Youth advocates help enrol of out-of-school children in Pakistan
By A. Sami Malik
LAHORE, Pakistan, 17 April 2012 – Walking through the narrow streets of Ahmedabad, an urban slum on the outskirts of Lahore, Pakistan, 22-year-old Syed Mohsin Raza saw a barefoot school-aged girl playing outside her house.
He asked if she was in school. When he learned she was not, Mr. Raza approached her parents, determined to convince them to send her to school. Mr. Raza is a volunteer in UNICEF’s ‘Young Champions’ initiative to get every child of school age in his community enrolled in school.
“I joined the ‘Young Champions’ initiative in September 2010,” Mr. Raza said. “Since then, I’ve managed to have more than 200 children enrolled. Initially, it is difficult to convince the parents. I tell about the advantages of educating their children and eventually they agree. I encourage them to keep their children in school for at least 10 years.”
Empowering youth to help out-of-school children
‘Young Champions’ initiative is a programme of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI). In Pakistan, it is conducted in partnership with the UNICEF Punjab office, Jahandad Society for Community Development (JSCD), and government social welfare and education departments.
Through the programme, educated youth are selected and trained to encourage families in their communities to enrol children in school.
“‘Young Champions’ … envisions involving adolescents as ‘young champions’ to become advocates and change-makers in their communities, to address gender concerns, increase girl child enrolment and decrease drop outs,” said UNICEF Education Officer Sehr Raza Qizilbash. “Over the last two years, this initiative has produced encouraging results and made a substantial contribution to UNICEF’s objective of enrolling every school-going-aged child in target districts."
Most out-of-school children are marginalized and poor; some have been forced by circumstances to drop out to engage in child labour.
“This is a poor neighbourhood,” Mr. Raza. “Most men here work as labourers on daily wages while women go to affluent localities to work as housemaids. Each family has around four to six children, and poverty is often the reason why parents don’t send their children to school. They want them to work and earn some money even at this tender age.”
The programme is being implemented in 40 Union Councils in Lahore and Faisalabad districts, and UNICEF plans to expand the initiative by involving Girl Guides and Boy Scouts during 2012 and beyond.
Giving children a better life
Shirin Nayyar, 6, was enrolled due to the efforts of Mr. Raza, who convinced her parents to let her receive non-formal education at one of the Non-Formal Basic Education Centres (NFBE) centres established by JSCD. Within a few months, Shirin showed good progress and was enrolled at the local Government Primary School (GPS) Ahmedabad.
“I am a poor man and did not realize the importance of educating my children,” said Abbas Nayyar, Shirin’s father. “Ever since Shirin started going to school, my thoughts have changed. Now I believe that parents who do not send their children to school commit a major sin. I will work hard and educate all my children so that they could have a better life.”
The head teacher at GPS Ahmedabad, Ashfaq Ahmed, is also appreciative of the Young Champions’ initiative. “We have 350 students in this school and seven teachers. Children enrolled due to the efforts of the ‘young champions’ usually join at the preparatory level or in grade one. This is a good initiative and complements the government’s policy.”
“I keep a record of all the children that I have managed to enrol,” said Mr. Raza. “I keep visiting their schools to check their progress, and see their families to know how they feel about their children being educated. In case a child stops coming to school, I follow up and try to find the reason. It is important that no child drops out once enrolled.”