All in a garage

By Zubeida Mustafa

Ten year-old Tanvir Abbasi, who suffers from night blindness, wrote this: “There are children of four faiths in my class, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Christians. Since I have joined this school, we have never fought among ourselves, because all of us are human beings first.”

A place which instills so much humanism in its children must be a fine institution. You conjure up in your mind the picture of one of those elitist schools that exist for the children of the rich. But Tanvir’s school shatters the myth that only money can buy good education. Love and care teaches a child faster than any fashionable teaching aid.

When Shabina collected in her garage more than a year ago the children of the servants in her apartment block to teach them some basic reading and writing skills and simple maths, her idea was to give them a foundation to build a future for themselves.

Like the seed which blooms into a tree, the garage school has grown – from 15 to 60 children. But more than literacy, they are learning “discipline, manners, hygiene, and social etiquette” from Shabina who interacts with them as well as their teacher, Tahira. She still recalls how rowdy and uncared for they were when they first came.

“I would exhort them to be neat and clean. My biggest achievement has been to get them to line up their shoes in a neat row before they enter the class. I have taught them tolerance,” Shabina says as she looks with pride at her children who have become a big family for her. As her involvement grew so did her enthusiasm and the range of activities for the children. Then came healthcare and free medicines provided by good hearted doctors, clothes, shoes, stationery and books. Outings to museums and other educational and recreational spots followed. Receiving so much emotional support from Shabina, the children have acquired boundless confidence which is unbelievable. On September 6, they staged a delightful little variety programme before an audience of a respectable size. Shabina, who is the widow of an Air Force officer killed in 1971, has dedicated her school to him. She set out on her own when she equipped her garage with desks, blackboard and a fan. Her family pitched in with some help. Now she has strangers offering donations.

There have been so many offers for sewing machines, that she even refuses what she doesn’t need now. “I am happy with what I have,” Shabina says contentedly. “I have no ambitious plans for expansion. But I would want a computer for my kids. There are crazy about it,” she says with a sigh.

“If more people would take under their wings the children in their neighbourhood and make them their own family, there is no reason why any child should go without basic education,” Shabina says enthusiastically. And you find her enthusiasm is highly infectious.

Source: Dawn, 1 Jan 2001