Nida: Can I have your number?
Me: Sure, why not.
Nida: (as I scribbled down my number) Will you also give me a call or will it be only me calling you?
Me: (a little startled) Of course I will, especially to ask about your Matriculation exam prep and then about your result.
She beamed at me.
With a strong handshake and a big hug we exchanged goodbyes. Before she left, eyes sparkling with joy Nida told me that her mother was going to study for her matriculation as well. The lean girl walked away, her smile full of hope and promise and her confidence unwavering. I stood wondering at her indefatigable optimism despite the fact that her relatives are a constant hurdle in the way of her education.
This sums up my career counselling volunteer experience with The Citizens’ Foundation (TCF) last Saturday. However, this is not where it ends. I came across many more like Nida. In their Julke campus, a place a few miles from Gajjumata station, the foundation had arranged a session for their 9th grade boys and girls to meet us, a group of volunteers from Lahore to motivate them to continue their education, to guide them how to choose future study plan.
Every time students passed by where I was stationed, I could see their big hearts and wide smiles overshadowing their limited resources, the difficulties that lay ahead of them. Students at TCF schools are currently getting education because they and their family have a will and also because TCF gives them the opportunity. However, their story does not end here. It’s not as simple as that. Once the students have passed their matriculation exams (equivalent of O Level) many of them will discontinue study. Why? Unfortunately they are not as lucky and privileged as us, for them education is not a matter of fact aspect in their lives. Some of them fight for their basic right to education with their parents and their relatives.
This is the stage where you and I can help them reach for their dreams, this is the time in the lives of these 9th grade students at TCF when they can see into their prospective future; beyond school and their village. This is the time when as volunteers we can make a difference, when they can be reminded that their matriculation and intermediate exams matter a lot. It gives the students idea how to continue their studies after school. Their confidence and dreams are reaffirmed when they get to meet people from cities, and believe me majority of them have never traveled to Lahore.
Volunteering is good for health. Yes it is as simple as that and I m sure no one has ever described the act of volunteer with its health benefits. In our busy lives, big dreams and ambitious goals, we tend to overlook that segment of the society which is pretty much like us in terms of dreams and goals; only distinguishable for their lack of resources. In order to get a reality check, to see beyond our bubble, we need to volunteer and participate in community service. We need to develop that feeling that we know exists within, but have never really given it much thought. The feeling of compassion, the feeling of understanding for the underprivileged who remain uneducated; their dreams get buried under the pressures of extended family, their limitations to move out of their villages to pursue their educational dreams. We can only bring out the realisation from its passive mode through volunteering, through reaching out to others and helping them. Instead of lazying around on a weekend why not make an effort to interact with the youth who have the potential but not enough avenues.
You or I cannot have an idea until we take the plunge out of our comfort zone to face how life is for others. You cannot imagine that one simple smile, a motivational sentence, a firm handshake or a pat on someone’s shoulder, guiding someone how to pursue their dream of going to college can make a huge difference in the lives of these boys and girls who live not too far from Lahore but far enough to easily let go off their dreams in the face of hurdles they come across.
Many a times, the children, the youth you meet at TCF schools will motivate you, will make you learn a thing or two about life. They are energetic and confident like Nida whom I met, who taught me more about hope and life than perhaps I could have that day to many others that I got a chance to meet. Its an exercise we all need to do.
Over the years many families and parents have warmed up to the idea of sending their children for higher education. Many have let go off their reluctance but there are people in these suburbs of Lahore and connecting villages who still believe secondary level education is enough for their children especially girls. Our role in their lives might add a little drop of change.