KARACHI: An experiment in homeschooling, which was started for underprivileged children some 37 years ago by renowned infectious disease specialist Dr Naseem Salahuddin, has borne its fruit as many of her students, who had begun their studies from the lawn of her house, have successfully joined different professions and careers later in their lives.
The Citizen’s Education Development Foundation (CEDF), founded by Dr Salahuddin, organised an Appreciation Day for those teachers who participated in this journey and for the students who benefited from the initiative, on Saturday.
The most interesting thing about the initiative is its transformation from a home school into a mobile classroom ‘bus’ which took education to the doorstep of the children, who could not reach the home school.
It was a day of looking back. It was a day of looking forward with more hope for the future as one by one the children stepped out of the mobile school to gather in Dr Salahuddin’s home lawn.
This mobile school along with its teachers went to the kids instead of their having to come to it.
It happens to be a long Hino bus painted in cheerful colours both on the outside and the inside. The interior has lots of red, green, orange and blue benches and tables with a blackboard at the front. The outside of the bus has children in green fields chasing after alphabets and the picture of a teacher with his students, which carried an uncanny resemblance to one of the most senior teachers of the school, Sir Dildar Hussain.
It was him in fact as the picture was painted by Mr Dildar’s own nephew. The teacher shared with Dawn his experience of teaching with CEDF for some 29 years now. “Many of my students have joined different professions. Some have also joined us as teachers,” he said while pointing to a couple of women seated next to him.
About his own motivation, he told Dawn that he hailed from Azad Kashmir where he grew up in poor circumstances. “I used to walk for two hours to get to my school and then after school, I would walk back for another two hours to reach home,” he said. “We were not very well off. Sometimes I didn’t have textbooks, sometimes I didn’t have notebooks,” he added.
“And I remembered the hardships I faced during my own childhood while watching the street children of Neelam Colony. They loitered around, playing with stray dogs. I had to get them to school,” he said, adding that at CEDF they begin by first preparing the students for classes according to their ages before having them admitted into a government school. “But our work is not finished even then as we also make sure that they are doing well in their schools by taking an active interest in their learning. We meet their teachers and we check their school reports,” he said.
Mr Dildar’s elder brother Liaquat Hussain is CEDF’s senior-most teacher having worked with the foundation for 37 years. “The biggest gift that we give to these children is confidence. That done, they are on their way,” he smiled.
Another senior teacher, a volunteer, Sughra, said that she had been with the foundation for 21 years. “I was a teacher at the Defence Authority School in DHA Phase IV until I retired. But I had much teaching left in me and so I gladly accepted Dr Salahuddin’s offer to join her,” she said.
There were so many other volunteers at the annual Teachers Appreciation Day, feeling so happy to see how far they have come and how many children’s lives they have helped put back on track.
The children were entertained with stories, snacks and so much more. The top students among them were appreciated, applauded and awarded, too. But all were not among the stars. There was also Guriya, a class-four student, whose friends were now in class five because Guriya missed her final exams as she had to accompany her mother to Sadiqabad when an uncle passed away. As it is her over-protective father is not too keen on sending her to school. But the child wants to study. But she is lucky to have her teachers, Farah Majid and Sabeen Anjum, cheering her on. They are coaching her to make up for the lost lessons. Soon she will appear for her exams and hopefully catch up with her friends.
The teachers are confident of her success. They also have other success stories to inspire the younger students like the bright example of sisters Mehwish Ghulam Mustafa and Bushra Ghulam Mustafa, also products of the mobile school of whom Mehwish is now a student of BCom Part-1 and Bushra has applied for admission in LLB at a private university. The girls also have a friend looking to get into Computer Science.
Acknowledgement: Published in Daily Dawn on December 24th, 2023