Namal University – reaches for humanity

imageAs they showed a video about Namal University, a student asked “do I not have a right to proper education, so what that I was born poor”. That is the crux of the matter. In a land made for righteousness, ninety plus percent people can only watch from the outside, while others less deserving waste an opportunity for learning.

Imran Khan met us today at a small brunch and told us his story of Namal University. It was good that he could give thought, time and effort to such a venture, while a major by-election in NA 246 was in the offing. He said, putting Pakistan right has been my mission, but my passion is to make the Namal project successful, so that people can acquire an education. A parallel was drawn with Oxford and Cambridge, where two great universities over centuries set the grounds for the British Empire. This is inspiration indeed! To reach for the stars, while we are all broken, down on the floor.

Two things Imran pointed out in his short speech, which are worth extrapolating on.

In 2002 as Imran was driving in this Mianwalli region, his car broke down. He spent the whole night there and the local people came to tell him that they were poor and could not afford a university. There were none in this region for a hundred kilometers. Imran felt an intense call to help. Something like he had in the years when the Shaukat Khanum Hospital was formed. But his vision went beyond this region to a much larger picture. This university will be a great one, which will educate the poor of all Pakistan. Should they not have equal rights to those born with a silver spoon, who could educate themselves much more easily? He thought of the likes of Oxford and Cambridge as comparison. Why not something like this in the eons ahead. As Imran mentioned, man is Ashraful Maqlooqaat. Where mans mind reaches, Allah has given him the wherewithal to reach that. Unfortunately, the sane and wise ones will always bring sanity and maintain status quo. But actually we need to dream big and believe in our cause. Once you believe, you will always win. One only loses, when we think we have lost (Philosophy which has also served me best in my life).

The second point was as telling. He said that in sixty seven years history of Aitchison College, they have produced just one test cricketer. Despite the best class facilities, comfort and resources. But on the streets of Lahore and Karachi, playing tape ball we have produced plenty of world class cricketers. This is the same story as the poverty stricken footballers of Brazil and Italy. Poverty produces a will, focus and drive as no other can. The same applies in education. The Namal scholars, living a hard life, have already climbed a peak. Their degree results in the first three graduating classes, on comparable standards of the UK universities, have been astounding. These young people are committed and have their heart in uplifting Pakistan. They will be an asset for this country. They can be our future.

Namal University has already arrived. In three years 134 students (mainly from poor families) have graduated and are already working in our country. It is reaching out for humanity. To do this, it needs to expand for the good of this country. This is not about politics, this is about Pakistan. In my capacity as a Pakistani, I testify that I have been involved with Imran Khan’s projects for over two decades. I have always found him honest and dedicated to the bone. Whatever your views about his politics, this is about all of us. Please go on the Namal University site and help monetarily, if you can. Every little bit will assist and bring that visionary future nearer.

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Tread Softly

imageToday, I spoke at a session at Engro, where the employees of all the companies are being sensitised on the inclusiveness of the physically impaired in the work force. While I had not really thought or prepared a talk, but as I spoke, the realisation of the sheer human value of the topic was such, that I felt there is more to be said. So it occurred to me, that I should write a corresponding blog on the subject.

We as humanity have functioned disgracefully during our existence, with tiny little spots of successes here and there. Through history we have massacred, raped, pillaged and for millennia created slaves out of major sections of the population. For humans, success should not be about conquering territory, subjugating free people and living a life of luxury, while the so-called ‘great unwashed’ scrape a menial existence. So in acting the way we do, we fool ourselves to our great detriment. We are functioning more like animals, than a thinking, talking and feeling human.

Mans success has come in great Prophets projecting humanity, or a philosopher bringing out a massive truth, or advancement in science which has benefited the whole of humanity. Eradication of small pox was a great achievement. When Jonas Salk gave away the polio vaccine for free, it was a great success for mankind – one mans selflessness benefiting billions over half a century. Sometimes prosperity has been achieved for the masses and that is a great victory. During the Cyrus period, the first 25-30 years of Islam, the 1950s of USA, Sweden for a period in the 60s-70s. Contrary to popular thought, the democracies have rarely achieved overall prosperity. USA has a horrible disproportion of wealth in a few hands. The world has an even worse disproportion. Some 200 people own almost half the world.

