Teaching in the Heart of Urban Slum
The moment I see a child not holding school bags but begging on the streets — shakes me. I decided to volunteer for a cause, even a minor act of teaching one child. During my Summer break in 2019, I devoted my time to volunteering for Alumni Development Program (ADP) at The Citizens Foundation (TCF), Secondary School Bedian Road, Heir Campus, Lahore. It was 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. three-week-long from June 24, 19 to 20 July 15, 19.
TCF's vision of change through education ‘to remove barriers of class and privilege to make the citizens of Pakistan agents of positive change’ motivated me to volunteer for them. The reason I choose TCF for my volunteer experience is that TCF provides a well-structured volunteer program, along with orientation and training. The aim of the ADP to motivate the TCF alumni for further studies captured my attention as most of their students after matriculation left their studies.
As a volunteer at TCF school, I taught mathematics to alumni students and conducted diagnostic tests, quizzes, and in-class activities. From diagnostic tests, I realized some students were struggling with their basic math skills. One of the fundamental problems they were confronting is of language. They studied in Urdu medium and the ADP syllabus was in English. Before teaching, I asked them the Urdu terms of symbols written on the board and then translate them into English. To make this a fun activity I said to them I will learn the Urdu terms of Mathematics from you and you will learn English terms from me. In this way, the students became interested in knowing English terms otherwise hard for them.
When I made practice problems, I tried to connect math to the students’ interests. One of my favourite memories was when Bisma, a student I had been teaching for a week, shared with me she enjoyed the word problems about pets; I had created using her name. Then she formulated math problems for other students. It helped them to improve their math skills along with their self-development. When I asked the students to come on the blackboard, she raised her hand and enthusiastically created math problems for other students. Another unforgettable memory is when on the way to school we were jammed in traffic due to rain and were late for almost an hour, but all students were waiting while sitting in their classrooms. One of the students, Bint -e- Kulsoom, still calls me and said she wants me to teach her in the future too. Her wish is that I will come to their school again.
The part of the community service accomplishment that I’m most proud of is the visit I planned to the school library. Students could not issue books from the school library. I asked the administrative staff member to keep records of the students and allow them to issue books for at least one week. This visit was important for me as I tried to develop a habit of reading among students. For the exchange of ideas after the library session the next day, I asked them to share their thoughts in class. To encourage them to get good grades on quizzes, I also gifted magazines to all the high achievers on the quiz.
Along with other volunteers, we conducted biweekly hour-long awareness sessions. In one session, I told them the story of the only woman who got a Nobel Prize twice in two different fields, ‘Marie Curie’. In another session, I shared the transformation story of Nadeem Hussain, a TCF alumni currently working as a World Bank Technical Assistant to the Government of Sindh. The purpose of conducting such sessions was to motivate them to work hard despite all odds.
One and a half-hour journey in the scorching summer days: the journey to school for volunteer teaching while perspiring from head to toe in the van made me a more patient and grateful person. Teaching could be challenging at times, but it taught me to appreciate others and be more willing to come in front when I see someone needs help. The grass-root level exposure in the challenging area of Pakistan developed a sense of gratitude in my personality and made me an empathetic observer.
It allowed me to explore the unprivileged sites of our country. On the way to school, in the heart of an urban slum, I came across broken roads where children were roaming around and playing with tires. On the flip side, students were also waiting for us in their classrooms. The huge campuses there did not provide a nurturing environment. I recognized dedicated students do not deserve what they are getting. Though TCF is a great initiative of community service and making a difference in the lives of many students belonging to unprivileged sites. It shocked me when I conducted a reading activity and some students in grade 10 could not read simple words. I felt like the organization's focus is on the increasing strength of students and not the quality of the education.
Why the mere focus is on quantity rather than quality? For advertisement? Getting more donors?