Published in The Friday Times May 14, 2010

Jehan Naseem writes about five brave women on a humanitarian mission

In the middle of two posh localities lies the developing Sherpao Basti. Right in the centre of the Basti stands a firm and solidly constructed building that provides a ray of hope for the common man of Karachi. These “Basti Heroes” go by the name of The Rehnuma Trust, consisting of five amazingly strong and courageous women.

Mrs. Amina Ganny, Mrs. Khurshida Iqbal, Mrs. Maneeza Umar, Mrs. Shamim Taj and Mrs. Zarina Godil started this venture a good seven and a half years ago, in September 2002. Their aim? To make a difference, to educate, increase the literacy rate of the Basti children (our future) and to empower the women by teaching them the value of their independence.

Initially the trust had started with cutting and sewing classes for women. The first venue of the Trust was at the home of one of the trustees’ gardeners. The second venue was a rented place within the Basti which made it more accessible to people. Immediately after this they rented a further six rooms. Then they shifted the trust to a house (which is now a Montessori school). Even though this venue was quite adequate for schooling purposes, with the facility of a playground for the children, it has proved to be expensive.

Now the Rehnuma Trust has its own building, which was constructed with the help of several donations. However, the beauty of the financial structuring of the trust is that no one among the donors has a major controlling share or “owns” the place. The donation is made by a sponsor. This method is called “Sponsor a Class Scheme”, and every part of the building has been sponsored. This way all the donors including the trustees have an equal controlling interest when it comes to decision making for the trust on the whole. They all take and make decisions for the community.

The main focus of the Trust is to increase the literacy rate and provide reasonable education facilities for the Basti children. The Rehnuma Trust Building has three floors which consist of a basement, ground-floor/1st floor and a 2nd floor. The basement has an impressive computer lab. So far they have been able to cater to almost 400 students, in both morning and evening shifts, taken care of by 21 teachers, under the supervision of the Principal, Uzma Razzak, who is the principal of the morning shift. In the evening they hold vocational training for adults, which includes cutting and sewing classes as well as religious studies.

Although it is a private Urdu-medium co-educational school that goes up to 6th grade, English is taught as a mandatory subject. The Agarwala Group provides training and courses for the teachers in order to eventually turn this into an English medium school. Initially Mrs. Shamim Taj started the literacy programme with this group.

In the future they plan to take the school up to 10th grade, and from then on it will no longer be co-educational.

Though they manage quite well with a three storey building, they would like to build a fourth floor by next year. However, unfortunately they lack the funds for this. They had managed to find a sponsor who donated Rs 1.5 million; however, this funding is insufficient. A further Rs 2.5 million is needed for the cost of construction. They also have their hearts set on the 200 square yards next door for playground facilities for the children. Again funding is needed for this.

Even though The Rehnuma Trust School is a charitable institution, in order for the Basti people to maintain their dignity, 50% of the fees are paid by them. These fees amount to Rs. 50 per month, and if there are four siblings a concession is made. However, the uniforms, books, shoes, field trips and melas (carnivals) are free. One of the trustees, Mrs. Muneeza Umar said, “Paying part of the fees allows the students to maintain their self respect.” Mrs. Amina Ganny said, “If someone comes from outside the school to give them free food or free anything, we forbid them to do so. We don’t want any of these children turning into freeloaders or beggars. We want them to know that they have to work hard in order to make something of their lives.”

She went on to add that inclusive of the school facilities there is a sub-scheme or project, in which the school children, parents or Basti people receive about 70% to 100% coverage with the help of the Zubaida Hospital, a charitable institution. The beauty of The Rehnuma Trust and School is that it is placed in the heart of the Basti. This way it is accessible to both parents and children, since they can easily walk back and forth between their homes and the school.

Mrs. Zarina Godil went on to say, “This way it is convenient for working mothers as they can be satisfied that their children study in a safe environment. We also provide assistance if they have any domestic problems.”

The Karachi American School (K.A.S), which is situated just a street away, has a student body that provides community service. They come to the Rehnuma Trust School to play educational games with the students and provide whatever support they can. The community service that the K.A.S students provide, helps the Trust with one of their sub-projects, which is to develop the Basti. This development also includes working alongside The Zubaida Hospital to provide reasonable healthcare.

Another sub-project of the trust, (which is very different from Community Welfare, Healthcare and Education), is the Emergency Action Scheme. This is concerned with the several tragedies that Pakistan has suffered. We all remember the devastating earthquake of 2005, the floods of Sindh and Balochistan and the Swat IDPs. For each of these disasters the Trustees of the Rehnuma Trust have personally visited the affected areas, assessed the situation and then accordingly helped to fulfill the immediate and long-term needs of the victims.

Donors from all around the world have made donations to the Trust amounting to millions of dollars (as the Trust is registered in the US), for they recognize the dedication with which the Trustees fulfill their commitments.

The Rehnuma Trust desperately needs donations. You can look up their Facebook page: The Rehnuma Trust, or simply contact them here:
The Rehnuma Trust
426-B Adamjee K.C.H.A, Karachi- 75350 Pakistan Tel: 92-213 421 9309

This is not about just making a difference; it is about making the right difference. It is not just about doing a good deed, it is about doing a good deed unconditionally. It is not just about one person, it is about all people. It is not just about The Rehnuma Trust, it is about the trust you build with your people. So join hands with this Trust and become a hero. Make a difference, make a change.