Sher means lion in English. Fourteen year old Sher Ali definitely seems to exhibit the bravery which is the defining character trait of his namesake animal. He first showed this bravery when he and his family fled from war-torn Afghanistan when he was seven years old, and came as a refugee into Pakistan. He remained brave when his father’s kidneys were about to fail, and remains brave to this day, as he works as a trash collector and seller in the local mandi (vegetable and fruits market) during the day to support his family.
This bravery is apparent in his smile as he poses for a photograph in front of the leftover vegetable sacks from the day’s batches of produce brought into the market. Sher wakes up at 4 am every morning and comes to the mandi where the day’s produce is being brought into the market, in fiber sacks. These sacks, after being unpacked, are often discarded by the vendors, and are the source of daily income for Sher Ali and many other refugee children like him. After scouring the whole market for these sacks, Sher sells them to a seller for $0.008 apiece. On a lucky day, he will make a daily income of $3. This contributes to his total family income which is made up of the daily earnings of his siblings only, because his father is chronically ill and too weak to work.
Fourteen year old Sher is a student at a Zindagi Trust school in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. This school specializes in non-formal education for working children, covering basic primary education in an accelerated two year course. It was through a door to door recruiting campaign that our Zindagi Trust team in Rawalpindi found Sher at the local vegetable market, and encouraged him to join the program. Now in the equivalent of the second grade, Ali spends three hours at the school every day, after his 10 hour shift at the vegetable market.
Sher is the only one amongst his ten siblings who is attending school. He is an exceptionally bright and quick student, and often scores the highest marks in his English course. ‘I feel so happy when I am in school. Since I started studying, life has become so much easier; I can read street signs and labels in shops’ he tells one of his teachers.
Sher’s bravery again shines through as he speaks about his ambitions in life. “I want to become a doctor, so I may cure all the sick who cannot afford treatment, in my country” Please continue to support bright and brave students like Sher through our program.
‘My teachers often ask me who I want to be when I grow up, and everyday my answer changes. Sometimes I want to be an Computer Engineer, and sometimes I want to be a Mathematician; but whichever path I choose, I know I want to be someone whom my family and my country can be proud of’ says Ahsan, as he smiles at us. The sweat drips off his brow, and it is difficult to hear him over the whirring of the aged sowing machine. Ahsan uses the sowing machine to make car seat covers in a dimly lit workshop located in a marginalized area of the city.
Such ambitions may seem strange coming from a twelve year old child who spends his evening toiling in a mechanic’s workshop, but Ahsan’s story is unlike others. He is also a student of Grade 8 at a private school in Rawalpindi (a city located adjacent to Pakistan’s federal capital), where his studies are financially supported by Zindagi Trust’s Secondary Sponsorship Program. The SSP is preceded by a two-year accelerated primary schooling program which is taught to those children who have not had the opportunity to go to school in their early years. After successful completion of the accelerated program, students are not only given support for admission into grade six at a formal school but also given a full scholarship till Grade 10.
Ahsan is the first amongst his siblings to receive an education. His elder brother is a construction laborer. Ahsan tells us he could not attend school before age 10, because he had to help out in his father’s workshop, and going to school would have meant leaving his father to attend to the busy shop singlehandedly. Luckily, Zindagi Trust’s field team convinced his father to let him attend the Trust’s schools in the evening. After his father saw Ahsan’s performance during his time in the accelerated primary course, he enrolled Ahsan’s younger siblings in school as well.
Now, during the day Ahsan attends high school where his favorite subjects are Computer and Mathematics, subjects in which he received second position this year amongst his entire class. After school he immediately runs home to take care of his younger siblings till his mother, who works as a domestic helper in nearby houses, returns home. When his mother is back, Ahsan is off to the workshop where he works till midnight, sowing car seats and fitting them onto the frames of the cars brought in by clients. However, his most treasured part of the day remains his Computer class, where he especially enjoys learning about the different components of hardware and software, and how the two interact together.
