income families. The school is situated on the barren ground, where they try to provide children with the necessary accommodations and materials. The students are gathered from all sectors like small villages and hometowns under one roof to acquire quality education.
At this school, a conscious approach is required to design a teaching method and curriculum in such a way so that students can comprehend it skilfully. “Our journey started with the assurance to elevate the lives of children in Pakistan from ignorance and despair. After the Peshawar attack incident in 2014, we come to our beginning with the milestone of building up footpath school units over the country, giving children from low-income background, the gift of education. But clearly, much work remains! We worked day and night to bring these children into the limelight of attention under which they can prevail educational barriers and move forward toward a successful life,” shares Anfas Ali Shah, President and Founder.
“The evening classes are conducted in such a way that every student gets a perfect learning approach bound in a child-centric environment like other children. The continuous steadfast efforts of our team have proven to be fruitful, and the journey that started from primary level has now enabled our students to come a long way as they are ready to appear for their first secondary level assessments. We have been very fortunate to have unconditional support from our civil society and Sindh Police in orchestrating various anti-begging movements to discourage forced child labour,” asserts Nilofar Ali, General Secretary
“Our greatest priority proceeds to be the quality of education offered to our children. We are committed to making our education framework more grounded and viable. The organisation advances a culture of observation, reflection, and continuous advancement. This practice not only makes a difference in the quality of our programmes but also enables learning and sustainable growth. I’d like to thank each part of the family which is our organisation – our donors, volunteers, supporters, instructors, principals, and office staff whose commitment and energy have advanced this association into the development of positive change,” she adds.
When there is a will, there is a school on the way!
No child should be left behind
In today’s world, the efforts of non-government, non-profit organisations, their work in the development sector is genuinely commendable. Other than a few government institutions, it is the non-profit organisations putting in resources, time, and efforts to fight the social issues and injustices embedded in society. These organisations are playing an essential role in the construction of healthy and secure communities by providing their assistance and services, which leads to economic stability and mobility.
One significant advantage is that they tend to act faster than the government since they work closely with the people on the ground and quickly access the immediate area in the occurrence of a significant issue. One such organisation is Al-Furqan Welfare Organization (AFWO), which began in 2012 with the main focus to work towards the socio-economic uplifting of the society. Providing affordable education is of the utmost importance as they work to provide students with the best curriculum and environment to uplift the socio-economic levels of society. The organisation embeds its schools in the heart of underprivileged urban and rural communities. They have a network of 14 School Units across Karachi and Sindh.
Al-Furqan comprises ‘AF Schools’, which focuses mainly on providing free education to the underprivileged children in various areas of Karachi as well as in some parts of interior Sindh.
Currently, the schools network comprises of 14 Branches with over 2000 students, about 200 teachers and support staff and more than 100 volunteers and members who devote their time and energy for this noble cause. “We aspire to emerge as a leading organisation that is focused on creating highly productive, confident and caring individuals. We seek to develop their inner potentials to the maximum level, and assist them in leading a purposeful life,” elucidates Rubina Faryal, Founder and President.
Rubina founded AF in 2012 along with 4 other friends who pledged to provide free education for the needy. The school not only provides a normal and healthy learning environment for the children but also offers van services for the students, provides free lunches, arranging extracurricular activities for a holistic learning and also health check-ups for the students and their families. “One of our aims, is to provide free education to the underprivileged. We have set up few branches of the school in various localities of Karachi where we provide free education. We strive to provide our students nourishment for their souls by teaching them various aspects of our religion, including Tajweed of the Holy Quran. Our aim is to provide them a balance between deen and dunya, hence worldly education is also provided to the students We believe that education is the right of every child, and we work hard to accomplish this mission as we grow,” she explains.
Soon to launch is another venture called ‘AF Home’ which is an orphanage, and it will be a safe space for young girls to live in and not only will it be a shelter home, but they will be provided with quality education, as well. “We aim to expand our services to provide food, marriage assistance, medical aid and disaster relief,” expresses Shahray Zariff, Marketing and Media Manager.
Another organisation working towards the welfare and needs of children is ‘Wish Foundation’. It all started with a single wish, when a 7-year-old boy battling leukaemia who wishes to be a police officer. In 1980, his Phoenix community came together to make his wish come true. Little did Chris know that his wish would create a movement that would transform millions of lives. ‘Make-A-Wish Pakistan’ is an affiliate member of Make-A-Wish Foundation Int’l, dedicated to grant the most cherished wishes of critically ill children. Since its inception, ‘Make A Wish Foundation Pakistan’ has granted thousands of wishes of critically ill children, thereby enriching their lives with hope, strength and joy. Ishtiaq Baig is the founding president of Make A Wish Foundation in Pakistan. “Our mission is to fulfil life changing wishes of critically ill children in Pakistan to motivate them in their fight against their disease,” he shares.
According to their official website, children who are at least 3 years of age, but have not yet reached their 18th birthday, may be referred. A child’s treating physician will determine if the child is medically eligible for a wish, based on the medical criteria established by the organisation. The impact of Granting Wishes is more than a Medicine. When children are battling a critical illness, so much of normal childhood is taken away from them - it is exhausting, both emotionally and physically. A wish is something that gives children the opportunity to look outside their illness - it restores a sense of childhood back to the child and normalcy back to the family. Research shows, and physicians agree, wishes can help improve a child’s quality of life and produce better health outcomes.
Make-A-Wish Pakistan mission is to fulfil the life-changing wishes of critically ill children in Pakistan to motivate them in their fight against their disease. Its vision is to reach every medically eligible child in Pakistan and grant their most cherished wishes, thereby bring smiles to the faces of the ailing children in the most difficult era of their lives.