Urooj speaks softly but confidently. “I just gave my board examinations for ninth grade, praise be to Allah. And in grade eight I came in second in my whole class.”
Urooj is currently a student in the Secondary Sponsorship Program which is part of the I am Paid to Learn initiative. It 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. Urooj is one such diligent student who is getting an education through this sponsorship.
Urooj used to live in Wazirabad with her family where in fact she did go to school till the second grade. However, her family’s financial situation was not ideal. Her father’s difficulty in finding a stable income and her mother’s poor health, forced them to make the difficult decision of leaving their hometown Wazirabad for a city that could promise more economic opportunities: Lahore.
In Lahore, as her father struggled to make ends meet, she didn’t go to school for a few years. Instead she worked from home. “I used to make artificial jewelery. I would bring the material home from the factory. I would put together the metal parts and then at the factory stones were set into the base I created. I was paid 30 rupees for every 500 grams. But I missed going to school. I wanted to study more but in Lahore my parents couldn’t afford it. It’s expensive you know. But then I learnt about the Paid to Learn program from a friend. And I’m just so grateful…” Shortly after, Urooj stopped working so that she could focus solely on her education. Over the years her family’s financial situation has stabilized and her father now has his own automobile workshop.
As for her mother, Urooj tells us that she remains ill as a result of a liver condition that she developed several years back. Being the eldest sibling a lot of the responsibility of managing the house falls on Urooj. However, she is an optimistic and precocious young girl. She didn’t complain about her difficulties at all. Whenever she started describing a personal problem she was quick to end it with “but it’s okay.” When asked how they manage their mother’s treatment as it must be expensive, Urooj hesitated to reply and then merely said, “we do our best, with the help of Allah”.
School serves as a haven for Urooj where she continues to outperform her peers. She tells us “I love what Paid to Learn does. They give an opportunity to those who can’t afford it otherwise. I only wish that they could continue to sponsor me after my secondary education too. I would really love to become a doctor if given the opportunity.”
Having seen her parents ill health, Urooj believes health care should be free for all. As such, she aspires to be a physician. Please continue to donate so that Urooj and children like her can get closer to making that dream a reality!
At the onset of winter in Karachi, the team at Khatoon-e-Pakistan Government Girls School (KPS) sat down to plan the breakfast menu for the new season. Warming foods such as boiled eggs and methi paratha (a type of flat bread with leafy greens) were added to the menu and cooling foods such as yogurt were eliminated. At SMB Fatima Jinnah Government Girls School, a delicious vegetable pulao (pilaf) was brought on board alongside the diverse mouth-watering regular menu: Spinach or lady finger with chapatti (local flatbread), boiled red beans, omelets with chapatti, mung bean halva, khichdi (rice and lentil pilaf) with yogurt, vegetable soup, boiled eggs, boiled potatoes, wheat porridge, potato kabab, fried vegetable with chapatti, vegetable and fruit salad, sago pudding and chickpeas. Milk is served daily as usual.
As Karachi’s short winter came to a close at the end of February, the schools sat down once again to re-assess how the meals could be made more nutritious, delicious and efficient to prepare and serve. Yogurt, a classic source of vitamins and minerals was gladly brought back, this time being served with seasonal fruits.
A few wonderful changes took place at KPS. Stainless steel crockery replaced plastic crockery in the breakfast room. One of the teachers, Amtul Lateef, took the initiative to sponsor this change and was successful in raising funds to replace all the plastic plates, bowls and spoons with stainless steel options. She felt strongly that our students should not be eating from plastic and melamine which have been shown to leach harmful chemicals specially when heated and hamper the development of young children. Stainless steel, apart from being safer, is also reusable, more durable and environment-friendly. Way to go Amtul!
Learning from our success in introducing our students to a healthy breakfast, we took on the challenge of improving the nutritional value of the offerings at the school canteen/cafeteria, where students had been observed buying unhealthy items like chips and cookies for lunch. The school team at KPS met the independently-managed canteen staff and encouraged them to adapt their menu to inculcate the value of healthy eating across the school. The first step in this regard has been to add one healthy item every week. New additions to the canteen under this initiative include daal chawal (rice and lentils), fruit salad, roasted sweet potato (a popular seasonal snack), kakri (a crunchy vegetable from the cucumber family), and popcorn. It is heartening to report that the students have responded positively to these healthy additions.
At KPS, breakfast is served to students of Kindergarten, first grade and second grade totaling 200 students. However, due to its larger student body, SMB is currently only able to serve breakfast to their 268 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.” First grade students repeatedly ask their teachers about the breakfast program which they grew 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.
Please consider making a donation to our breakfast program to continue supporting nutritious meals for children in Pakistan’s public schools!
Usman was born into a family of twelve siblings in one of the toughest parts in the world - Mohmand Agency in Pakistan's tribal areas. Over five years ago, his family moved from FATA to a kachi abaadi - an informal settlement - on the outskirts of Islamabad. He had just started going to a low-cost private school near home when the authorities razed the entire settlement to the ground in a massive demolition drive by the city government.
Not only was he no longer in school, he also had to start working as a fruit vendor with his brothers to make some much-needed money for the family. It was here that our friends at the non-profit SPARC found him and brought him to our notice. We got him enrolled in our Fauji Colony school in Rawalpindi.
This school specialises in non-formal education for working children, covering basic primary education in an accelerated two year course. Now in the equivalent of the third grade, Usman spends three hours at the school every afternoon, working at the fruit stall the rest of the day. Seeing the value of education, he has brought many of his friends working at the fruit market to our school and encouraged them to enroll and finish the free primary education course.
Having a keen interest in entrepreneurship along with faith and confidence, Usman plans to one day establish his own fruit stall in the produce market."My education will give me an edge in many ways when I run my own business in the future," he quips with a smile.
Please consider donating to our project to enable bright young children like Usman achieve their goals in life through education!