Tag Archives: change-makers

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

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.