On the other hand Man has stamped destructively and left an enduring footprint. We build concrete jungles, populate them, cut trees, carve roads out of mountains, pollute the air and seas. We eat like gluttons and waste as much out of sheer negligence and lack of thought. Man has brought the world and its nature to its knees, but we do not realise it and continue merrily on our way. In Surah Isra’ it is said “Do not walk proudly/exultant on the earth; you can neither tear the earth apart nor can you rival the mountains in height.” (Qur’an 17:37)…We mankind have just done the opposite and have walked proud and exultant and the results are very visible.

So what to do? Surah Rahman mentions ‘meezan’-balance. Balance in all facets of life. No extremes and that includes the art of living. Humans need to reduce our footprint. We walk in this world as if we own it. We don’t! The world has been lent to all humanity by Allah. The millennia before has used this earth (billions of humans) and the millennia after will need to use this earth too. So we have to live and use it, so that sustainability is maintained. Therefore, tread softly.

Part of treading softly, is inclusiveness. We need to cater for all. The poor, the weak, the women, the children, the old and also the ones who are physically challenged. The ones who are physically impaired are Allah’s gift to us. They are the beautiful people, yet we know this not! By being good to them and treating them as equals we create ‘barkat’. Our organisations and society need to help these people and make them productive, give them the self sustenance and self respect, which is a right of all the human race and individuals within it.

Tread softly! Go out there and be different to the rest of mankind and show the way of compassion and inclusiveness. Work with and give respect to these people. Be more human than most.

An Education Revolution in the making in Pakistan

14949482-finger-click-learn-title-symbolWe are ostensibly in a mess. In a country where we cannot count our people numbers – from 180 to 200 mn- we apparently know our livestock numbers. Or so says the Ministry of Livestock. Exact numbers!!! They can actually identify buffaloes and cows without RFID tags, and count them. Conclusion, we have a great ability to fool ourselves.

In over a year of working with the education people in Pakistan, I reached a similar conclusion that we are messed up and fooling ourselves. But, more significantly, it does not matter, because there is a thick silver lining on the horizon.

The numbers I quote are to be treated with a pinch of salt, as we are not sure. Neither will Google reveal all, as many reports and many numbers exist. We have to simply decide which one to work with and then settle for it. You can do no better. After all, I started with the words that we are in a mess. I have used a mish-mash of data. On the face of it, we have some 55% of the population which is literate. The gender ratio is worse. Women 40%; Men 68%.

That means we have +40% illiterates, 75 mn people! Even in the so-called literates, our average years of schooling are optimistically estimated as 7 years, rather than the typical 14. Not so good. The demographic breakdown of illiterate people suggests that approximately +60% is above 25 years age and unlikely to become literate now. That leaves some 28 mn who could become literate even at this stage.

When you look at the young, the numbers become even more alarming. Approximately 3.8 mn children are added each year to our population. Our present school infrastructure has a capacity of teaching between. 1.5 – 2mn annually. So, there is a literacy delta of about 2 mn kids per annum and in 20 years we would have added 40 million more illiterates to our population. We are looking down the barrel of illiteracy and are un-merrily dancing our way down to our version of hell. The illiteracy trap!!!

In all this doom and gloom, “our thick silver lining” is stirring. Technology! Moore’s Law suggests. If today technology indexed capability is 100 and indexed cost is 100. Then it will halve in costs and double in capability every 18 months. So, 20 years from now technology costs will be 0.012 and capability will be 819,000. A hardware device (as will exist then) will be cheaper than a sheaf of paper. That is going to be our saving grace.

