All posts by teachforpak

A nationwide movement of outstanding graduates who commit two years to teach in under-resourced schools and go on to become lifelong leaders for educational equity in Pakistan

Karwan-e-Aliph: A walk through Neelum Colony

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.

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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.

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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.”

image008Figure 1: Hina with her students and student leaders

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Figure 2: Zara with her student leaders

Educating Our Girls with the Power of Pink

When 2014 Karachi Fellows Mahrukh and Laila first entered the classroom at the beginning of their Fellowship, they knew they were up against the enormous challenge of shifting the mindsets on girls’ education. Their students in the Girls Primary and Secondary school held so much potential, yet the roles that society ascribed them coupled with the disparity they were born in to mean that they would most likely be trapped in a cycle of marginalization due to the simple fact of their gender.

So what did Mahrukh and Laila do to change this? They used the Power of Pink!

Every day, the 4th and 5th grade girls in this small, under-resourced school chant the Power of Pink at the tops of their voices. In a community stuck in the rut of poverty and marginalization, their primary school serves as the oasis of progress. The poem is placed boldly above the chalkboard painted on to the chipped walls of the dusty classroom. It is a bright reminder of the way forward.

“Lets’ pen this down,

We are college bound!

We have the power, how does that sound?

Fourth grade will rock

Rising to the top,

We are on the fast track and we can’t be stopped!

P is for pretty, P is for Pink

P is for the power that you and I bring.

Power to make our future bright,

Power to shine like stars at night,

We will speak and read in English and write,

Add, subtract, multiply and divide

You will see us rising to the top,

We are on the fast track and we can’t be stopped!”

Watch Mahrukh and Laila’s students recite the Power of Pink:

*Power of Pink has been adapted from various sources to produce its final version

Classroom Epiphanies: The True Volume of a Cube

The Fellowship is a grueling process. Even though they are up against a monstrous challenge, with the thought of giving up as a constant, nagging presence, our Fellows experience beautiful moments that remind them why the struggle is all worth it. Moments in which they learn from their students and grow in ways they hadn’t fathomed. Here, 2013 Fellow Hina Mesiya narrates an experience from her classroom. Hina teaches Math and Science to Middle School girls.

“One of my students had been absent from school, which caused me to find out why. I learned that her family had been evicted from their home without notice, and were hunting around for a new place. Once they found one, I went to visit. She was living in a building that was completely under construction. I would never go inside that building in normal circumstances. Her mother opened the door, I stepped inside. Upon her mother closing the door, I saw my student had practiced calculating the volume of a cube on the back of the door. I had taught her this the day before.

As soon as I saw that it really changed my perspective about what can happen and how these kids feel about education.”

The resilience of our students shines through despite their circumstances. It is these stories that remind us why we Teach For Pakistan.

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Why Teach For Pakistan?

MyraMyra Khan works in the Alumni Impact team with Fellows to support their Professional and Leadership Development over the Fellowship. She previously worked as a Program Officer at Teach For Pakistan.

How many children in Pakistan end up with the wrong childhood?

Roughly, aboutfor blog 25 million. Twenty-five million children at both the primary and secondary age in Pakistan are out of school. But that’s not all. We have to add the millions of children in school rote-learning, being beaten with corporal punishment and those who work six-hour shifts at mechanics workshops because realistically, that isn’t a great childhood either.

So what are you doing to change this?

The sad truth is that currently, you aren’t doing much. It is easy to turn a blind eye and think that it isn’t your problem. But the fact is that each and every day that we ignore it, the situation becomes much, much worse. Each passing day means another teacher has skipped school. Another student is disappointed when her teacher doesn’t come inside her classroom. Another principal takes a bribe from a teacher for not attending school. Another school turns into a ghost school when the last student who has been coming every day for the past month hoping to see his teacher there stops.

How does that affect me?

A bad or no education means literally millions of children are being left behind in Pakistan. Each generation that is born under or around the poverty line will unlikely get the education that helps them reach their full potential as humans and become contributing members of Pakistani society. Only a handful of children in Pakistan made it through to university level – around 7%. That gravely affects the working class demographic of Pakistan, the entire labour market and the entire economy. Do you still think it doesn’t affect you?

But how does it start?

As a child enrolls in school, often beyond the age that they should, they already have a developmental disadvantage because of their family background – they are malnourished, live in unsafe homes and their parents are usually illiterate. They attend failing schools that perpetuate their disadvantage, as most of their parents simply cannot afford to send them to schools that will give them an education that they deserve. Children grow up without the knowledge, skills and mindsets they need. They continue to live in the same socio-economic class throughout their lives, and then so do their children. This is how the cycle perpetuates.

Does it make a difference if I come in?

Yes. Because what Teach For Pakistan works to ensure that the Fellows in their classrooms make an impact on the 40, 60 or 100 students they teach, depending on how many grades and subjects they take on. You have the opportunity to be a teacher, leader, coach, role model and so much more for your students. Fellows on average find their classes are 4 years behind the grade level they should be at – and you change this. You will make a difference not only in your classroom scores, but also in your career post-Fellowship – because you have experience and exposure that not many people in Pakistan have.

