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Nada Ahmed

30 day Ramadan Campaign 2018

A Month of Giving

Growing up in Pakistan, Ramadan was a very special month. It was that time of the year when the pace of life slowed down, our daily routines changed and became in sync with everybody else’s and at last arrived the sweet and savoury delicacies special to this month only.

As children, we were lucky to be exempt from starving ourselves, but we found the thought of it so exhilarating that we often insisted our parents to let us be part of the experience. The joy of waking up at dawn and feasting on parathas (buttery naan:  richest of the rich in calorie content), showing off to each other on how strong we were and being part of preparing the delicious food to break our fast- it was something out of the ordinary and we cherished every moment.

The hardest part though was that we were supposed to be on our best behaviour ALL THE TIME. Whether we were fasting or not, Ramadan was the month when we all had to practice being kind and nice to each other. No lying, no backbiting, no getting into fights- just being a good human being. It was during this month that we were taught to care for our neighbours, to make sure they did not go hungry, and practice giving away some of our toys and our pocket money to those who were less fortunate. We learned to be compassionate and pay attention to the dire poverty around us- so prevalent that we stopped noticing.

Now, almost two decades since experiencing Ramadan in Pakistan, living in a country where there is no special marking of the month, what remains with me still is this spirit of giving. The real essence of Ramadan is really about others, how we treat them and how we can help them and society in general.

I have spent this past month, in reflection of how I can treat those around me better but also working on ensuring that I can make an impact beyond my inner circle in a small town outside of Lahore, Pakistan- the small town of Chah Kalan. This is where TCF Norway will build its school so that children who would normally be made to work in the fields, in factories or in people’s houses, will instead spend their days in school learning to read and write, do math and learn to love and respect each other no matter the differences.

TCF Norway is our effort to make a dent in the inequality that persists all around the world. When we looked at the UN Sustainable Development goals we immediately realized that the building of a school would address almost all of them so we knew this was the best way to make an impact.

As we close this month of Ramadan with Eid festivities we are truly grateful to the outpouring support by our friends, family members and most importantly strangers who feel for the cause.

In the past 30 days we ran a fundraising campaign on Facebook where we raised 46,000 norwegian kr (5600 USD) enough to send 38 children to school for 1 year. We have now raised 70% of the funds we need to reach 1.3 million kroner the cost to build a school in Pakistan. We are proud of how far we have come but we still have a long way to go because this school is just the beginning. Our unconditional support for this cause matters. We are transforming lives, creating opportunities and making a difference in society today. Let us not be deterred by the magnitude of the task but do our bit everyday so that children born in unfortunate circumstances can have a better future.

You can donate to us through facebook on our facebook page ‘TCF Norway’ or visit our website at: www.tcfnorway.org. You can also set up monthly payments by Avtale Giro- more information on our website.

Thank you for you support!

 

Nada Ahmed

Leader, TCF Norway

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Aagahi – Empowering Women through Literacy

by Usman Mujtaba

Aagahi was initiated by TCF in 2005 in a bid to impart basic literacy and numeracy skills to the family members of TCF students, particularly their mothers.

Just off the Mauripur Road in Karachi and a stone’s throw away from TCF’s Cowasjee Campus, is Machar Colony – a sprawling shantytown seemingly left to fend for itself. The community derives its name from the profession of a majority of its impoverished residents, who mostly earn a living as fishermen (Machar comes from the Urdu word for fisherman, Machera). Many others work as daily wagers at local shrimp packing factories, usually for a pittance.

Asma Muhammad – Aagahi instructor

As you make your way into the community through its narrow dirt lanes, heaps of garbage line each side, and the strong stench of rotting fish assaults the senses. Children and unemployed youth wander listlessly on the crumbling streets. But one house, belonging to a community woman, presents an unlikely sight. A group of women pore over books, reading, learning and engaged in animated discussion.

This is no ordinary household: it serves as one of the centres for ‘Aagahi’, TCF’s adult literacy programme. These women are some of the learners and managers of the programme and their drive to learn is far greater than the myriad challenges they face in their daily lives.

Aagahi was initiated by TCF in 2005 in a bid to impart basic literacy and numeracy skills to the community women. The underlying objective of Aagahi is to provide a holistic learning experience to these women that plays a huge role in women empowerment; helping them make more independent and informed decisions. Additionally, mothers can directly get more involved in their child’s school progress.

The programme has now evolved into a pathway for out-of-school girls and women from disadvantaged communities to learn to read and write. To date, it has benefitted 64,400 learners across Pakistan.

In Machar Colony, and elsewhere in the country, Aagahi is helping change the lives of brave, resilient women who juggle work, child-rearing and domestic responsibilities but remain committed to learning and improving themselves. Most of these women help their families by working as shrimp peelers in the local industry.

