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Let me introduce you to twenty two year old Humaira Bachal. The first time I saw her was in the Heroes Session of the Rahbar Program of the Citizens Foundation (“TCF”). Rahbar is a program which focuses on the development of students studying in TCF schools as responsible individuals and productive members of society. In this program individuals from all walks of life spend time with eight and ninth graders studying in various schools in the cities, during the eight weeks of the Rahbar Program. One of the sessions of the program is the, “Hero Speaker” session, where guest speakers talk about their life struggles, with particular focus on how these individuals fought all challenges and succeeded in the face of adversity. In this particular session, Humaira Bachal was the Hero Speaker for the students of the TCF Sumar Goth School.
Dressed in black shalwar kameez and with a red shawl draped over her head, her face was calm and composed, belying the story of her struggle that she would soon unfurl open us. She was the second Hero Speaker for the day and I waited patiently with baited breath for the moment she would speak. And when that moment finally arrived, we were all humbled to dust and she was elevated in our eyes to such a large extent, that we could have made her our queen.
This is her story.
Humaira Bachal moved to the Moach Goth squatter settlement in Karachi City, when her village and her home were destroyed by floods in interior Sindh. Her mother, Zainab Bibi at that time took the bold step of convincing her husband to send Humaira and her younger sister, Tahira to school. The two sisters were the only children to go to school in that particular settlement. Whilst the sisters spent their time in school, their friends played in the streets throughout the day. As a typical first grader, Humaira initially believed that going to school was a punishment. However with time, she soon realized that she infact was the “privileged one”.
Her introspective mind and sensitive nature inevitably led her to feel troubled over the plight of the other children in her neighbourhood. She wanted all her friends to go to school as well but knew that financial constraints would probably never let this happen. Humaira however did not know the meaning of giving up and soon had a novel idea up her sleeve to redress this injustice. She would herself teach the children in the neighbourhood. The only problem was the dearth of stationary, copies and books.
Nothing could be too big of a problem for Humaira. She soon started asking her school friends to donate their old school books, copies and stationary, which she collected in a basket at the end of every class when the teachers were away. Soon Humaira’s home school was functional and being attended by the children of the area.
Although Humaira was actively working to elevate the condition of her own village, she had to face setbacks of her own as well. Her father wanted to pull her out of school when she was in grade eight and get her married. At that time Humaira’s mother begged her husband to let Humaira study further. The result of this plea was a resounding slap across Zainab bibi’s face. Despite physical and verbal abuse and the possibility of social boycott in her community, Zainab bibi continued to convince her husband, who eventually relented when Humaira promised that she would marry anyone deaf, dumb or blind without cavil if her father let her finish school.
As the population of children in her school grew, she persuaded other classmates and juniors at school to join in and help in this noble venture. In 2003 she established, “The Dream Foundation” which was aligned with the aims of this very school. The only problem was that the kitchen floor and the courtyard of her modest home were not spacious enough to accommodate the students. Despair settled in her heart and she realized that perhaps her school would not be able to sustain itself. It was at that time when one of her students encouraged her and Humaira rejuvenated by their faith started to look for solutions. She decided to seek help from the ARM Youth Welfare Society running street schools in the adjacent poverty stricken neighbourhood of Lyari. When the organization visited Humaira’s school, they were pleasantly surprised and impressed. Convinced of Humaira’s sincerity and infected by her positivity and motivation the organization arranged financial support from the Rotary Club, and Humaira was able to rent a space in the neighbourhood that she affectionately named the. “The Dream Model Street School.”
Things improved in her personal life as well. On a visit to her village in interior Sindh, she was informed that her uncle had purchased a plot of land. Being an inquisitive character, she convinced her uncle to show her the paperwork and map relating to the purchase. All it took was a cursory glance for her to realize that her uncle was being fraudulently given a smaller plot of land than what he had bargained for. When she brought this fact to her uncle’s attention, she was met with disdain and sarcasm- after all what is a woman supposed to know about these things which involve men. Undeterred she convinced her uncle to take her to the local land registry where she was proven right and the fraudulent transaction was exposed. At that moment, her father could not have been more proud as his daughter had proven herself to the same community which looked down upon her decision to study.
Meanwhile, news of Humaira’s endeavours reached the ears of a Shirkatgah, a nonprofit organization who were researching on women empowerment. They decided to document Humaira’s work. This documentary,titled, ”A Small Dream” was launched on 28 March, 2009, in Lahore at the South Asia Free Media Association, with Humaira, Tahira and Zainab Bibi attending. It was while watching this documentary itself that she realised what she had done and the impact it had in her community. She recalls watching the whole documentary with tears streaming down her face and in utter disbelief of what sheand her friends had achieved.
As word spread and her documentary was aired on television, organizations Like Engro Vopak, Orangi Pilot Project (OPP), Shirkat Gah, Behbud Association and Family Planning Association of Pakistan started supporting The Dream Foundation and this support remains to-date.
In 2007, Humaira as she says, “retired” from the school in order to earn a living and to be able to support her school and to try to pay some of the dedicated staff . She however remains as the President and is on the board of trustees of her trust. Her 19‐year old sister Tahira is now the principal. Humaira, since then has been offered a scholarship by the Lahore University of Management and Sciences, which she has declined to avail for now.
“If I leave now and abandon the children studying in my school, who will look after them?” she says matter of factly.
The Dream Model Street School currently has a staff of 22 teachers, aged between 13 and 24, who work for free and are active donors of the foundation itself. The school has by now imparted education to approximately two thousand students. Apart from regular studies, the school also provides computer classes, has a female literacy project, has an Islamic education class and conducts separate evening classes for children who work to earn a living in the day.
Humaira dreams of making her school a long ‐lasting institution by constructing a proper school building that will remain even when she is gone. An empty plot of land is available, but the young teachers need Pakistani Rupees 2,800,000 to purchase it.
The session was almost over and almost all the children and mentors sitting in the TCF Sumar Goth campus had questions brimming within us. One of the mentors’ asked Humaira as to why she had chosen to do all this when she could have joined the status quo like many of her peers. Her answer sent shivers down our spine. She told us that she had seen her female relative who was suffering from a stomach ache die after she was injected with medicine and a syringe meant for horses. She also told us of her little cousin who died because of eating expired medicine. Humaira believes that these deaths took place because of illiteracy and lack of common sense and awareness which can only be erased through education.
We have much to learn from Humaira, who has done the unthinkable in her community through her courage, motivation and the simple will to bring about a change. Where we talk about the problems faced by our country while sitting in our luxurious drawing rooms, she has actually translated all those thoughts into action despite the uncountable problems that she faces and we do not. She is the change in her community. At this tender age, she has a vision for this country- a vision that we all share. This is the time for us to join hands with Humaira, step out of our pseudo intellectual drawing room discourse, and bring about that change. Let us ensure that Humaira’s small dream becomes a reality and that it is not in fact one Model Street School that gets saved, but several such schools are constructed so that every street of our country is a dream come true.
You can find out about more about the Rahbar Program and the process to register as a volunteer here: http://www.thecitizensfoundation.org/docs/rahbar.pdf
To get linked with Ms. Bachal and help her in raising funds for her school, please write to:
Dream Foundation Trust, Muwach Goth Brohi Muhallah, Near Murshid Hospital, SUPARCO Road, Hub River Road, Keamari Town, Karachi, Pakistan.
To donate to the Dream Foundation Trust, please deposit donations in the following bank account:
DREAM Foundation Trust
A/c No. 09947100289003
Habib Bank Limited
To see Humaira’s documentary, click here: http://blip.tv/r4d/a-small-dream-2127432