Sometimes, repetition means emphasis. It means I really-really mean it, I do, I do. It’s when repetition becomes an obligation, as in a sales pitch or social media plug, that the words start sounding tired.
Not so for the Hamara School Scheme.
Been so excited about it, I don’t mind going over it again and again (and again). Three volunteer orientation sessions were held on the same day – one for ICAS students, one with ZQ for DIL-Telenor volunteers, one exclusively for Sehar Tariq and the amused audience at Jinnah Institute. Each time, I could feel the same energy coursing through me when saying the words, “happier, more colourful, more child-friendly“. Each time, I could just see 8 pictures in my head, looking something like PK8 but splashed with laughter, paint and more kids who actually want to go to school.
There has been enough talk about the rationale and the program, broadly outlined here. The activity report shouldn’t be too hard to write – can simply attach the program, with a neatly packaged description of logistical nightmares for the section on the lessons that were learnt. There are enough pictures, capturing the fun that was had. But since this is a space for the “important stuff”, maybe we want to be remembering the stories that won’t be told elsewhere.
Day 1: “Ao Rang Bharain” – Sab kay saath?
The point here was to make larger-than-life teaching resources out of discarded billboard skins (bless Sehar Tariq for those). ZQ and I were very school-marmish about designing the canvases, so that they could actually be useful for generations to come. The kids didn’t seem to mind the academic content of their life-size colouring assignments, though, as long as there were enough crayons and fomic sheets to go around. In fact, they took the alphabet very seriously indeed.
It was on Day 1 that I first saw a cheerful-looking thirteen year old standing by the barbed wire in PK3. Long button-down shirt, grey pants, Shoaib-Akhtar hair, “I’m-a-vagabond-so-what” grin. After a while, one of the littler ones tugged at my sleeve to say, “Sonia’s asking, can she come too?”
So Sonia – as she turned out to be – crossed the fence to the school she had left and asked if she could make balloons. In spite of the strict adherence to the academic scheme of things, it turned out that balloons were exactly what were needed in a particular corner of the lower-case-alphabet rainbow.
I think I made a new friend that day. She’s rather different from the other (littler ones), with the eyes of a cat and the tongue of a Punjabi sailor. One of nine girls in the family, Sonia is responsible for taking her sisters to their workplaces and bringing them back. Don’t nobody mess with her – she’s tough. But that day, she let the littler ones colour in her bunch of balloons.
Day 2: “Sitaron Se Agay Jahan” (the worlds beyond the stars)
This was the day of dreams, poetry and performances, just as any day dedicated to Allama Iqbal should be. In PK4, we had a whole lot of aspiring doctors, teachers, drivers and mechanics – even one sea-captain. It was fortunate that there was a map at hand, so we could trace the route he would have to take from Golra Station to the Arabian Sea. After all, we wouldn’t want him to get lost on the way.
Day 3: Meri dunya, Meray Khwab (my world, my dreams)
This was a great activity for restoring faith in humanity. It wasn’t just about putting in the hours for two shifts, in a dustier outdoors than corporate volunteers might be accustomed to. People magically appeared to step up and step in during times of crises – when it came to funds (thank you, Project Taleem), when it came to transport (Murad and Munawwar Sahib) and then, when it came to Day 3 as a whole. About 15 hours before the activity, we realized there was no way we could distribute the donated materials among the five hubs, to cater to about 500 older children. That’s when the artists came forward to tell us things we never knew about poster paint, textures, and finger-painting. As it turned out, we didn’t actually need any paint-brushes – messier is always better.
That’s not all. When Hazruddin couldn’t decide what to make on his part of the mural, a big, burly Pathan volunteer sat down next to him with a black marker. With quick, efficient strokes, he and Hazruddin took turns to create a picture that redefined the phrase “fearful symmetry”. I think they’re both going to remember that one.