Naureen Aqueel

Touching lives: For the ones who need it the most

Posted on: August 9, 2008

An edited version of this article was published in The News, Educationzine, August 9, 2008.

Schools and colleges often require students to complete a certain number of hours of community service in various areas before they pass out. Many universities also give preference to students who have participated in some form of community service.  The aim behind this is usually to instill in students a healthy conscience to help others, be of benefit to the community or society at large and to make them interact first hand with people who may not be as privileged as they are.

Many schools and colleges in Pakistan make it mandatory for students to complete a specified number of hours in community service, while others encourage students to do it in return for extra credit or extra certificates. This practice proves beneficial in that it provides a steady stream of volunteers to charitable organisations which are in dire need of people willing to spend time with the less privileged for whom these organisations are built. Students taking part in community service go to places like homes for the mentally and physically handicapped, old homes, orphanages, hospitals, charitable trusts, and schools.

Till now, the more popular trend in Karachi was for students to go to organisations like Darul Sukoon, which houses the mentally and physically handicapped and other old-age homes. A unique programme however has now been initiated by an NGO by the name Society for Educational Welfare (SEW) which runs a network of community based welfare “Baithak Schools” for underprivileged children in less developed areas of the city.

In line with its new Collaborative Community Development Programme (CCDP), SEW has initiated a programme of collaboration with mainstream schools and colleges whereby students from these schools and colleges come to the “Baithak Schools” and share their knowledge and time with these underprivileged children who cannot afford to study in schools like theirs. “This programme provides a platform for outsiders to help these children without having to invest time and money in gathering the resources and children,” says the In-charge of the Collaborative Community Development Programme at SEW. “It bridges the gap between these students and students of mainstream schools.”

The prototype of the programme was initiated in collaboration with Foundation Public School (FPS), whose students spent 24 Saturdays in community service at different branches of the “Bhaitak Schools”. The students of Foundation Public School were given themes like ‘helping others’, ‘a place for better living’, ‘colours around us’ etc to work with each Saturday. In accordance with these themes, students prepared lectures, demonstrations and other creative work to carry out with the children. They also taught the children pot-painting, drawing, collage work, sentence construction etc.

“Alongside their regular studies, we wanted the Baithak children to learn new skills as a result of this programme,” says Shaheen Arif, Co-ordinator of the Pehlwangoth branch.

The students of Foundation Public School also added to the infrastructure of the school by painting walls, setting-up a library for the children and re-organizing the office.

“It was an invigorating experience,” says a student of FPS who was a part of this programme. “It brought passion into out hearts.”

Most of the FPS students found it to be ‘an excellent experience’ and said it was a process of ‘two-way learning’ wherein they not only taught the Bhaitak students different skills but also learned many things from them.

Speaking about an extremely misbehaved child whom the FPS students helped transform into a more disciplined student, the In-charge of the CCDP says, “He could have been tomorrow’s terrorist, thief or criminal, but the attention the FPS students gave him helped transform him into a better Pakistani.”

Miss Zeba, the principal of the FPS branch whose students were a part of this programme describes this as “touching their lives”. Indeed, this programme helped touch the lives of many students who are less privileged than their counterparts who study in elite private schools. It also helped bridge the gap between the two extremes in our educational system. Programmes like these are desperately needed in societies like ours where the gap between the rich and the poor is growing day by day.

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