“Chotu chai la!” (Child, fetch me a cup of tea!)
And like a genie, a child- ranging 10-17 years in age- would appear, holding a teetering tray full of cups of tea.
These “chotus”(subservient children) are seen quite commonly all around us. And that’s not the only chotu there is. There is the chotu who carries tools and cleans up after a mechanic. The chotu waiting tables at a street side restaurant. The chotu working away in a tailor’s workshop, and many, many more.
These “chotus”, whose age can range from anywhere between 8-14 years of age, technically fall under the ILO (International LabourOrganisations’) definition of Child Labor. Many institutions in Pakistan have protested it frequently, to little gain. The problem in Pakistan is the huge chunk of population that lives below the poverty line. For these people, sending their children to school is not an option. It is the difference between going to bed hungry for days, and having enough to eat to tide them over for the night. For them, every rupee earned is necessary, by every single member of the family. So awareness campaigns educating them about better future prospects do not work. If they die of hunger today, they have no future, let alone a better one. They need the money.
Understanding this need, empathizing with the helplessness of parents who might want their children to get educated but cannot, Zindagi Trust Foundation took an original initiative. It pioneered the concept of “Paid to Learn” in 2002, taking working children from all over Pakistan and involving them in this program. These children study in an informal, accelerated system, and are paid Rs. 20 to attend classes every day.
In 2007Zindagi Trust undertook the management of a government school called SMB Fatima Jinnah Government Girls School and implemented some vital changes. Their aim was to transform the public school structure to provide the government a model for improvement for other public schools. They rehabilitated the school, turning it into a building with necessities like electricity, water and proper furniture, as well as introduced facilities like computer and science labs, art studios, libraries etc.
They completely changed the administrative system, by merging various systems running under a single campus, into one system as well as implementing strict record keeping for students and teachers. Most importantly, they replaced the curriculum with innovative books, and started a study system that monitored learning and used creative ways to teach. They introduced extracurricular activities like chess, taekwondo etc, which encouraged the children to engage with each other and become more self-aware. Many of these children thus gained the courage to participate and subsequently win several national competitions.
The importance that Zindagi Foundation place on health is perhaps one of the most desperately needed changes. They have established a clinic at the school, encouraged students and their parents to make use of the free facilities, and this way have even diagnosed Tuberculosis (TB) , and initial stage cancer. They have enforced hygienic practices and have invol
ved the parents to bring about a cleaner healthier environment. Mindful of the way an inadequate diet can cause a lackluster performance in class and a lack of focus, they have started a breakfast system for the malnourished children.
All the changes they have brought about, and the programs they initiated, have gone a great way towards improving the quality of life of over 3000 children in the “Paid to Learn” scheme and all those studying inFatima Jinnah Government Girls School.
This foundation has played an integral role in empathizing with the predicament of a large fraction of our society. They have recognized the problems in the old systems, and pointed out the best possible ways to bring about improvement. They have highlighted the importance of children in our society and their work towards a healthier, literate environment has provided a model for future improvements.