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Taleem-ul-Amal project helps child labourers obtain an education in Pakistan

© UNICEF Pakistan/2011/Asad Zaidi
Chand Khushi Mohammad,12, is a promising third-grade student at a Taleem-ul-Amal Centre in Sialkot, Pakistan.

By A. Sami Malik

SIALKOT, Pakistan, 10 January 2012 – Sadness fills the eyes of 12-year-old Chand Khushi Mohammad as he recalls walking the streets, collecting garbage, near Sialkot, a city known for sporting goods manufacturing, in Pakistan’s Punjab Province.
“I collected garbage and pieces of metal from the streets to sell for about 100 to 200 rupees [US$1.10 to US$2.20] at the end of the day. Most children of my age in this locality did the same,” he said.

“Watching children going to school in clean uniforms fascinated me. But I knew that I can’t go to school. My father is dead and mother could not afford sending me to one.”

But thanks to the intervention of a caring teacher, Chand is now one of the most promising third-grade students at the Taleem-ul-Amal Centre Gohadpur, a child protection centre in Sialkot.

Creating future opportunities

It is one of 18 child protection centres – called Taleem-ul-Amal centres – established by UNICEF and its implementing partner, Child and Social Development Organisation (CSDO), in Sialkot and the neighbouring districts of Gujranwala and Narowal.

Locating these centres in and around Sialkot was intended to offer children a positive alternative to manufacturing labour and garbage collection.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2011/Asad Zaidi
Chand Khushi Mohammad, 12, reads to his teacher, Shumaila Nawaz, at a UNICEF-supported Taleem-ul-Amal Centre in Sialkot, Pakistan. Ms. Nawaz helped Chand attend the centre.

Children who forgo school in order to work are deprived of skills and future opportunities, reinforcing cycles of poverty. Shumaila Nawaz, a teacher at the Taleem-ul-Amal Centre, was determined to help Chand escape this fate.

When she spotted him collecting garbage one morning, she followed him home and convinced his mother to let him obtain a free education at the centre.

“I was desperate to get him off the street and into the centre,” said Ms. Nawaz. “Like most parents in this area, Chand’s mother too was not willing to let go of whatever little money he made collecting garbage. Her husband had died, and she alone could not feed the entire family. I assured her that he would make more money once he has completed basic education. I also told her that Chand will get a free uniform and books and that she will not have to pay for anything. She reluctantly agreed.”

None of the 109 students at Ms. Nawaz’s centre had attended school before. But Ms. Nawaz is optimistic that most of them will complete primary school and continue studying at the secondary level.

“Many of our former students are now in government schools. They have come into the mainstream of education,” she said. “So will these children.”

Educating girls

In Gurhi Maliyan, another locality near Sialkot, a Taleem-ul-Amal centre is helping to educate 50 children – 43 of whom are girls.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2011/Asad Zaidi
Between working as a house maid and stitching footballs with her family, Sonita manages to continue her education at a Taleem-ul-Amal centre in Sialkot, Pakistan.

Sixteen-year-old Sonita Liaqat is one of these students. She has studied at the centre for over two years and recently passed the government’s fifth grade examination.

“I work as a house maid for one hour in the morning before coming to the centre. I love to be at the centre studying and learning new things every day,” she said. “Once I return home, I stitch footballs along with my eight siblings and parents. We stitch five to six footballs every day, and that gets my parents about 250 rupees [approximately US$2.75].”

While obtaining an education hasn’t freed Sonita of the need to work, it is providing her the skills to transform her future – and perhaps the future of her community, as well.

Since the start of this project in 2009, nearly 4,000 students have benefitted, more than half of them girls. And after passing the Punjap Education Board’s primary level-examination, many of these students have gone to work in education, passing on their knowledge and skills. 

‘Poverty is the reason’

UNICEF and CSDO are operating the Taleem-ul-Amal project with funding from the Swiss National Committee for UNICEF. These funds are used to provide students with learning materials, uniforms, schools bags and shoes, and to help convince community members to allow their children to go to school.

“Poverty is the main reason… most parents don’t send their children to school,” said Hina Shezadi, a social mobilizer with Taleem-ul-Amal. “It takes repeated visits to the parents and a lot of persuasion before children are allowed to attend our centres. We sometimes have to involve the influential people in a locality to support our social mobilization efforts.” 

But these efforts are paying off for children like Chand and Sonita, helping them build a path away from labour and out of poverty, for themselves and the generation to come.



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