Category Archives: Leadership Development

Stories that showcase how are Fellows are developing into future leaders!

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

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!

Leadership: Ambitions of a 14 year old

Fahad Saeed is a 2012 Teach For Pakistan Fellow. He teaches Math and Science to Classes 6 and 7 at a Government Boys Secondary School in Karachi. Fahad earned his BBA from the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi.

Being a teacher in a classroom of 35 students who are multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and diverse in every respect is a challenging task. Therefore, at Government Boys Secondary School Leemo Gabol, each day is a unique learning experience for me. Teaching secondary grade levels is even more challenging since the academic gap is the widest in those grades, plus most of the students work after school to support their families. To make ends meet at home, the students start working from an early age and unfortunately, their jobs become the primary focus and school takes up a secondary role.

Like many other students, this was also true for Ahsan, a 14 year old student of Grade 7. A year ago, his father lost his job due to an injury and as the eldest of three siblings, Ahsan was forced to work after school to earn for his family. As time passed, he started losing interest in school and became increasingly involved in his job at a computer store.

When I joined the school, I realized quickly that Ahsan was not performing up to his ability. He always appeared preoccupied and disengaged in class. But as I spent more time in the classroom, I started to notice a change in him. Not only was Ahsan participating more, but his grades were improving as well. So one day when I sat down with him to discuss his progress, he told me about his life and his circumstances and how the Teach For Pakistan Fellows coming and teaching in his school had helped him realize the role education plays in a person’s life. The impact is such that Ahsan now wants to be an educationalist himself. When I asked about his future ambitions, he proudly told me that one day he will do for the whole of Pakistan what Teach For Pakistan is doing for his community.

Witnessing this transformation in Ahsan’s attitude and mindset strengthened my resolve of eliminating educational inequity so that the underprivileged masses of Pakistan can also attain an excellent education and succeed in life. The task is huge and extremely challenging, but through the Teach For Pakistan intervention we are changing mindsets and creating a momentum that will keep growing for years to come. Students like Ahsan will rise to our mission and lead their communities and then one day, we will realize our dream and see each and every child in Pakistan getting the education that they need and deserve.