More than 180 countries have imposed national school closures, affecting more than 1.5 billion children and youth. It is difficult to imagine the potential losses that may accrue in learning for today’s young generation and for the development of their futures. For many children being out of school means they will start working to support their families or never return to school as students again.
In Kachra Kundi, Pakistan, where Thaakat’s largest campuses were developed almost 10 years ago, families live well below the poverty line. Many families survive by earnings made working as waste pickers in the landfill, work that they have been doing for generations. The schools that Thaakat Foundation support provide an education to more than 1,200 children in this impoverished area, set on the outskirts of the landfill.
As the novel coronavirus pandemic struck, it was mandated we close our schools. Now that school closures have been in effect for over two months, we are thinking creatively about the actions we can take and do to promote continuous education. On behalf of Thaakat Foundation, we had the pleasure of chatting with Saad S, our DREAMS site manager, to find out what he had in mind.
Saad has distinguished himself as a fantastic leader, proactive anytime we’ve faced challenges. Last month, he appealed for enough funding to pilot online learning with 10 college students. These students were chosen based on their ability to learn at home. Each was provided with a laptop and a mobile internet connection.
When Saad called it must have been approximately 2 AM in Karachi, it was evident he had been working 14-15 hour days.
Thaakat Foundation: Have you ever considered winding down your day so that you don’t overwhelm yourself?
Saad: Yes, I’ve thought about it. But with COVID, shops, restaurants, and outings are all canceled. It’s the perfect time to fully commit all of my waking hours to this work for the community.
Thaakat: How can we tackle the challenge of learning during COVID?
Saad: I wanted to find someone who had experience in the learning space. I contacted a past volunteer who has been working in one of the best private schools in the city. I asked him if he could contract with us to provide his off days to developing an online learning curriculum with our staff.
Thaakat: So what has he proposed so far?
Saad: We have planned to start online classes on a trial basis. We’ve started training 9th and 10th-grade teachers at our sister campus. We know that 50% of the students at this school have internet at home. We’ll then make groups among these students who live near each other, so that they may learn together, taking precautionary measures.
Thaakat: How would teachers conduct their day?
Saad: The curriculum will be conducted on zoom and then the recorded lectures will be shared on Whatsapp
Thaakat: How do you envision this type of learning will be conducted with the students in the landfill?
Saad: We’d like to test this pilot to see what learnings we can transfer to our other students. We have a lot of open land at our DREAMS campus, so it gives us some room to work with. Let’s see how COVID trends continue and we will stay prepared to develop a program.
Thaakat: Do you have any additional updates on how we plan to continue activities at our other sites?
Saad: When we realized that COVID-19 would not leave anytime soon, we wanted to create a safe space for our students and families who might be impacted. Leveraging the professional guidance of some of the best doctors in the city, we’re developing plans to launch a medical center in a wing of the current college campus facility. As lockdown eases in the city, this means that the virus can continue to cause more havoc. This medical facility can be a great service to those in our communities who cannot afford typical hospital treatment.
We’ve also gotten to the finishing stages of our women’s technical skills training center. We’re anticipating we will be able to open doors before the end of June. The women will receive a basic education and sewing and stitching training. They’ll also be sewing cloth masks for our students, workers, and their families.
Thaakat: How have you been supporting the need for food staples for these families who are out of work?
Saad: We’ve been paying teachers who are not working, 70% of a full-time salary. The surplus is being leveraged to provide food relief bags to families in need. It is also being used for things like hiring contract work to do the above activities.
Navigating our charitable work during a time of a global pandemic hasn’t been easy. We’ve had to get creative with fundraising due to our in-person events being canceled. Despite this, the crisis has given us opportunities to transform our own processes and serve as leaders at our country sites. Thank you to Saad for his impactful leadership and passion in all that he does.
Thaakat Foundation operates 2 schools and a college in partnership with the Idara Al Khair welfare society. In addition to this, we plan to launch our women’s technical skills training center and all-girls school in 2020. The campuses support some of the poorest communities in Karachi. Our villagers spend 12 hour days working in the landfill to support their families. Your donations provide our students with an opportunity for a better future.