Imagine walking across the narrow and busy streets in Karachi’s Neelum Colony. You curiously move past the shops selling delicious samosays and tempting kachoris, until you turn into a small alley. On your left are multiple kachay houses built next to each other.
You knock on one of the gates. A six year old greets you and takes you inside. You are standing in a small lounge with no rooms around. You see stairs on one corner from where you go up. When you are told to go up another floor, you are scared. These ‘stairs’ seem to be made by putting a wooden ladder across a wall and fixing it with some support.
You go upstairs. What you see next leaves you completely mesmerized.
“Welcome to Karwan-e-Aliph”, I am greeted by the young and enthusiastic Kulsoom. Dupatta set properly on her head, Kulsoom looks like a disciplined and focused principal of a high performing school. “Let me give you a tour”, she says.
I see students studying in groups. Some students are working independently, others are being taught by their leaders, while the rest are practicing their typing skills on the laptops. The brown cupboard on the corner houses all the resources including the curriculum and books divided different reading levels. Students know their current level and their aspired goal-they track their own progress towards their goal.
Karwan-e-Aliph houses about 20-25 students who come 5 days a week for two hours before school. They study on their own and take help of their leaders, who are trained to not only teach these students but to help them become independent learners. Students are grouped according to the levels they are at and follow a schedule that is pasted on their wall. The students pay a token contribution monthly for their learning which is used to pay the salaries of student leaders and housing expenses of the venue.
Curious to learn more about how this Karwan was conceptualized, I start chatting with Kulsoom. I am once again mesmerized-this time, by her clarity of thought and passion exuding from her voice. She explains that Alif is the first alphabet of our Urdu language which signifies that everything has a beginning. To go from first to second floor, you have to climb through each stair to reach to the end of the floor. The purpose of this Karwan is that the members of our community live in a pleasant and empathetic environment where we collectively struggle for a better future. Our students should be resilient and patient. She then talks about how she always dreamed to have a space where she could teach students of her community and the struggle she and her team faced while executing this program. Her interviewed can be viewed here.
What I haven’t told you yet is that Kulsoom herself is a student- a ninth grade student of Government Girls Secondary School from our Fellow Hina’s class. Karwan-e-Aliph is actually the community development project of two of our Fellows from the 2013 cohort: Hina Saleem Mesiya and Zara Hasnain-a project that is owned and run by the community. Prior to completing their Fellowship in May 2015, Hina was teaching Math at a government school in Neelum Colony while Zara was teaching English at a TCF school in Korangi Dhaai.
Let’s take a quick look 9 months back. Zara and Hina were sitting in the Aman conference room with their chart papers on the floor creating a problem tree. As part of their project management training, all 2013 Fellows had to use the given diagnostic tools to isolate the single most important factor that was stopping/would stop their students from reaching their full potential and being the change agents in their community. After much thought-partnering, researching and creating multiple iterations, both of them came to the same conclusion: Their students need to create and execute solutions for their most pressing challenges; their immediate challenge being a lack of study time and space outside of their schools.
They then started thinking of various ways to address this need. Eventually, they decided to create learning spaces in their respective communities, which would be sustained by a revenue generation model and owned by the community. The name Karwan-e-Aliph was jointly decided by them and their students. These learning spaces would be hosted at two locations: The roof of Kulsoom’s house in Neelum Colony and a private school in Korangi Dhaai.
Through this program, they are currently developing community based leadership in at least 50 individuals. Multiple the impact of these 50 to the number of initiatives they will take within their own capacities in the next five years and you will get a sense of the indirect impact this one program has created.
Let me also add here that these are pilot programs. Zara and Hina plan to register Karwan-e-Aliph in the next few months and take these programs to other communities. To sum it up in Hina’s words, “The CDP (community development project) has been the best part of this Fellowship. I did not realize it at the beginning of the project, but I can very confidently say it now. Now that I have undertaken an entrepreneurial venture on my own, there is no stopping me. I know that I will only work with an organization with which my vision is aligned.”
Figure 2: Zara with her student leaders