By Brig (R) Kamran Shariff (2nd SSC)
I happened to serve with my course mate, Maj XYZ (name with-held on request), in the School of Infantry & Tactics, Quetta, in the early 80s. Unassuming in his appearance, he caught my attention while conducting a study on “Lipa Operation 1971″. It was one notable tactical success of the 1971 War – daring attack conducted by 9 AK Regt in Lipa Valley, Azad Kashmir (Editor: Please read the details of Operation in the article; “Remembering Lt Col Haq Nawaz Kayani (Shaheed), SJ & Bar”). He spoke verbatim, explaining details on a sand model, and he kept everyone spell-bound and virtually brought the School faculty, including the Commandant, late Gen Imtiaz Warraich, to tears through his inspired narration. Here was a young officer who, besides being talented, was extremely motivated. Such was the tenor with which he served till his retirement as a Brig. Convinced that access to education made the difference to his life, he decided to repay the debt.
After his retirement, Brig XYZ established Al-Azeem Trust with the aim of imparting quality education to deprived children of backward areas so as to enable them to realise their talent, both for livelihood generation and for being socially responsible. Its inspired performance is matched by an equally inspiring story of a young local talented boy (Brig XYZ) who rose from a very modest background. He was assisted in his early education by one Lt Azeem, his relative and an officer from Pakistan Navy, which enabled him to secure commission in the Army.
Brig XYZ, along with his wife, started the first school of Al-Azeem Trust in their village, Behand, Tehsil Kahuta, District Rawalpindi, in April 2002. The Programme aims at grooming talented children up to the time they are able to generate their livelihoods, whether it involves supporting their higher professional studies or exposing them to vocational training. Children of parents who cannot afford the tuition fees are admitted. Yet, an excellent quality of education is maintained, for which teachers are trained. They display exceptional commitment, are well paid and the academic standards are strictly monitored.
A unique education system has evolved in Kahuta region over the last thirteen years to endow the younger generation and the larger society with hope. The Al-Azeem School System is an outcome of labour of love a son of the soil who rose in his professional pursuits and chose to pay back. He has been supported by many over the years. This article attempts to capture its salient outcomes.
I am a regular visitor of Al-Azeem Trust. Recently I visited the Trust again along with Brig XYZ. We drove into a girls’ school campus in the outskirts of Kahuta City. Smartly clad girls in distinct uniforms, distinguishing the senior classes, were preparing for the Board examination. The younger classes were engaged in their studies with radiant faces, eager to learn.
Ownership and proactive support of the local communities and those endowed, constitutes the bedrock of the School System. Therefore, most of the School premises have either been provided by the local community members, or are leased out at a very nominal rent.
The Al-Azeem School System is dedicated to quality education and brick and mortar figures out as the lesser priority. Education in the English medium is provided at the door steps and beneficiaries pay for the tuition consistent with their capacities. The marginalised access free education. As a thumb rule, the monthly tuition fee in the primary schools equates with the price of fifteen ‘desi’ eggs, costing Rs. 300 approximately; a local produce that even the poor can barter for the education of their children.
With optimum resources geared towards providing quality education, administrative and peripheral costs are kept to the minimum. Three young ladies in a busy looking office assisted by one retired clerk constitute the administrative capacity of the School System. Individual schools settle their accounts and the management takes on the deficits. These young ladies also provide guidance on the syllabus, monitor adherence to the prescribed curriculum, and organise the examinations. A bureaucracy deals with such issues in other school systems.
Al-Azeem School System is now financially self-sustaining. It provides quality education to over seven thousand students studying in twenty-two schools, from the primary level to the twelfth class.
Quality control figures out as perhaps the most challenging function in a major undertaking. Yet issues like chronic absenteeism, misdemeanours or financial embezzlement rarely figure out. The School System works on a unique ethos that equates commitment to education with core self-interests. In the beneficiary communities, the elders solidly support the programme as they see the future of their children through the Al-Azeem School System. For the senior teachers, delivering quality education derives self-esteem. The younger teachers endeavour to excel the standards that are set.
In a school in village Behand, neatly lined children were seen collecting wrappers and waste. The activity flows from one of the numerous lessons that promote ‘tarbiat’ or civil behaviour, alongside education. Others inculcate the virtues of compassion, sharing, social responsibility and attending to the personal hygiene. What they learn in schools is practised at home, thus bringing about a social change through the process of reverse osmosis. One of the mothers who had come to accompany her children back home indicated that inspired and guided by her children, she is now a literate.
Local educated women and younger girls practically run the entire School System which includes providing tuition and rendering administrative functions. Al-Azeem School System stands out as a model for women empowerment and sterling performance which is second to none. Its results rank among the best in the Rawalpindi Division and many students are accepted into the quality institutions for higher education.
As part of its social responsibility, Al-Azeem School System has over the years concertedly contributed in restoring the local forests. These efforts range from community based awareness raising, provision of watch and ward services and re-plantation of trees during monsoons. There is evidence of the pine and tree cover gradually reviving in the region and near denial of space for the timber mafias. An effective communities’ driven model is created which may be studied for wider replication. Environmental awareness can be gauged by the fact that even the local streams are cleaner from our standards.
Volunteerism more than anything else reflects social mobility in a society and fosters a sentiment of self-reliance. It is evident from the wider communities’ support for the Al-Azeem School System which includes activities like maintaining the road access to the schools, providing watch and ward functions and diverse services. The School System is being aptly supported by so many voluntary contributions.
An unswerving commitment to the future of the younger generation through quality education has welded together a sustainable bond between the beneficiary communities and the Al-Azeem School System. A situation where everyone stands to gain.
Pakistan Army Blog (Retired Officers)
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