A bagful of light

22m children in Pakistan cannot afford school and one man is determined to change that

FAISALABAD


Seeing her children go to school is nothing short of a miracle for Naseem Manzoor, mother of four, who lives in a slum with her family in Faisalabad, Pakistan’s industrial hub and the third largest city.

“I dreamed of my children going to school one day but we could not bear the cost [of the school fees],” said Naseem, from Saeed Colony. “Now, with the new school in the colony offering free education, books and stationery, my children along with the neighbourhood kids are also studying in school,” says the proud mother.

Naseem hopes that her children’s education will not only help her family to survive but also break the cycle of poverty.

Her children are among the 22 million children in Pakistan who have never gone to school and the family of six is part of up to 30 per cent of country’s population who still live below the poverty line.

Renewed hopes

These children living in the slums of Pakistan’s eastern province of Punjab are being offered a chance at a better life thanks to the efforts of a 22-year-old Pakistani, Mohammad Rohayl Varind, who conceived the Solar Slum School project in 2016.

Through a two-part project that runs both day and night schools in Faisalabad, Varind uses solar energy to runs fans in his classrooms during the day, and for the night school, the fans and the light are solar-powered.

SLUM stands for Students Learning Under the Moon, an acronym as succinct as its purpose. “[Slum] is an effort to educate children living in the slums of Pakistan. This is how I aim to win the war against poverty, illiteracy and terrorism,” Varind told Gulf News.

An international award-winning social entrepreneur, innovator and activist, who is engaged in a number of social welfare projects, Varind believes he can make a significant impact on literacy through his solar schools in a country where as many as 44 per cent children between the ages of five and 16 are still out of school.

He launched his day school in December 2016 in Faisalabad, and in April 2017, the night school for kids who are working or employed as labour.

The Slum School, Varind says, is a system of education designed for deserving yet underprivileged students.

Sixty-five students are attending classes, and receiving free food, bags, books, clothes, sports items and stationery from the school.

Varind spends at least two hours daily teaching children. The children are taught English, Urdu, Maths and Communications. There’s a Taekwondo class too and activities for Sports Day, Art Classes, Food Festival and Eid parties. “The school not only teaches the basics sciences to children but also ethics and etiquette,” said Varind.

Material help

With generous support from friends and the community, Varind’s Slum School is not equivalent to formal education, but is a symbol of the change that can be brought about by the vision of an individual.

The school administration prefers to receive material and logistic supports (books, stationery, clothes, food) instead of cash.

The Solar School Project is particularly focused on girls as 13 million girls in Pakistan do not attend school, according to a 2016 report by Alif Ailaan, a non-profit organisation working in the field of education in Pakistan since 2013.

The Solar School Project, Varind says aims to “break down the barriers to education and support out-of-school kids to get access to education or training in a skill so they can support their families.”

And he has other horizons to push towards — Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi are next on his agenda.

“As an educationist, my conscience would not be at peace unless I make a difference to my society,” says Varind.

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A bag full of sunshine

It’s not just a school bag, it’s a metaphor for life: for it carries inside it the power to shine light into a child’s life so they can pursue education and thus transform their lives.

The brainchild of Mohammad Rohayl Varind, who has been running schools for the underprivileged in Faisalabad in the Punjab province of Pakistan, the Solar School Bag Project was born of the darkness that envelops many of Pakistan’s rural communities after sunset. Unable to afford the cost of a power connection, many families cannot perform essential daily tasks after sunset, much less provide their children with the means to be able to study, said Varind.

If he had to succeed in his mission of educating the children in the slum, he had to find a way out of the darkness for the families and children, said Varind. “I decided to make Solar School Bags to light up their homes at night.”

The solar school bag is fitted with a portable solar panel that can power a bulb to provide light for up to 10 hours (or 2 bulbs for 5 hours) when charged for 6 hours.

With this project, at least 4 large families or 60 people in the Saeed Colony slum in Faisalabad, where the project has been rolled out, are now able to work, cook, study and carry on with daily activities after dark.

Pointing at the solar-powered light bulb dangling from the straw roof in his dwelling in Saeed Colony, Manzoor Hussain, one of beneficiaries of the solar bag, describes it as the best thing ever. His children can now study at night and his wife can cook and sew. But the biggest gain, he says, is that “the light keeps out wild animals and stray dogs” which pose a threat to slums dwellers and in rural areas where many do not have access to proper toilet facilities.

“We aim to distribute 250+ solar bags in the coming months,” informed Varind.

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