I once read somewhere that if you want to make a difference for a day, feed someone; for a decade, plant trees; for a lifetime, educate people. So many of us carry in our hearts a sincere desire to do something that will make a difference in the state of affairs we find ourselves and our country in, yet in the grind of daily life that desire finds fulfilment in small sporadic gestures of generosity whether it be in the form of zakat or sadqa to an imploring outstretched hand at the traffic light or an occasional deg for the poor. Despite the fact that these gestures carry inherent merits, they neither help alleviate the conditions of the poor, nor do they show them a way to break out of the poverty loop. So today I am going to give words to a heartfelt experience that in addition to giving me the much needed hope for Pakistan, also gave me a venue through which I could easily fulfil that latent desire of being able to make a difference not only in the life of an individual directly, but an entire family and subsequently an entire nation.

There is no dearth of everyday heroes doing so much for so many in our country whether it is Imran Khan’s Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital, Abrarul Haq’s Sahara for Life Trust, Shahzad Roy’s Zindagi Trust or one of the most trusted names in charity, Abdul Sattar Edhi. All these individuals and more are living examples of the difference one man can make to society. Perhaps, a little less known, but equally inspirational is a school in the heart of Lahore by the name of Teach A Child (TAC) school system. My devout attachment to the school springs from the fact that I had the privilege to witness its growth from the very beginning in 1998 from a small rented house to a customised campus in Johar Town today. The odds against an ordinary man undertaking a mission such as this school, which aspires to provide quality education to the underprivileged irrespective of race, ethnicity, religion or caste, are overwhelming to say the least. The task is no less daunting when a project to be run entirely on donations is started by someone who is not a celebrity already, yet perseverance and good faith is rewarded in extraordinary ways by God. One man’s dream inspires thousands others to accomplish what many a cynic predicts as doomed from the start.

The school inducts children from families, who could never even dream of being able to provide quality education at par with any leading private schools in the country, to their kids; yet at the expense of Rs5 per month, this dream is now a reality. In order to benefit as many families as possible in the limited resource pool available to the school, it adheres to a policy of one child per family. These children then become the agents of change not only in their own families, but also in their neighbourhoods. Imagine a child, who has absolutely no exposure to the English language at home, has one or both parents unable to read or write or, perhaps, lives in a make-do tent in an open plot, to be able to score eight ‘A’s’ in O level examinations or to score 916 marks in matriculation exams, yet such has been the case for students standing first in their classes from this school. Once inducted at TAC, students become part of the school family for 19 years of their academic career, culminating in their admission to institutes of higher education as future doctors, scientists, engineers or executives. These students then can break the poverty loop their families have had no means of overcoming in so many generations. Without the opportunity provided to them by TAC most would not have gone beyond basic elementary education, finding their futures trapped in either child labour or the rigours of menial jobs with no means of providing a better future to either themselves or to their children in turn.

No words of mine can come close to the experience of a personal visit to this school. So with much hope in my heart and an ardent request in my words, I urge all those who are able to take even half an hour out of their busy schedules to go and visit this school. After that first step across the threshold into a world incredible in its ability to allow the less fortunate to dream and then, more importantly, to achieve those dreams, you will find how much each one of you can do to change and improve our society in particular and our world in general. I won’t need to say a word after that; the school will speak for itself.

n    The writer is a freelance columnist based in the US.

    Email: markazeyaqeen@gmail.com