Erasing Illiteracy

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By Mahnoor Ahmad

With four coloring books in his hand, restlessness in his eyes to find someone to sell them to and an even more worry to get back home with goodies for his family to eat, he strode back and forth in front of the supermarket. This is a typical story of underprivileged boys and girls, of hardly ten years of age, who leave home everyday to sell things. Coloring books, tissue packs, flowers, cleaning windshields on the signals and what not. Those who do not sell anything are unfortunately caught up between the hands of the land mafia and ultimately go for begging. They go out only to earn by all this where instead what they should be doing is something that is their right at this age. The right to be educated!

How is it that we talk about the illiteracy issue so much and yet do so less about it. Here, I am not considering how we volunteer for educational NGOs or give charity for educating children. These are very noble actions, no doubt, and I am proud that we as a nation have this sense of responsibility somewhere inside of us. What I am saying is that only this is not enough. There are 5.5 million children who are out of school, as stated in the UNESCO report in 2014, and as the population is growing by many folds, one can only imagine where this number would have come to in this one year and where can it be going. More committed efforts on an individual level are therefore needed today, not just to make a difference but to make it stay and multiply.

No one can truly understand of what dreams breed inside of the hearts of these children at such innocent ages. It would be excruciating for them being on the roads and looking at children their age going to school. These children actually want to study and they have no clue on how to do it, or on where to go. Their imagination about going to school must be like a wonderful fantasy world that they know they might never be able to go to. We cannot even be close to their imagination, to that incomplete feeling. I can say that because I for one have had the chance to experience the exceptional excitement of one such kid regarding studying.

I once found a kid waiting beside my car just as I got out of the supermarket. I smiled at him and asked what the matter is. He turned his head to a coloring book resting inside my car, looked back at me with a smile and offered me a coloring book to buy from the ones that he had, certain that I will buy it since I had another one just like his. I asked him which one I should take from his pile. He said, “ABCD”, and handed me the one with the English alphabets. I asked him why he chose that one, to which he said that it’s because he likes it. When I asked him why, his tone changed to one with such enthusiasm, and he told me that it is because he knows all the alphabets. He spoke all the alphabets from A to Z while pointing at the letters too. He might have learned it from somewhere around and that showed his interest. I got really astonished and asked if he knew counting, and he did, he spoke out the whole of it from 1 till 10. What I was most surprised and touched by was the shine in his eyes and the satisfaction in his full teeth smile. He had achieved something just by letting me listen to what he knew. I gave back the coloring book to him that I had bought and told him that it belonged to him now. He thanked me and got extremely happy and excited, and kept that book right at the end of the whole pile, because he knew that it was only his now.

There are numerous children like him who have a strong need for achievement for studying. There is some need for achievement in each and every one of us, and having that fulfilled makes our existence meaningful, we all seek to fulfill it.

Imagine if millions of children have this need fulfilled, and have this right acquired of getting educated. This can be done by all of us. Not just by a group of people but by each and every one of the privileged youth of Pakistan. Take the responsibility of just one child on yourself, considering him/her like your own brother or sister and educating them at home. We put in time on giving tuitions, why not do the same for these children. It could be only one to two hours per day, or however it is feasible, but let’s start. We need to start because the change has to be big and it has to stick. Even if a hundred of us start doing this from the age of may be sixteen till the time we graduate, and even after that, we would have given at least seven to eight years worth of school education to a hundred children, that too just from our homes.

This exercise, on an individual level, would not only educate these children, it would establish and enrich the need for achievement in these children. They have every right to experience it like we have. They have every right to be educated like we have. They have every right to contribute to the betterment of Pakistan and make it prosper like we have, and we will. Our contribution might be by doing this perhaps.

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