When Citizens Pave the Way for a Literate NationBy Siham Basir The Express Tribune

CEDF bus (Credit: tribune.com.pk)

CEDF bus
(Credit: tribune.com.pk)

KARACHI, Jan 24: The Citizens Education Development Foundation (CEDF) has one goal, “Functional literacy for all”, and if students can’t come to their schools, they take the school to the students — literally.

The foundation purchased their first bus in 1993 which was converted into a mobile school. The purpose of the bus is to deliver education to children in katchi abadis who do not have access to the CEDF home schools.

A new bus was commissioned in 2000 with the help of Hino Motors and painted by Vasl, an art-based NGO. When the bus became too dilapidated to serve its function, a new bus was commissioned in 2000 with the help of Hino Motors who gave CEDF a discount in lieu of a donation. Vasl, an art-based NGO, painted a bright mural on the bus free-of-charge, giving it a cheery, welcoming appearance.

“Everyone can do something, even housewives can do this,” stated Rehana Alam, secretary of CEDF.  “We are women of leisure who don’t want leisure, we want to work. We are focusing on the forgotten child here. Our aim is to provide at least enough education to these children so that they can read and write, whether they continue their education is their choice.”

The foundation exists entirely on donations — from other NGOs, its own members and concerned citizens. They provide yearly medical checkups for the students through HELP Pakistan, along with free eye checkups via the Layton Rahmatulla Benevolent Trust (LRBT).

The foundation operates without an office and only the teachers draw a salary. “We want all of the money to go to the children,” Alam said, while speaking to The Express Tribune.

Electricity for fans in the bus is provided free-of-charge by a neighbour and free water is provided by another.

The bus picks up children before parking in an empty plot within walking distance from Shah Rasool Colony. Equipped with benches, desks and a large blackboard inside, the bus serves 160 students per day with four shifts of two hours each. The students’ ages range between five to 14 years. Since some students are at different learning levels, each one is taught on an individual basis.

A teacher and a teaching assistant teach the students basics of reading and writing. CEDF attempts to provide basic literacy and, for interested students, helps them prepare for entrance exams for regular school. They also sponsor students’ further education in schools, colleges and vocational institutes.

The foundation also sponsors teachers, such as Shehzad, who works at the mobile bus part-time and also attends a private college. Another former student, Shahzeb, is also in college, studying multimedia. He was a student from the first home school of the foundation and son of the first teacher employed by CEDF, Liaqat. Shahzeb currently helps out at the foundation by computerising their records. “The environment [at the school] was brilliant, everyone was always friendly and it was like one big family,” he said proudly, in perfect English.

Some students come back to the home schools after graduating to formal schools, finding that they had difficulty managing. Despite the home schools being dedicated to basic literacy only, Liaqat, along with some members of CEDF helped the children in learning math and English.

para

“Currently, I’m helping a boy named Shakeel prepare for grade nine entrance exam,” said Samra Mansur.

A hindrance to their expansion, however, is a lack of dedicated volunteers. Currently, the CEDF comprises 16 people with common interests, but they need more volunteers. “Many organizations [like CEDF] are not well known, despite the work they do,” said Alam.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 24th, 2014.

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