A School for Street Angels - The Walkway School Enabling Access to Education in Rural Sindh
Updated: Nov 15, 2021
By Youth Co:Lab
One in every four children in Pakistan has never stepped foot inside a classroom, according to a recent government report. These are the children that are being scolded when they knock on random car windows, try to sell flowers or books, or use tricks that are taught to them by those that force them into child labor. At an age when they should have dolls and toys, they are handed responsibilities that exceed their strengths. However, one school in Hyderabad is trying to change that, by making sure that education is not a luxury afforded to the few but rather a right of every single child out there.
It all started in 2018 when Moazzam and Zeeshan were playing Ludo at a local cafe and were approached by a child beggar. The two friends were quick to reach into their pockets for some money but soon realized they were unknowingly pushing the child deeper into the claws of poverty. For the child’s fate to change, they needed to replace the begging bowl in his hand with a pen. This got them thinking about what it means to live in a society where some children’s right to education is taken away by poverty and their survival is contingent on handouts from the more privileged.
The frustration coming from the conversation soon turned into the realization that they should do something about it. That’s when they came up with the idea of opening up a small school where they could teach disadvantaged and underprivileged children for free. And with that, The Walkway School, a street school for underprivileged children, was born.
For Moazzam his source of inspiration was his father who used to walk to another town, 20 kilometers away from his own home, to attend school for 5 years. He remembers the story of how through education, the son of an ordinary farmer retired as a high-ranking public officer.
For Zeeshan, the fight for education started very early on, when he had to travel to a different village to attend school every day. He hails from a remote village in Badin where education was a luxury at that time and not all kids in the area had access to it. Today, he is championing the rights of children at the Walkway School, all the while working at one of the leading banks of Pakistan. Both with a deep understanding of how the underprivileged struggle to gain quality education, Moazzam and Zeeshan share the same mission - one day all the children attending their school will end up with similar success stories.
The path has not always been easy. They faced a lot of resistance to get the initiative up and running, from their families to local law enforcement, no one took the cause seriously since it was the first of its kind street school in Hyderabad. However, Moazzam and Zeeshan powered through with little to no resources and whatever limited funds they could collect from their friends and family. It was only after the school’s accomplishments started showing up online, that they started receiving financial and moral support from local community and law enforcements. Today, The Walkway School has come a long way, but whenever things get them down, they think about the support they have received from the children and their parents.
One of the fathers once told them ‘We made a mistake by not studying and ended up as laborers, but I want her [Bisma] to pursue her studies.’ To which Moazzam and Zeeshan replied, ‘We will make sure that she graduates from a good university, all we will want is your permission as you are the father at the end of the day.’ And to their surprise, the father answered ‘You should not seek any permission, she is your child.’
“The children you see in our school are not pampered children with lunch boxes full of hot meals and shiny notebooks in hand. They are resilient. They consider studying a luxury. But in some cases, the parents consider it a waste of time that takes the children away from their minimum wage jobs. The school has a hard time trying to convince parents to let their children enroll,” says Moazzam.
This issue is even more profound when it comes to girls. At an age where they should be studying, young daughters are wedded off to men twice their age in the name of custom and tradition in most rural households. In other communities where child marriage is not a prevelant issue, daughters are still made to stay at home to cook and clean while their brothes’ education is given top priority.
With Moazzam and Zeeshan’s dedication, more than 500 girls have enrolled in their schools so far. They believe that educating a girl is akin to educating a generation. If parents see how their girls are the ones to step up and earn for their families as a result of quality education, more families in their community might open up to allowing girls to get educated. To make this possible, The Walkway School has outreach programmes where they go from house to house to enlighten parents about the importance of education.
What started as a small setup with just two children and old books in a park is now a proper school with more than 100 children. To date, over a thousand children have gone on to receive exemplary education from the voluntary teachers mentored and trained by Moazzam and Zeeshan, who dedicate their time and resources to the school. Moreover, more than a hundred children are now studying in private schools through fully-funded multi-year scholarships facilitated by the Walkway School in Hyderabad whereas the number of children who got enrolled into public schools is in several hundred. And every child in a school is one less child of the 22.8 million children out of schools in Pakistan.
Bisma, Mehwish, and Saba are the first girls of their families ever to go to school. Walkway has been able to engage their community through counseling sessions and community visits emphasizing the importance of female education. The organization is now proudly supporting their education as well as welfare needs by running successful fundraising campaigns courtesy of international as well as national donors. Theirs is just one of the great stories that serve as motivation for the people working at the Walkway School to continue their crusade to make education accessible for all.
Seeing the street school do wonders in Hyderabad encouraged Moazzam and Zeeshan to expand their mission to other areas. In the first half of 2021, another school was set up in the remote village of Thar desert (Tharparkar District of Pakistan) near the India-Pakistan border where basic infrastructure such as roads, electricity, water, sanitation facilities are in great scarcity. The school intends to provide not just education to the over 1,500 children in the area, but also to support them with basic necessities such as food, electricity, clean water that will incentivize them to go to school. As of now, it is providing primary and secondary education to over 70 children.
The Walkway School team is very grateful for all the support they received along the way. The organization was shortlisted as one of the Top 15 Social Enterprises of Pakistan at the SDG Bootcamp – What’s your Y? in collaboration with the School of Leadership Foundation held in Islamabad in January 2020. Since then, it has been supported by Youth Co:Lab, Asia-Pacific’s largest social entrepreneurship movement co-led by UNDP and Citi Foundation. “Youth Co:Lab has been a great platform for us to gain more exposure in the international communities. It has not only helped strategically and technically but has also enabled us to present ourselves and convey our cause to the masses in a more effective and furnished way. Their out-of-the-box support has remained one of the key factors behind the success of our full-scale expansion to multiple geographic locations, recently,” says Moazzam. Before they were part of Youth Co:Lab, the Walkway School was the winner of two national competitions - INVENT-The Entrepreneurial Challenge at IBA Karachiand KarachiLive Deen’s Competition.
The Walkway School’s mission is to make sure that in 10 years, those 22 million children who are currently out-of-school are transformed into 22 million young adults who are working their way to create a better life for themselves and their families.
For now, the struggle for equal education remains a tough one. In the next 6 to 18 months, the organization has major strategic plans to further the expansion starting in the last quarter of 2021. Walkway’s second facility in Tharparkar to accommodate 70+ children is scheduled to be inaugurated by next month. The Walkway School is also collaborating with Baithak - Challenging Taboos, an initiative that works for sexual and reproductive health as well as the rights of females. Together, they plan to build an all-girls facility in Kotri, a small rural city of Sindh, to accommodate parents that are hesitant about sending their daughters to a co-education school outside the community.
As a part of the plan, work on the establishment of a community centre in the same geographic area has also started. The community centre will be used for educational and recreational purposes in order to better engage the residents of that area, provide an inclusive atmosphere and offer other local organizations a place to engage the locals. Moreover, The Walkway School in the first half of 2022 also plans to open its third facility in Tharparkar district which will be facilitating over 2,000 children in the coming five years.
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Co-created in 2017 by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Citi Foundation, Youth Co:Lab aims to establish a common agenda for countries in the Asia-Pacific region to empower and invest in youth so that they can accelerate the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through leadership, social innovation and entrepreneurship. Read more about Youth Co:Lab here.