A tribute to the real heroes of Pakistan: From The Citizens Foundation to Rizwan Scholars

A tribute to the real heroes of Pakistan
In the national interest

Monday, February 16, 2009
by Kamal Siddiqi

The writer is editor reporting, The News

These are gloomy times for Pakistan with many doubting what the future holds for us. Thousands have decided to leave for greener pastures owing to the uncertainty and lawlessness that we see around us. They have their reasons. Many saw hope in the selected government of President Musharraf and were disappointed most of all with the deals he ended up making to stay in power. Others are disgusted with the politicians, who have squandered opportunities time and again.

One cannot paint all those who leave Pakistan for other lands with one brush. There are many reasons why people migrate. Some do it for better job prospects, others because they feel their talents are being wasted here. Several do it for the simple reason that they want their children to secure a better future. As our country moves along, one of our biggest strengths are our overseas Pakistanis who dutifully send valuable foreign exchange home, and this is what drives our economy to a large extent.

The one thing Pakistanis should not do is lose hope. There is hope at home too. The mistake that Pakistanis make is to bunch country and government together. If the government makes mistakes, they automatically assume that the fault lies with Pakistan.

We can blame the government as much as we want — provided the criticism is logical and sincere, and that the purpose is to point out wrongs and not to single-mindedly condemn. At the same time, Pakistan remains close to one’s heart. It is not only our home but our identity too. No matter how many nationalities or countries we change, we will remain Pakistanis.

Patriots are not those who wave flags and do nothing, those who pledge to fight for Pakistan but run at the first sign of danger or uncertainty. Patriotic are those Pakistanis who believe in this country and strive for making something out of nothing.

2009 marks 13 years of one such group which has done us all proud. In 1995, when things were going from bad to worse in the country, with kidnappings and intolerance on the rise and the law and order situation deteriorating, a group of Karachi-based businessmen decided to get into the education sector and set up a school for those who could not afford quality education.

The logic for setting up a school was that education is the key to solving many ills in society — from lack of basic knowledge about hygiene to developing more sense of tolerance. When this group of businessmen went to educationists for help, they were told that since they had no experience of imparting education, it would be better that they handed over their funds. Instead, they took the challenge.

Five schools were set up in some of the poorest localities of the city. Thus was born The Citizens Foundation (TCF), a not-for-profit corporate entity which has gone from strength to strength ever since, almost entirely funded by Pakistanis living here and abroad, and free of any foreign donor funding or handouts from the usual sources that most NGOs tap. The name chosen was itself neutral, not after any person, community or school of thought. Everybody welcome.

When asked why they set it up, in the first place, Mushtaq Chapra, a Karachi businessman and one of the founding members of TCF said that they did it to pay something back to Pakistan, as Pakistan had given them a lot. Most of those who started this project had migrated here, or their parents had, and after notching successes in their lives, wanted to pay back something to the country.

Today, the TCF runs 530 schools all over Pakistan. It is working on a target of 1,000 schools. Schools are opened in low-income localities or in the rural areas. Of the funds they collect, which are fully audited, 91 percent go into the school while the administrative overheads come to about 9 percent. An achievement by any standard. At international seminars, the low costs incurred by TCF is becoming a management example.

So far, 900 children have completed their Matriculation (SSC) through the TCF, of which 73 percent have moved on to colleges. More impressive is the fact that 40 percent of children got A1 or A grades and the pass percentage of the schools averages at about 99 percent.

TCF makes no discrimination in terms of ethnic or religious backgrounds and enrols on a first-come-first-served basis. One of TCF’s first administrators, Lt Gen (Retd) Sabeeh Qamaruz Zaman, is credited to have set up a system which holds it in good stead. Twenty-three girls who studied through the TCF system have come back to teach in it. Many more have gone to other organisations and institutions, in the process creating a future for themselves and betterment for those around them.

This has been done through an all-inclusive approach. Children who worked in the daytime were offered evening shifts, and vice versa. Children working to support their families is a reality. One cannot fight against it. Instead, the element was taken into account.

People in the lower-income strata of Pakistan do not doubt their country’s future. Despite the hard times, you rarely find them talking about the break-up of Pakistan. And organisations like TCF have helped many from amongst less privileged backgrounds achieve their dreams.

There are many examples around us of professionals who have devoted their lives and put in their money and resources to try and make a difference. Take, for example, the work done by Shahzad Roy of Zindagi Trust and Sami Mustafa of the Book Group, who together turned around the fortunes of SMB Fatima School in Karachi. Here, the lives of hundreds of girls have changed as the school they were enrolled in was given by the government to a private entity to run and improve it.

Within three years, SMB School has been transformed with clean and neat classrooms, happy children, safe playgrounds and a computer lab and library that puts some of the better schools in Pakistan to shame. Pakistanis have put in their money in the form of donations to transform the lives of the girls here. Now the children have roller-blading and rowing classes, something they could not have dreamt of some years back.

There are several examples of Pakistanis going out and helping their less fortunate compatriots, especially in the field of education and health. Most of the work that has made a difference has been in areas where Pakistanis have contributed, not donor agencies. Doctors volunteer their time and skills. But they do not make a hue and cry about it. Take, for example, the Musafirkhana run by Mayo Hospital doctors and philanthropists in Lahore.

This spirit should not die. Last Ramazan, this newspaper signed an agreement with the Standard Chartered Bank to raise money in the holy month for three deserving Pakistani organisations which are working to help the underprivileged. These organisations were TCF, Care Foundation and Rizwan Scholars. The bank committed to match every rupee donated.

The Care Foundation has been working wonders in Punjab where they have helped hundreds of children receive a better quality of education which would have been impossible otherwise. Seema Aziz, one of the people behind this foundation, is a successful businesswoman who makes world-class textile products under the brand name “Bareeze.”

Rizwan Scholars is a comparatively small enterprise set up by the widow of Air Commodore Rizwanulllah Khan, a decorated Air Force officer, and has been helping children in the Potohar region fulfil their dreams. Their motto “We are the wind beneath his wings,” is indicative of how this organisation has made many fly.

The good news is that the fundraising exceeded the wildest imagination of all. In fact, it created a national record, that too in a year when the country had started to witness an economic slowdown. The lessons to learn in all this is that, given the opportunity, Pakistanis will respond. And more important, let us not look for heroes in the skies, our heroes are amongst us. Most important, do not lose hope. There is much in Pakistan to be happy about and feel proud of. (The News)

Email: kamal.siddiqi@thenews.com.pk