The story of one man’s struggle to give free education
Mohammed Ayub is an employee of the Civil Defense Authority. He is married with three kids and is a resident of the capital city of Islamabad. Dressed in a cotton shalwar kameez, with an unpolished accent, nothing about his demeanor suggests that he is any different from the millions of lower middle income Pakistanis who are struggling to make both ends meet. Yet this man is most extraordinary for he is singlehandedly responsible for educating thousands of children from poor families who would otherwise have remained illiterate. Here is the inspiring story of his free school.
I am standing in a corner of a park on Hill Road, one of Islamabad’s posh localities. Just across the double road, in a low-lying ground is a slum colony and it is from here that I see many kids hurrying with their bags and bright expressions. Other kids join in from the servants’ quarters of the surrounding kothis and nearby Said Pur village.
There is a feverish energy and anticipation as if something truly exciting is about to happen. And so it is – I have arrived a little early for our appointment and stare with amazement as a makeshift school magically appears before my eyes. Chattais (mats) are unrolled and a few blackboards on stands are set up and school is ready to start as kids in a uniformed manner take up their places, neatly organized by age groups.
How many times have we seen such young kids at traffic lights selling flowers or knick-knacks or washing cars in car parks and given them a second thought such as, shouldn’t these kids be in school? Do they have any rights? Do they even deserve a different tomorrow? Sadly, most of us don’t bother. Beyond a few seconds of pity or a quick roll down of the window and a flicking out of a Rs.20 note and an equally fast, if not faster, roll up of the window to avoid further interaction. We generally write off these kids as ‘not our concern’…
Mithu is a domestic worker/servant, in a nearby kothi. He earns Rs. 2000 a month and is one of Master Ayub’s Brightest student.
Well, Ayub thought differently- 28 years ago Ayub made these underprivileged kids his concern and decided to do something about it. No formal training as an educator, a meager salary, and no resources- only a deep, driving passion to make a difference – Ayub set up a roadside school in F-6 Supermarket in Islamabad to give free lessons to any child who wanted a go at education. Despite being ridiculed at first, not to mention hounded by the civil authorities for encroachment, or nearby shopkeepers for affecting their business, or bored policemen looking for a bit of sport, Ayub persisted and persevered. Not satisfied with voluntary enrolment, he went in search of likely candidates for his school, often cajoling and negotiating with reluctant parents and even more reluctant employers to allow these kids to attend his school. It was no mean feat, as most of these kids, young and unskilled as they are represent an earning capability that is attractive to hard-pressed parents while employers can get away with cheap labour.
Ayub, better known as Master Ayub, relates the story of his struggle to establish a free evening school with no reproach. All I see is immense pride, as I meet him at his school which he has named- “Second Time Civil Defense Talimi Ayub Park School.” Due to Ramzan, the school timings are from 4:30 pm-6:30 pm, otherwise the free school runs till 7:30 pm. This timing helps accommodate kids who work or attend regular school.
After a short prayer and national anthem, I watch as lessons in Maths, English and Science are taught by Ayub and his prot
égés. These protégés are his long-term students who have returned to offer their free services and are essential to teaching the 250 plus enrolled students. The disciplined and organized manner in which lessons take place is astonishing. Ayub introduces me to several of his students and they proudly display their learning and talk about themselves. I realize Ayub is giving these kids not just the gift of literacy but a deep confidence and a vision.Ayub does not draw a single rupee as salary from the school; rather he often purchases books and pays the fee for the kids who attend regular school in parallel. While the Pakistan Education Foundation and a few other organizations and private donations have helped the school make its meager purchases from time to time, there is no regular source of grant or government funding.
In an upfront manner, Ayub lists the urgent requirements for the school; stationary and notebooks, chalks, school fees for his brighter students whom he has enrolled with his own salary for board exams, electricity bill for the one room he has constructed in the slum for rainy days and a laptop. He is hopeful that these requirements will be met. Indeed, his positive approach and irrevocable faith is what gives this school spirit and energy.
“Teaching underprivileged kids is my passion and as long as I have an ounce of strength left in me I shall run this school” It is hard to remain unaffected by Ayub’s zeal. I return a few days later with my own two children bearing stationary packs. As we hand them out we receive shy thank you’s and delighted smiles. Truly, the thank you should be the other way round, for these kids and Master Ayub have enriched us and taught us a life lesson about making a difference through community service and the power of education to change future of a nation.