A revolution is in progress in education worldwide. Led by a gentleman called Salman Khan and sponsored by Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation. Astounding numbers are being taught via online structured education program. Recently, Salman Khan made it to Forbes Magazine cover, as the father of modern day education. The education revolution is on.

Another wonderful example of the force of technology is “The hole in the Wall” concept of Sugata Mitra. You can view his fascinating talk on TED which puts the concept forward. http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_build_a_school_in_the_cloud.html?source=facebook#.UTRIFkdMWfh.facebook. Simply put, younger minds left with technology access, free to exercise their mind unguided, learn literacy, math and all sorts of other things at express speed. This has huge implications, as technology cost reduces and we are able to provide access world over. And it need not be through a one laptop per child policy, which is expensive and prohibitive to a mass scale venture.

There are several other successful projects out there. Khan Academy and now several others are blazing a path to the collective glory of high literacy. The signs are clear. Even the large institutions like Harvard and MIT are also putting their curriculum online. The world is about to change. No infact it has changed.

Translate the above to our situation in Pakistan. Scores of NGO’s are now diving into this technology/education game*. Not only that, some social entrepreneurship organizations see profits in this sector, so they are entering also. My life experience tells me, when the nirvana of profits is visible, stuff happens. Human psyche! Worried people of Pakistan, I promise you we have opened the door to literacy and in 20 years literacy at least should not be an issue Inshallah. Added to that is the fact that no government can now disregard this education-technology deep dive. Votes depend on it. PML-N took the first steps last year and PTI of course has it as their main plank.

While we will hit and miss, I envision a process whereby, education sans teacher, but facilitated, will reach into the villages and the urban slums. It will be cheap, mostly standardized delivery, but the output due to less teaching will be varied, free thinking and out of the box. The consequences on the ballot box, on society structures, social behavior, economics are unimaginable. We should brace ourselves. A great mind and leader will be needed to lead us out of this mind boggling leap of the collective mind.

*Dawood Foundation, Engro Foods and Citizen Foundation are running 15 pilots on E-learning in rural areas, to assess our ability to expand these pilots to a large scale mass education program.

The Quality of Mercy

The Quality of Mercy

I have edited and rewritten a blog I wrote in Ramadan a few years ago. It still sounds so relevent for this month of mercy and forgiveness.

A Mufti in Saudi was brought to tears on a live TV program, when he received a question from Somalia.

Is my fast accepted if we have no Suhoor or Iftaar?”

It was on the 4th of Ramadan that I saw this tweet. The ensuing flood of emotions are difficult to describe. Not only did it bring tears to the eyes, but it made me immediately thank Allah, that I have the luxury to watch my calories and walk away from available food. It also set a train of confused thoughts, on the prevailing state of the world, which has culminated in this note.

Our own Prophet (saw) at one time broke his fast with salt and water, due to extreme lack of provisions, for three consecutive days. So I presume the distressed Somalian questioner, must have been duly answered. But the real issue is why was he in this sad situation at all. Is it not our responsibility to ensure people do not go hungry? And I divorce all religions and ethnicity in asking this. Should this not have been incumbent on us to help provide for this type of person. But here I am, sitting in my lounge, with ample food and maybe, a momentary bite of conscience! Soon, I will simply move on, till at some juncture a similar event will shake me up again – maybe another blog to salve the conscience. Sad!

Is this common throughout our human history? Unfortunately so! Man has been cruel to his fellow beings and if he wields power, he has been ever so nasty. We have seen events of mass exterminations, slavery, genocide, rape and pillage. Instances abound! Sacking of Rome; destruction of Baghdad; extermination in South America by the Conquistadores; the North American Indians; burning of Library of Alexandria; destruction of Delhi. The human race has taken its share with pride and paid in turn with sorrow.  Making a mockery of Shakespeare when he says,

The Quality of mercy is not strained

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

The more I see it, the more it becomes obvious that we do not really care. In the past, cataclysmic events were isolated. Their effects reached us through the long arm of history through generations.  And yes, they did change us in a slow meaningful way. We learned by simple paring away of our evils; that it is wrong to enslave, that it is evil to rape, that it is cruel to torture. Mankind realised after two world wars and a couple of bombs that there is a better way. We signed the Geneva Convention, we made the United Nations and we set up social services to help the downtrodden and needy.

