These summer vacations, I decided to spend my time in more meaningful pursuits than yawning all day long and living on American TV series. With this goal in mind I enrolled into The Citizen’s Foundation Summer Camp Program. I must confess that the idea of grabbing another certificate and enhancing the prospects of landing a favorable job once I graduated, added weight to my decision more than anything. However, once the program commenced, it was a completely different story!

The Summer Camp started at the end of June and continued till the first week of July – a duration of about two weeks. At the orientation, my fellow volunteers and I were handed manuals which included a day-by-day planner of what we were supposed to do. Our duties called upon us to act as friends to the children more than their teachers. Each day was divided into three periods: English, drama/arts and sports.

I distinctly remember the feeling of utter unease as the TCF vans approached the school designated to me – TCF Jhulkey Campus. A cloud of nervousness and unease enveloped me as I grappled with the possibility of failing to do my job. Questions like ‘What if I can’t handle the children?’ ‘How will I be able to communicate with them?’ and the most dreadful: ‘What if the children don’t like me?’ further shook my resolve. I asked myself what I was doing there when I could have been comfortably asleep at home.

I now laugh at my naivety and misplaced fears. For, once I stepped out of the van, those very children who had been the source of my disquiet a while ago, welcomed me with such vigor and warmth that all my doubts were lost somewhere in their laughter and shinning eyes. My fellow volunteer and I made our way to the spacious classroom in which twenty-six bright eyed children, from six to fourteen years old, were seated. Seeing them fighting hard to contain their excitement was quite endearing.

And hence, after a short introduction, the day started. My fondness of my young friends grew over time. However, during my short journey I was forced to confront the harsh realities of the lives these children faced. I remember Nadia – a confident girl whose hand shot up every time I asked a question – suddenly stopped coming to school. I was told by her friend that her mother had fallen ill and now she had to perform her mother’s job of cleaning houses as there was no other way to earn the necessary money.

I was told by my seniors that this was something extremely common. The teachers had to beg parents to send their children, especially their daughters, to school, and once that was done, sustaining the attendance percentage was a battle in itself because many students failed to show up regularly owing to various issues at home.

The summer camp ended sooner than I thought. On the last day, we displayed the arts and crafts made by the children, enacted the skits that each class had prepared and held the prize distribution ceremony. My journey home from the school on that last day was a mixture of sadness and elation. I was solemn on parting with the children who had colored the past two weeks of my life with their innocent questions, dreams and joviality. Ironically, the certificate in my hand amounted to nothing much in comparison with the contentment I felt at having had such an experience. I will always remember Ahmed and Nabeel, Sayed with his gelled hair who said he wanted to be a Fauji when he grew up, Nimra and Sonia and, of course, Nadia. I will remember and cherish the memories these children gave me.

Living in a country like Pakistan with one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, the need for imposing an education emergency is ever necessary. For the sake of children like Nadia and Nabeel let’s play our part in imparting education in any way we can. These children are the future and they matter!