IRSHAD SALIM (May 6, 2018) –Syeda Anfas’ pegged tents under Karachi’s flyovers are attracting the underprivileged street children to become civic and literate at the very least if not educated– that would be crossing the line as it’s state and government responsibility to provide free education up to Grade 10 under the Constitution and the 18th Amendment.
The Sindh government has therefore barred Syeda’s ‘footpath-school’ such as in city’s posh Clifton and Defense areas from providing “free education” to the hundreds of underprivileged children the lady has succeeded in bringing in the loop. This is putting her remarkable initiative and the future of these street children at stake.
The lady remains undeterred though, and with each passing day more and more such children are walking into Syeda’s makeshift learning hotspots in the city, and donations are pouring in from citizens, overseas Pakistanis and support groups, once they find out about her crusade from the media, Facebook and through word of mouth.
It may be too early to dub her the street children’s Edhi, but she carries all the making of one unless her initiative is put off as another distraction or attempt to create distortions in the official narratives. While Edhi championed in taking care of the orphans, with the burials of the unknown dead, the unwanted children, etc., Anfas is striving to take care of the street children eager and wanting to cross the social labyrinth if encouraged on street level.
Without any mega budget followed with fanfare and broadsheet advertisements appearing in local newspapers to boast, the charity-run institution Anfas runs, provides uniform, books, food and Rs50 a day to more than 1200 street children attending footpath school in three neighborhoods of the mega city.
Established three years ago, Anfas out-of-the-box idea is now making waves and attracting media attention in the country as well as internationally. It is giving goosebumps to many though and creating embarrassment for those who should ought to be doing this work– sending children to schools.
The Sindh government has reportedly decided to shift these students to public schools established at the shrines of Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi and Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan and another one near Manchar Lake in Dadu district of Sindh, local daily Express Tribune has reported.
Even if it does happen, more children who are out on the streets begging or vending or just jay-walking would be attracted to Syeda’s incubation centers– priming the wayward to get in line. No law or regulation exists to keep children away from the streets. Syed’a infant effort does so and is growing magically, some observers said.
Naheed Shah Durrani, the head of Sindh Education Foundation, told media the footpath schools were not providing “quality education” to the street children, a claim the NGO (Ocean Welfare Organization) that helps run the school oppose. Syeda heads the organization and says the idea is to create consciousness among these children for civility, learning and education so that they can move on, and not to produce Einsteins.
The Ocean Welfare Organization is a local NGO and not funded by any international NGOs Syeda said. The initiative has been lauded by several civil societies who wish to collaborate with its administration for uplifting these schools.
On Press Freedom Day (May 3rd), Syeda was specially invited at a seminar organized by the Karachi Editors Club. ‘Im honored to have been invited,” Syed said. Several speakers and the head of KEC Mr. Mubasher Mir and its Secretary General Manzar Naqvi, as well as renowned journalist Agha Masood spoke highly of Anfas’ footpath school initiative.
However, Syeda’s Footpath School has one huge critic.
Durrani claims the footpath school near the Sufi shrine in Clifton was only good from the point of view of promoting the NGO running the facility. It was shut down.
According to media reports, the Sindh government’s step to shut down the school was apparently aimed at minimizing the effect of international media coverage of the school and plight of the growing number of street children in country’s largest city, resulted in giving a bad reputation to the PPP-led provincial government.
Being the Sindh’s largest party, PPP has been in power for over a decade now but a volatile mix of urban-rural politics, battle for turf control of Karachi– Pakistan’s largest city and its economic powerhouse, lack of proper governance in the city have dented its overall index in the education sector and widened the gap in the city’s performance curve– socio-economic versus political responsibility.
However, Ms. Syeda Anfas, the founder and head of the footpath school says the school served no other purpose but to provide free education (in whatever form and substance it may be) to underprivileged children, who used to sell stuff at roadsides, steal and do drugs. She said these children were being provided free education at the school for the past three years– with success.
“All this is happening with the help of the Pakistani citizens,” she added.
Ironically, Sindh’s Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah (an engineer from NED and economist from USA by education) not only cut the cake on Pakistan’s independence day with these street children last year, but also donated Rs1 million to the school. His public policy position hit some nerves though within his own setup, some observers said on condition of anonymity.
Syeda is running 3 footpath schools successfully with more to come she said. “These kids are happy and getting empowered. Some of them may or could end up in formal schools.” She has no problem with that. Meanwhile, she’s doing her job on street-level and loving it.
(With input from Tanzila Abbasi)