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Karachi Rural Pilot Project

Karachi Rural Pilot Project
A Visit Report

Invisible, in the eyes of most people, the outskirts of Karachi, hosts a huge population of objectionably poor, completely backward, exceptionally deprived, unacceptably illiterate people, in what is called rural Karachi (Pakistan). No change is a change for the better, at least for them. They have never known wealth, material comforts or technological advancements. Whatever the year, whatever the age, whatever the time, they remain living in the middle-ages, stuck in a cycle of extreme poverty and ill-luck, which is impossible to climb out of.

Come 2009, there is change in the air, and the catalyst of change is none other than a nation-wide Adult Literacy Project called PLP Pakistan Literacy Project.   Mr. Nisar Memon, himself the ex chief of the IBM, and an active and visibly vocal member of the Senate has done us all proud by taking this timely initiative. Mr  Memon aspires to raise the status and standards of living of the poor people, specially the women, of Pakistan. He is supported by a team of extremely capable and determined people, who have been working with him on many projects and are part of PLP from the time of its initiation. Mr Shoukat Bizinjo, IT Auditor at the State Bank of Pakistan and Mr Rabel Akhund  at a Corporate and Commercial Law Firm Akhund Forbes, are the foremost. Not to mention the teachers working at the PLP centres  at different locations.

The hall-mark of the project is its clearly defined goals and fixed deadlines. This visit to the PLP centers was arranged in keeping with these standards. The whole visit ran extremely smoothly with no hitches, on a day when the city was partially paralyzed, mourning the death of a few more workers in a long line of political assassinations, or cold-blooded revenge, completely ethnic in nature.

The first center we visited was the Memon Goth Center in Gadap Town. A generous family has opened up their home and reserved their fairly large front room for fellow villagers (women) to come and learn to read and write as well as converse and express themselves clearly in basic Urdu. The school timings are fixed for the afternoon. So that the women can complete their household chores before they come to the center to study. Women with younger children, both boys and girls, bring their children along. These children pick up the lessons along with their mothers. Some of the women interviewed recalled vaguely that they had studied in a few classes in Sindhi schools, but had forgotten whatever they had learnt over a period of time. They were happy to resume their studies again, and were eager to study further. The women students at the centre were quite shy and reserved initially. But warming up to the conversation, they became quite vocal and freely expressed their cares and concerns. Mostly all the younger girls had already taken lessons in Quran and picked up Urdu quickly as well. Mr Bizingo gave them a pep talk in Sindhi and Urdu and asked them to take their lessons seriously and work harder. He also asked the teacher to prepare three star students who could take up teaching at new centers later. Mr Akhund explained to them the importance of being able to read and write so that they could raise and teach their children better or handle the house-hold budget better. Know their way about, which bus to take, where to get off where to get on the bus, how to read destinations and distances and locations for hospitals and markets etc. How to converse with the people at these places. How ask for help or explain their problem or condition etc.  All the women were asked to bring in and help more women as well.

The next center to be visited was located in the Soomar Kandani village, in the surrounding areas of Memon Goth. This was a considerably poorer area. The house lodging the center was owned by a person who was a teacher himself and had been teaching for quite some time. The PLP teacher was his daughter. Like her predecessor she was a pleasant young woman, quite popular with her students. Again the students expected the visitors to speak, while they listened. Instead they were told to choose any lesson of their choice from their Urdu Book and read it out to everyone in the room.

After initial reluctance the women dropped their inhibitions and read out aloud, from their favorite passages from the book. All of them choose to read the Naat, in praise of the Holy Prophet P.B.U.H. at the beginning of the book. Some were asked to copy down what they had just recited. All of them were able to do so without much difficulty or help from their teacher.

One mother and daughter pair, were both studying at the center and both doing well. The mother sent a written request to Mr. Memon that they wanted to continue the learning process. Mr Bizingo repeated his statement of wanting all the students to show interest and work hard, as all the hard work will pay off, more centers will be opened for women and exceptional students from this center would be able to work as teachers there. Mr. Akhund built a rapport with the women by talking to them in Sindhi and explaining to them the importance of what they were doing, in their own lives, as well as the lives of their children and their family etc.

The last center we visited was located in the really poor Kohi Goth (Bin Qasim town). Nearly all the students and their teacher as well was of Baluchi origin. The teacher had already worked on many projects with Mr.Bizingo and was quite well-trained. She kept an attendance register which showed that her classes were nearly always full. The Baluchi women, were also quite shy and tongue-tied. They were not allowed to relax or retire into their shells, of habit. They were asked questions about themselves, as an interactive exercise, and then asked to recite some poetry of their choice or read from a passage in the book. Some students did recite the poetry in a low and steady voice, without making any mistakes. The younger girls jumped up and excitedly recited “lab pey aati hai dua” “a prayer comes on my lips” from “ A Child’s Prayer” by the poet Iqbal. Another student stood up and sang the National Anthem. All the women answered unanimously that they would all like to study further, and bring more women to the center along with themselves.

All in all, a really good trip to undertake and one which more and more people can undertake. A nice experience altogether, of another part of our city which we never see, and another side of our people that we never see. The women of the rural areas of Karachi, taking out time for them, for the first time ever, to educate and uplift themselves, and their people from the depths of despair.

There is a saying “where there’s a will, there’s a way” and Mr. Memon has very kindly, provided all of us, with this wonderful way forward!

The author of this write-up (Khadija Rizvi ),also the Director PLP Canada, made the trip with the sole purpose of finding out for herself, the workings of the PLP centers on the ground (discussed above) as well as the challenges facing the PLP team on its outset. Inescapable factors like extreme poverty, years of willful neglect, the constant environment of uncertainty portrayed by people above them and around them etc.

The odds are great, but the rewards are great too. Women, who presume they are totally helpless in difficult situations, have no idea that they are the solution to their own problems. They have to raise or rather correct their self-image, and proceed from there. Each and every one of them are strong, capable and gifted in their own ways, but unfortunately, have never perceived themselves to be.

They can learn and earn just like every other women in urban Pakistan (in this case Karachi). They can improve the living conditions of their own families and help and inspire others (men and women) like themselves, to do the same. Education, meaning…. being able to read, write and think for themselves, is all the empowerment they need. All three PLP centers visited are providing women that empowerment. The teachers talk to them, listen to them, urge them, bring them…out of their homes….and into the learning centers, to learn. To bring themselves at par with other women in the centers who can read and write. As well as at par with their own daughters who are far quicker and way ahead of them in this arena. So as to recover lost ground, as quickly as they possibly can.

The visiting director, made sure the visit is fully utilized, by making the women voice their innermost constraints there and then and be over with them, so the real learning can begin. They were also made to stand up and read and recite whatever they learnt, to make them realize that in the first instance, with education comes self-esteem and confidence. The confidence to believe in themselves, that they are something and that they can accomplish things if they set their minds to it. What is a novelty (read challenge) for them today would be a routine matter for them tomorrow. A learning that is, applicable to both the teachers, who although educated, are sometimes even younger than their students, and the students themselves. And to a great extent the whole PLP team in terms of the challenge to keep moving ahead with this amazing and timely project….the Pakistan Literacy Project!

Report by: Saiyada Khadija Rizvi on 14th August, 2009