This piece was commissioned by the newspaper Dawn and featured families benefitting from schools built by a Karachi-based nonprofit, The Citizens Foundation. Excerpt below. Read the full article here.
Lined with garbage and plastic waste, Machar Colony’s broken, narrow streets are enveloped by the smell of rotting fish. Young children and youth wander aimlessly. Basic amenities are scarce and crime is rampant. In most households, men go out to fish while women and children help make ends meet by peeling shrimp for local seafood companies; work that pays little but is physically taxing and a gateway to widespread skin diseases.
The Arabian Sea has been a primary source of livelihood for the people of Machar Colony for generations. With a population of over 700,000 people, this Karachi slum is spread along the coastal belt. A majority of its residents belong to fishing communities who migrated decades ago from Bangladesh and Myanmar. Today, their neighbourhood constitutes one of Pakistan’s largest unofficial and unplanned settlements.
Deep in the colony, three buildings stand out. Their concrete structures are painted in bright colours, housing airy sun-lit rooms and libraries stocked with books.
These three buildings are schools run by The Citizens Foundation (TCF). The first one was built in the late 1990s, and TCF has since then added two more to fulfill an ever-growing need.
At the start of every new admission cycle, parents line up at the gates. Every year, these schools dispel a common Pakistani myth that the poor are not interested in education and would rather send their children to work.
It is not uncommon to meet children enrolled in TCF schools who have lost a family member to the sea. One student’s father disappeared while fishing two years ago. Her mother, Rubina, is a young woman who is certain that her husband was arrested by Indian authorities but has never had confirmation. She has struggled to support her two small children ever since, being unable to work full time due to poor health.
“He used to take good care of us. Everything changed when he left,” she remembers wistfully.
Rubina never went to school herself. But she is convinced that education is the only way for her children to escape the misery they have been trapped in since they were born.