Having done this some 70 years ago, we applauded that life is better. But then Korean, Vietnamese, Gulf Wars and Afghan conflicts have taken us back again, into the arms of darkness. I think the problem is in the rendering of awareness. We are too aware. So, as Aurora and James Holmes massacres happened, we were bombarded for days on all channels. Fifty years ago, when the Boston Strangler was going through his serial murders, we did not know about it. We read about it years later.

So, paradoxically, CNN, BBC, Twitter, FB, blogs are all contributing to this creation of awareness and desensitization. There is a burning platform every day and we the public have become immune. This immunity means, we do not really care. We have lost our soul! Corporations doing CSR do not care; politicians pay lip service; even social workers are so burdened, that passion morphs into the mundane.

I am not sure how to get out of here. The first LiveAid was an amazing and moving event. Thirty years later there has been too much starvation, too many reports and too many pictures for it to move my soul.  The bad news is that the frequency and intensity of these events is increasing day by day. Or maybe it’s the way the reporting is dramatized. Very soon we will be a race who walks past the needy of our kind, without a hint of sympathy. Even a lioness does not do that to a needy of its own kind.

We need to take stock, contemplate deep and get back that Quality of mercy. Without it, we will shred ourselves to pieces in the name of living in a news savvy world.

KVTC – Karachi’s conscience needs your help desperately, please read and help

Down in Defense Phase 4, very near the Imam Bara, is a three story building, which functions as a salve to our open wounds in Karachi. It houses some 150 people who walk, smile, eat and live as if they are ordinary humans…unfortunately they are not.  You just need to talk to them to realize that there is a problem…they are the ones who we locally call “buddhu”.

Their problem is that they fall in the vague territory of 70 IQ.  Per se there is nothing wrong with these people and at an early age they are sent to school, only to be sent back because they cannot work with the class. Imagine going through life, looking and hearing through a haze and not understanding most things, not being able to comprehend simple things and with no hope of recovery. But now there is some hope. By some miracle, these same desperate people have been blessed with an innate ability. They are able to take up repetitive tasks, do them extremely well and therefore function in the normal world and even sustain a living. So the real question is to find a vocation which suits them and train them to do it well and then they are on the road to independence. That is where KVTC (Karachi Vocational Training Centre) comes in to do this training.

For 21 years, KVTC has functioned as a beacon of hope for these people, in this unequal battle of numbers. It has managed to train hundreds and has released them into the world successfully.  A 12-18 months program makes the pupils capable to handle a vocation. He/she is then employed at various organizations. Vocations can be as varied as mina kaari, stitching, mechanical repair, painting etc. The teachers at KVTC are very dedicated. They are specially trained to handle these pupils and have great emotional control, also show lots of patience and love to the pupils. Invariably, visitors to this centre are totally emotionally overwhelmed with what they see and most have come out in tears.

The KVTC has flirted with extinction all of its 21 years and it is a credit to its teachers and administrators – who work on a pittance – and a dedicated band of people who continue to sponsor it, come what may to ensure that these poor students get the necessary support. It is now in desperate need of help to continue to function and make a difference.  Really not much is required beyond what is being done…..for instance a 1000 people giving 500 a month will see this place comfortable and working well. We, who have food on the table and healthy children in our houses, have a lot to thank Allah for. It is to your type of thankful individual we are appealing, that you should go and see this place. Once you have done that, the battle will be won, as you will yourself take time and commitment out to do whatever is required for its survival.  

The contact for KVTC is a gentleman called Aamir, who manages the place. His number is 0300 254 8886. I exhort you to have a look at this exceptional facility, as it will change your outlook on life.

Dated : Apr 2nd, 2012

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