But it’s not just us – people who support Teach For Pakistan and believe in the difference we make are some of Pakistan’s top changemakers –Dr. Ishrat Husain of IBA, Syed Babar Ali of LUMS, Dr. Quratalian Bakhteari of IDSP, Saad Amanullah of Gillette and P&G, and many more.

But will the Fellowship make me feel fulfilled? What if I’m missing out on other opportunities?

The Fellowship is a two-year commitment and we support any career path you decide to take after you complete the Fellowship. Through the Fellowship, you meet like-minded, thoughtful and committed individuals such as yourself and receive teaching and leadership training before you enter the classroom. The Fellowship is international recognized and many of our partners are excited to hire Fellows because of their experience.

Your fulfillment comes with the days you spend in your school. When your students run to meet you as you get off the bus to walk you through their gallis to their school. When parents tell you that no one has ever cared this much about their children’s future than you have. When you see that children growing up in dire poverty in Pakistan still have incredible, unprecedented amounts of talent, intelligence and spirit. When you know that you are the sole person harnessing that and making sure these children don’t end up with the wrong childhood. That is when you realize you have changed the future of Pakistan forever, for the better.

Classroom Impact: The Power of One Hour

Anam Palla from her classroom daysAnam Palla is a 2011 Alumna and currently works on the Teach For Pakistan team with 2012 and 2013 Fellows as their Academic Coordinator. Anam taught Math and Science to classes 6, 7 and 8 girls in Akhtar Colony, Karachi.

When I first entered their classroom I was shocked and astonished – the reality of the achievement gap hit me when I saw these third graders struggling with the first word that was written on the paper. “Do as much as you can,” I said as they started blankly. They could not read at all!

Sitting in our offices comfortably, we sometimes forget what the education emergency means for our students, communities and eventually our country. These classroom experiences not only humble us, but also ground our work in reality and make us more outcome-focused.

Today, I got an opportunity to see for myself the literacy program 2013 Fellows Asif Hassan and Salman Rajani have since initiated with their 3rd and 4th graders. The class was buzzing with excitement as each student was eagerly repeating after their teacher how to combine the sounds of ‘ra’ and ‘o’ and writing in their individual Jugnoo [a basic Urdu and English literacy program] books that were provided to them by Asif and Salman. Asif led the class while Salman went to students to help with individual queries.

As much as these students enjoy learning, they also love making noise and distracting others. One minute of ‘nothing to do’ and the students go ‘Hallelujah’! Handling them with their various antics, like the 5-4-3-2-1 count, is definitely not an easy task, especially after a hectic day of teaching rigorous academic content. Hats off to these guys for doing this with so much energy, day in and day out!

What I enjoyed most was that each student was eager to complete their work and get maximum points from their teacher. Asif checked and marked the work of each student. Only after that they could leave. Both Salman and Asif then worked with the struggling students until they understood and completed their work.

This one hour was the best hour of my day because it left me inspired and re-oriented me towards the work that we at Teach For Pakistan do.

I wanted to share a couple of quick learnings from today for all teachers:

    • Never ever give up on your students. The most struggling students today could be high achievers six months from now.
    • Play on your strengths and on each other’s strengths when working as a team. Some of us are better with projecting our voice and others can be stronger in one-on-one interactions. Some of us are great planners, while others execute more smoothly. All skills are needed and essential. Leveraging our strengths makes our weaknesses irrelevant.
    • There always is a way to work things out. It is not about working more, but working differently!

Classroom impact: every student matters

Bilal 2Bilal Afzal Khan is a 2012 Fellow at Teach For Pakistan and is currently teaching Maths to classes 8, 9 and 10 in Roshni School, Lahore. He graduated from the Lahore University of Management Sciences with a Major in Economics and Political Science.

Bilal was disappointed with his student Shaheen’s performance in his Math class. He called her mother in for a meeting to express his concerns and upon further discussion he made a startling discovery. Shaheen had fallen from the roof of her home almost three years ago, and had since faced many problems and suffered from a psychological disorder. She now failed to retain concepts in her mind. Bilal decided that he would not give up on her and pushed himself further to help her develop and succeed at Math.

Bilal invested more time in this particular student and introduced her to mental exercises while practicing simpler concepts.  She soon became more focused on her studies. Though she took longer than her peers to learn new concepts, she worked hard, and Bilal started to see improvements in her scores. When her end of year board exam results came out, Bilal was delighted to learn that she not only passed her Math exam but had performed well in all other subjects.

Bilal says, “If I had not availed the opportunity to join Teach For Pakistan, it would have never been possible for me to transform her life in this short period of time.”

Classroom impact: stepping beyond the academics

Fazil Maniya is a Teach For Pakistan Fellow in the 2012 Cohort. He teaches maths to classes 4 and 5 in Karachi. Fazil graduated with a Computer Science degree from the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi.

In this video Fazil talks about the powerful impact a teacher has on his/her students as a role model. By embodying and exemplifying them, a teacher can shape the values and mindsets of students in the classroom.