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One, they did not have money, and two, nobody considered girls to be anything. By then I was in sixth standard [the equivalent of year eight in Britain]. What would become the Dream Model Street School began in , with one blackboard, at home.
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Humaira taught ten friends of her age, seven of them girls. She started with the alphabet, in Urdu and English, and proceeded to the names of things. She supplied blank pages from her own notebooks, until it got her into trouble with her teachers. Then the friends went round asking people to donate paper, or bought scrap.
Soon, Tahira, who was 11, and three other girls were teaching alongside Humaira. Time for study, time for play, time to eat — and time to go out and recruit. A short film released on YouTube this year, "Humaira, Dreamcatcher", demonstrates the challenges of this recruitment. Twelve years after the school started, the film shows local men still making their points: for girls to study is not our culture; they will be stared at while going to school; what use is educating a girl when she is only going to marry and run a house?
Permissions, given reluctantly, are withdrawn easily. The students could no longer fit into the Bachals' home, so the young teachers decided to rent. They took a square-foot plot with two sorry rooms surrounded by mounds of mud. They levelled the ground themselves, erected wooden poles and strung up discarded flour sacks for shade. These collapsed in the rain. Someone suggested they use Panaflex signboards in place of the sacks.
Sindh Basic Education Program (SBEP)
But the wooden poles would not take the weight. Somebody else suggested they use iron pipes, so they found a welder who helped rig them up. Finally, the shelter stood. They had just about plastered part of the floor with money from a small donation when a charity called arm Child and Youth Welfare came visiting. One of its initiatives was a home-literacy programme, which meant that it could provide textbooks. It meant we could pay the rent. By now, her own education had became a fraught affair. In those days Islamia Public School taught up to the eighth standard, two years short of the matriculation exam.
She wanted to be a doctor and spent her free time in the lab, dissecting frogs that she carried in from home. To her joy, she cracked the stationery problem at her own school when she discovered piles of half-used notebooks: the dinner lady had been tearing out the pages to wrap samosas. One morning Mohammad Bachal returned home as Humaira was leaving to take her ninth-standard English exam. Enraged, he slapped her, then beat her mother, who urged Humaira to grab her bag and run.
She sat the exam in a state of anxiety. When she returned, the house was calm. Her parents were having tea. He had not changed his mind. Just let me study. Once he understands, the severity with which he opposes you now, he will stand behind you with as much strength. When he got a job in Karachi, Mohammad Bachal began dropping off his daughters at school in his truck, which delighted them. But his conversion was not complete.
And the other men of Moach Goth would not let it be. They asked the family to leave the settlement: Humaira and Tahira were a bad influence. They sent thugs to intimidate them. Instead she enrolled in a madrassa, with the intention of becoming an Islamic scholar, taking a degree equivalent to a Bachelor of Arts.
She became an occasional speaker at religious congregations. She instructed girls in Moach Goth in namaaz , prayer, and wuzu , religious ablutions. Six months short of getting her degree, she quit. Humaira does not name names, and keeps the details vague: there were arguments with the teachers at the madrassa, there was an attempt to kidnap her, her family feared for her safety. To them women are naqis-ul-akl — of defective intelligence. My perspective on Islam was very different from theirs. In the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him, women were traders.
In the time of the Prophet, peace be upon him, women had been sipahisalar , military commanders; they lived in camps. So is that the correct Islam — or is it four walls and purdah? Islam to me is the faith which gives rights, rather than takes them away. My conscience, my heart, was not satisfied with what they were saying. Why should I take a degree to which I am opposed?
List of schools in Pakistan
What would I do with it? From 7. The school is co-educational, the books are free, and there is no uniform. For those who can pay, fees are 30 rupees 20p a month. Classes start from nursery and run up to eighth standard. The classrooms are partitioned by curtains, their walls alive with drawings and craft. The blackboards are busy with writing, not all of it completely accurate.
Anjum looks at wall clock every day". The teachers are in their late teens or early 20s. Most began their own schooling here. In the evenings there are classes for child labourers. In the afternoons, a two-hour madrassa class, held for tactical, as well as educational, reasons. There are over 50 mosques in Moach Goth, and almost all have a madrassa. One boy, they brainwashed him so much, he pulled his sister out of school.
He has become an imam. Enrolment is one thing, retaining students another. Girls are often pulled out at A few years ago, of 50 nursery students, boys and girls, only two would still be attending by fifth standard. That number is now up to At noon there is an adult literacy class, used mostly by older girls who do not have permission to attend school — or a school to attend.
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Last year ten girls from Moach Goth matriculated. This was a record. They have already mounted a successful campaign to reopen one of the two abandoned primaries in Moach Goth. Police constables were sent in to clear out the junkies. The teachers — ghost teachers receiving real salaries — were ordered back. Qayoom used to paint spare parts for motorbikes, but quit his job when he realised how much he enjoyed being at Dream.
Mujeeb was the younger brother of one of the original teachers. A few months ago he was picked up while standing sentry near the school, during a paramilitary operation to flush out criminals. His misfortune, according to his friends, was that he looked like a Makrani gangster: tall, dark, with matted hair. The Moach Goth gangs mostly respect the school.
They may snatch mobile phones from its teachers, but they have never made demands: some of them have young relatives at Dream. The de-ghosted government primary is as stark as a shell. Every piece of furniture, every fitting seems to have been stolen. Nothing remains, no doors, no windows, not even their frames. The white afternoon light explodes into the bare, ravaged rooms, onto the brown sandscape outside, the thorns on the acacia.
Sitting on 26th July 2017
There are squares of cardboard scattered on the floor, where students must have sat that morning. It was shown in Lahore, and Humaira, Tahira and their mother were invited, the first time they had been to the city. Humaira made a speech. With the donations and networking that followed, teachers could be trained and paid a modest salary.
The curriculum and the textbooks could be upgraded. We are scared that the school will shut down. The first part of the building, on a sqft plot, is the result of a gift from a Pakistani company, Engro Vopak, and a Swiss foundation, Volkart. The ground floor is almost done. If further funds come in, two more storeys will be built. In the back yard we want to put fish and plants and birds. Her involvement was arranged by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy: Pakistan needs heroes, she says, their stories must be told.
When the talk was over, Humaira says, and the lights came up and she saw thousands of women in the auditorium standing and applauding, tears came to her eyes. She was such a small part of such a small place, but look at the respect the audience was giving her. She thought, "I wish my father could see this.
Mohammad Bachal's House , on a plot the family owns, is today one of the finest in Moach Goth. His family has eased into comfort. She now makes a living giving leadership training, and remains president of the school and the Dream Foundation Trust, which runs it.