Azeem at his father's scrap shop
“Without education we are blind to opportunity”
“Without education we are blind to opportunity – it is education that gives us the ability to see beyond the visible path.” These are the words of Muhammad Azeem, a 15-year-old who graduated from Paid to Learn, our non-formal primary education programme for working children. His face glowed as he put the value of education into words so eloquent they belied his age.
Azeem grew up and still lives in the notorious Karachi slum of Sohrab Goth. His father is a ragman and scrap dealer and employs the services of his entire family, including Azeem and his younger siblings, works at his shop. They live together in the traditional “joint family system” – Azeem, his parents, his siblings (six brothers and five sisters) as well as his grandparents.
After completing graduating from our non-formal primary school in Dalmia, Karachi at the top of his class, he qualified for our secondary school scholarship. He was placed in Jinnah Public School in Dalmia so he could continue his secondary education, sponsored entirely by our Secondary School Scholarship for top graduates of the Paid to Learn programme.
He is currently in the seventh grade and will sit for his Annual Examinations at the end of this month. He has shown consistency in his academic performance in the past few years, continuing his good progress from our non-formal schools to the mainstream private school where he is now a student.
Azeem treasures the time he spent at Zindagi Trust’s non-formal school for working children. Going to school had always been an unfulfilled dream for him before that point, so he is grateful to God for blessing him with the opportunity to get support for his education.
It is still a hard life for him. He gets into motion at daybreak, attending school in the morning and on his way to work with an empty sack by the time the clock hits two in the afternoon. He forages the streets for valuable scrap for the next few hours and near the end of his work day, the sack is bulging with cups, bottles, cardboard packages and bits of metal. He drags this heavy sack through his father’s shop where it will be weighed and scrap dealt.
But he doesn’t see himself doing this the rest of his life and has already begun to sketch a path out of being forced to pick through garbage. Inspired by Shehzad Roy, the singer and philanthropist who founded the organization which enabled his escape to education, Azeem has made education a priority. He is committed to learning and has set for himself the practical goal of obtaining an F.A. (a local junior college equivalent) so that he can get a white-collar job.
“I want to get a good, respectable job… in an office. Then I will be treated respectfully and I will also treat people with respect,” he said.
As a 15-year-old who has the vision and self-belief to break out of the poverty-illiteracy cycle his family is stuck in, Azeem’s work also supports the education of his younger siblings. We have truckloads of respect for this child and wish him the best for the future.
Azeem sorting plastic bottles at the scrap shop
Azeem going to school
Azeem reads in his 7th-grade classroom
Azeem discusses a question with a classmate
Reading his essay on the greatness of hard work
A relaxed moment with friends after school