Unknown to Ahsan, he is already making his family proud by exhibiting such dedication to his education and his family. We are confident that with such dedication he will make his nation proud of him in no time. Your donations will keep on supporting his professional and personal aspirations in life.
As we reported previously, much to Karachi's dismay, winter ended too soon! The warmer season pushed its way in relentlessly and culminated into a heat wave in May, a two week chapter that recently just closed. However, the Breakfast program at Zindagi Trust's adopted schools likes to see things positively. For them, the changing season meant getting into action, turning on their creative minds, and renewing the menu with yummier, more nutritious, and climate appropriate items for our elementary grade students.
The current menu at SMB Fatima Jinnah Government Girls School comprises homemade omelet with chapatti, boiled eggs, vegetable sandwiches, fried vegetable, spinach with chapatti, chick peas, pumpkin and sunflower seeds with fruit salad, wheat porridge with chicken and vegetables, vegetable soup, chicken soup, sweet porridge, and khitchri (lentil pilaf) with yogurt. Milk is served daily as usual.
The latest menu at Khatoon e Pakistan Government Girls School includes dates, milk, yoghurt, porridge, fruits, vegetables, chickpeas, eggs and milk shakes. Furthermore, wheat porridge (mixed with dates, milk and sliced bananas) and wheat flat bread (served with a mix of butter and dates spread) were also introduced. Most excitingly, harvests from the school's vegetable garden are now also being served for breakfast. These included sweet potato, spinach, and bottle gourd.
Our vision for the breakfast program is about inculcating healthy living habits in our students and we like to take this value beyond the breakfast room. We do not see the breakfast program in isolation from the rest of a students' intellectual development. As such, for long term impact we have involved the school nurse, the gardeners, science teachers, canteen management and parents in the process of implementing the breakfast program.
For example, the school nurse plays an instrumental role in instilling values of health. In the past couple of months brief sessions were conducted by the nurse with pre-primary students during breakfast time regarding healthy eating. Before breakfast started, students were made to line up and wash their hands properly. They were told about the benefits and method of proper hand washing and teeth brushing. She also identifies students who are reluctant to eat and talks to them. Furthermore, the school nurse collaborates with school administration and canteen staff to ensure that a healthy variety of items is available in the canteen so that the same message of healthy eating is affirmed by everyone at school.
On Earth day, teachers and gardeners took students to the vegetable garden and allowed them to the explore the process of growing food. Students walked around and spotted vegetables growing at different stages and watered the crops as well. We hope that such a practice allows students to develop respect and an appreciation for the earth and the food that it gives us.
At Khatoon e Pakistan, breakfast is served to students of Kindergarten, first grade and second grade totaling 200 students. However, due to its larger student body, SMB Fatima Jinnah is currently only able to serve breakfast to their 266 kindergarten students. Although students are happy to be growing up and moving on to higher grades they really miss starting their day with the breakfast “class.” AT SMB, First grade students repeatedly ask their teachers about the breakfast program which they had grown to love. Breakfast had fast become an activity for them that not only provided them with a healthy delicious meal— which they probably otherwise would not eat— but also an opportunity for social interaction and learning eating etiquettes. The current KG 2 students who will be promoted to the first grade from April are being mentally prepared, along with their parents, to bring home-made nutritious meals to eat in lunch break. The provision of breakfast has really boosted student admissions in the Early Childhood Development grades (ECD) at SMB which we are glad to see.
The Breakfast program is no doubt a hit. All visitors comment very positively on providing hot-meals to the young kids. The parents of newly admitted kids were specially very happy and overwhelmed by this facility at school and appreciated the efforts of the management and the concept of having healthy food. These newly admitted kids will hopefully uphold having breakfast every morning and inculcate the tradition of regular and healthy breakfast at their homes.
Please consider making a donation to our breakfast program to continue supporting nutritious meals for children in Pakistan’s public schools!