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A CLASS OF HER OWN - Humaira Bachal.pdf

A CLASS OF HER OWN - Humaira Bachal.pdf

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Published by h86
A CLASS OF HER OWN - Humaira Bachal
A CLASS OF HER OWN - Humaira Bachal

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Published by: h86 on Nov 10, 2013
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10/2/13A CLASS OF HER OWNmoreintelligentlife.com/print/content/ideas/anonymous/class-her-own1/11
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More Intelligent Life
 (http://moreintelligentlife.com)
Home > A CLASS OF HER OWN
A CLASS OF HER OWN
Long Read: In the squatter colonies of Pakistan, education is something that happens to other people—especially if you are female. Rahul Bhattacharya meets Humaira Bachal who, as a girl, taught awhole community a lesson
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, September/October 2013IN THE SETTLEMENT of Moach Goth on the outskirts of Karachi lives a heroine. To meet her you must drive out towards the provincial border of Sindh and Balochistan. En route to MoachGoth, you are shown the flyover that collapsed, the factory that burned, and an entrance to Lyari,the ghetto whose gang wars and body-counts are in the papers every day.It was a momentous time to be in Pakistan, ten days after general elections and the firsttransition in the nation’s history from one elected government to another. The talk was of 
tabdeeli 
, change, and
dhandhli 
, rigging. The talk was of whether things were getting better, or whether they were going to get worse before they got better. The day before repolling in a
 
10/2/13A CLASS OF HER OWNmoreintelligentlife.com/print/content/ideas/anonymous/class-her-own2/11
constituency in southern Karachi, Zahra Shahid Hussain, a much-admired professor, activist andvice-president of the political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, had been shot dead at the gates oher house by two men on a motorcycle. The next morning Samina Baig, a 22-year-old, becamethe first Pakistani woman to scale Everest.To enter Moach Goth is to begin to understand another climb, that made by Humaira Bachal.When she and her family came here, they had just cleared their debts. It was probably some timein 1995, but they are not sure. The settlement was small, nothing like now. A fishing village hadbeen here for a long time, but now it was transforming into a squatter’s colony in the fast-expanding conurbation of Karachi. When they arrived, as they remember it, there were about ahundred mud and straw huts. There were jungles of thorny acacia. The gangs had not yet formed,and in any case no vehicles really came to the village, so you didn’t need to flash your headlightsin code to enter anybody’s turf after dark.Now, between the Sindhis, Balochis, Kutchhis, Brohis, Mohajirs, Punjabis and Bengalis, thereare 160,000, perhaps 180,000, people in Moach Goth. The sand blows through its unpavedstreets. The cement water tower that stands tall over the population worked for two months, thenran dry, so now they must buy water from private contractors. Electricity lines have beeninstalled, but there are power cuts for nine hours a day. Sewage pipes were laid twice; eachtime they burst in the rains.Two of the three government schools in Moach Goth are ghost schools, abandoned by their teachers and administrators and occupied instead by junkies or criminals; there are anestimated 30,000 such schools in Pakistan. The single working school left in Moach Goth barelyfunctions. Boys are usually pulled out at 12 by their families and put to work in factories or onconstruction sites; girls are rarely permitted to study at all. Government figures state that 40% of Pakistani girls have had a primary education, but other official sources put female literacy inPakistan at 26%. According to independent sources, if you exclude those who can form onlytheir signature, the figure tumbles to 12%.So when Humaira Bachal matriculated—the equivalent of taking her GCSEs—it was about themost improbable thing a girl from Moach Goth could do. And then she built perhaps the mostimprobable school in the world. She is 26 now, and she started it when she was 13.
Picture: Humaira Bachal, founder of the Dream Model Street School, stands in one of themany abandoned, or "ghost", schools of Karachi 
 
10/2/13A CLASS OF HER OWNmoreintelligentlife.com/print/content/ideas/anonymous/class-her-own3/11
HUMAIRA WAS BORN ona Friday morning, "black and thin," she says, "like a little rat". Her grandfather looked at her andcried: "Allah, will this girl live to ever give me a glass of water?" She was the firstborn of Mohammad Bachal and Zainab Bibi, though each had four children from a previous marriage.They had fallen in love in Lyari, not then such a lethal place. (Decades later, the body of Bachal’sonly son would be discovered there in a sack under a bridge.) Zainab, a Baloch, was married at11 to a drunk, drug addict and wife-beater. Bachal, a Sindhi, married a woman who lovedsomeone else. She arranged for Bachal to wed Zainab. But he was cussed: for her troubles, shestill did not get her divorce. "Your father is a most wicked man," Zainab would complain toHumaira and her younger sister Tahira, making them laugh. After the marriage, Zainab and Bachal moved to the town of Thatta in Sindh, where they boughta piece of land and built a hut. He was a truck driver; she took stitching jobs. Humaira was bornin Thatta, and three years later was admitted to a nursery school. It was the first time a girl in thefamily had started a formal education. Bachal tolerated it—Zainab had insisted, supported byher youngest son, Shakeel, who had found some progressive friends in Thatta. The elder daughters were not around, so it was Shakeel who would dress Humaira and Tahira and combtheir hair, babysit them at the cycle store where he worked, and take them to their classes.Humaira remembers summer visits to her father’s village, where she would play with a one-year-old cousin, a boy called Munna. One day Munna had a fever, and Humaira was told to comeback later. In the evening she found women assembled around the house, crying: Munna haddied. It happened 15 minutes after he was given his medicine. She remembers people makingabsurd conjectures, like whether a lizard had spat in the bottle, before someone discovered thatthe medicine was past its expiry date. "I couldn’t accept that a mother had killed her child, a childshe loved so much. She had killed him because she couldn’t read."Her most vivid memory of Thatta is leaving it, soon after the wedding of Shakeel’s older brother.The Bachals had put all their capital and more into the wedding, counting on recouping the costthrough wedding gifts. But then the rains came. Interior Sindh was flooded. The animals their 

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