‘My husband remains out at sea for weeks on end. Every morning, after sending my kids off to school, I head out to the local factory to peel shrimp,’ says Shaheena Ramzan, one of Aagahi’s learners. Most of the time, she joins her learning sessions right after work. ‘It is a struggle to manage, but it is worth the effort. Once, I had to take my son for a check-up at the clinic and I could not even read the number written on the token issued to me. That was a wake up-call for me.’

Today, Shaheena has learned to not only read and write, but compile grocery lists and do basic budget-making for household. Shaheena’s experience is echoed by her fellow learners, who all narrate stories of progress and achievement with great pride.

Asma Muhammad, one of the teachers associated with Aagahi in the area feels that the programme continues to make a life changing impact in the community. ‘Slowly and gradually, you can see these women are improving the quality of life in their families’. The learners are now in a position to assist their children with their homework and have informed discussions with teachers, Asma tells us.

Bazgha Noor Muhammad works as Programme Monitor for the area and is responsible for monitoring attendance,and ensuring that learning objectives are being met.

‘Aagahi sessions are conducted both at TCF schools and at independent centres within the community,’ Bazgha says. ‘While the principal oversees the affairs at the school, I am responsible for making sure that the programme runs smoothly at community centres. It is a very satisfying role. The participants are so motivated and are producing great results. I am glad I am part of their journey.’

As their session for the day wraps up, Shaheena walks out with her companions to tend to her home. The spring in their step defies the harshness of their surroundings. For these women, daily life may be a struggle, but they have full faith that the knowledge they are gaining will change their lives as well as those of their families.

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Beating the Odds!

Zainab was a bright child, and her mother, who had never been to school herself, was determined to educate her children, a dream both she and her late husband had shared.

Fifteen-year old Zainab shyly leads me into the single room that serves as home to her, her mother and younger brother. The first thing I notice are her books, neatly organised on a packed shelf. One corner, with clean blankets and cushions laid out on the floor, serves as the sleeping and sitting area. An alcove offers just enough space for a tiny kitchenette and washing area. ‘It is small, but it’s our home. We are content here,’ Zainab’s mother smiles as she looks around.

On top of a clothes drawer sits a framed photograph of a young, man with a mustache. Zainab points him out to me with pride as her mother begins to share the story of their journey. 12 years ago, the man in the picture – Zainab’s father – died when she was just three and her brother still in their mother’s womb. A carpenter, he was shot by robbers after he struggled to save a motorcycle borrowed from his uncle. For years before Zainab’s birth, he had worked as a labourer in Saudi Arabia, sending hard-earned wages back home before returning home, a few months before the incident, to be reunited with his pregnant wife and daughter.

Shattered and left without an income, Zainab’s mother was forced to remove her from the nursery school her father had lovingly enrolled her into. After giving birth to her son, Zainab’s mother moved into a small bedroom in her father’s crowded home in the low-income industrial community of Taiser Town, also shared by her brothers and their families.

Zainab was a bright child, and her mother, who had never been to school herself, was determined to educate her children, a dream both she and her late husband had shared. After the move to Taiser Town, she found out about a new primary school for children from low income families, established by TCF. She immediately paid a visit to the principal.

The principal didn’t just admit little Zainab, she also offered her mother a housekeeping job at the school. It was the first time in her life she had ever held a job, and it not only helped her pay for household expenses, but also enrol her son when he came of age.

‘It’s been 12 years now that I’ve worked with TCF. If it hadn’t come into my life when it did, neither of my children would have been able to go to school, just like me,’ she says.

Zainab sharing a lighter moment with her teacher, Ms. Tabassum

The road as a single mother hasn’t been easy. Money is always tight, and she cannot afford any of the luxuries she and her late husband had once dreamed of giving to their kids. She is grateful for the security of her father’s home, but it is crowded, and she hates being a burden. With her income from the school she was eventually able to add a stove and kitchenette to her room to be able to cook their own food. But beyond essential expenses, Zainab’s mother has dedicated her life to making sure her children have all they need to complete their education. She saves every penny to spend on books and other school expenses.

Today, her struggles are paying off. Zainab just scored an A in her board exams, and her principal and teachers can’t stop praising her quiet dedication. Zainab may be just 15, but is wise beyond her years. Keenly aware of the sacrifices made by her mother and the opportunities given to her by her school, she is determined to make them proud. She plans to study computer sciences after graduating, and will be the first girl in the family to ever attend college.

‘My mother gave up everything for us. I can’t wait to be able to take care of her,’ she says.

 

by Madiha Waris Qureshi- TCF Pakistan

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