contact@tcfnorway.org

Uncategorized

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.

Read more

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

Read more

Fredrik´s Story

This summer I’m getting married to the most wonderful girl in the world. To me and her this is a very happy time and we are very lucky to be able to celebrate our marriage with all our friends and family.

Growing up in a small town in Norway I never thought that the girl I was going to marry was learning to read in sprawling Rawalpindi in Pakistan. The difference from Bergen, a rainy city on the west coast of Norway, to Rawalpindi is as contrasting as one can find. When we met, none of the differences in upbringing mattered. We fell in love with each other and all the differences in the world didn’t matter. We made each other happy and that was enough for us.

Last year when we decided to get married we realized that nothing about our wedding would be traditional in any sense. So instead of going for the big diamond ring as a symbol of our love and commitment we wanted to do something different.

Both, Nada and I, have an inherent respect for education, our familys always stressed the importance of education, Nada’s story can be read here. For me it was never a question of if I was going to study at a university it was just a question of what I wanted to study. In recent years I have realized just how lucky I am to have grown up in Norway where all education is free, even most post-graduation degrees. This is not the case for most of the world and even more so for Pakistan.

Unlike most of the developed nations in the world today, Pakistan does not have a mandatory education system. The state is too poor to pay for school for its 182 million inhabitants, 3 out of every 10 children aged 5-9 years do not go to school. Once in school, the dropout rate is extremely high. Overall literacy in Pakistan is extremely low, about 92 million people cannot read and write. And at the current rate of investment in education it is not likely to change.

Therefore, to mark our union,  we decided to build a school in Pakistan with money raised from Norway. To achieve this goal we are asking all our friends and family to help us by donating towards this goal. Thank you for supporting us in this cause and helping us make our dream come true. I will end with Malala’s wise words: “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.”

 

Read more

Nada´s Story

I grew up in Rawalpindi, Pakistan a sprawling city, right next to the capital, Islamabad. When it was time for my sister and I to start going to school, my parents faced a predicament. A good quality education in Pakistan comes at a hefty price- a price my parents could not afford at the time. There was no question that we would go to school, however, my parents stayed awake at night feeling the guilt of their limited income limiting our future.

Now, you may be wondering, a school is a school. But here are the sober facts:

The public school system in Pakistan is grossly underfunded with only 2 % of GDP allocated for education- one of the lowest in the world- and that obviously leads to insufficient  number of schools and an alarmingly poor quality of public schools.

There are some 20,000 “shelterless” schools throughout Pakistan. And even when there are buildings, 60 percent have no electricity, and 40 percent have no drinking water. The state of the schools is so dismal that Pakistan has the lowest enrollment rate in all of South Asia.

My parents tell me how the guilt of not sending their children to a good school tore them apart. They made significant sacrifices and prioritized spending money on our education over other needs. My mother worked her way through the system and got a job at a private school which allowed her children to go to school for free. That is where my story begins.

I started at The City School when I was 5. It was there that I learned how to write, to do math, to speak English and to make friends. It was from there that I could then apply for a scholarship to study in Hong Kong and my eyes opened up to a world beyond Pakistan. Today, I am an engineer, living in Norway- living the life my parents had dreamt . Their sacrifice paid off.

There are many in Pakistan who are less fortunate. Like, the lady who comes to clean my uncles’ house every day in Islamabad. She brings her two kids with her, one is hardly under the age of two. They hide under the chair,  shy and playful with their smiles as she wipes the floor. I ask her if they will go to school and she says ‘ I want them to but we don’t have the resources and my husband says we will get more out of them if they work.’ I turn away as my eyes tear up looking at the adorable faces under the table. They too deserve a better future.

When Fredrik and I got engaged last year, we made a vow to build a school in Pakistan so that hundreds of more parents can go to sleep without worrying about their children’s future. It made sense for us to partner with an organization that’s already doing great work in this area, The Citizens Foundation.

This is our way of showing commitment to one another and to Pakistan- a country that despite its fallacies has its splendor and magic. For me, it’s never forgetting where I come from. For both of us- it is time to give back.

Read more