In Conversation with Shahnaz Hunzai – Project Manager at Zindagi Trust

Zindagi Trust is an NGO, primarily concerned with education. It is about school reform program. Currently we have adopted two schools, Khatoon-e- Pakistan and SMB Fatima Jinnah. In both the schools, to start with reform, first of all they consolidated the school. This is because within one premises, they were 8 different schools running and within those 8 different schools they had 8 different sets of problems. As soon as you enter SMB Fatima Jinnah, you will be pleasantly surprised to see a nice environment which was not previously so.  If we sure you the before and after pictures, you can see the tremendous change in the environment of the school as well as academic achievements. We try our best to empower the children who come from very poor socio-economic backgrounds and from very low income families.  This school provides a good environment for children facing multiple problems such as coming from broken homes or poor families. First of all we changed the textbooks; we brought Oxford books instead of government books especially in the core subjects like English, Maths etc. In this school we have 110 teachers from the government sector but we have almost 35 private teachers which includes subject coordinator, subject specialists etc. Zindagi Trust spends 15 Lac Rupees per month on this school to take care of its entire infrastructure. We have 25 janitorial staff and this is still not enough.

We have come a long way; the physical environment of this school was in a horrible condition before. The classrooms were completely dark and dirty, desks were broken and washrooms did not have doors.  We have a before and after video which we show to everyone, including the parents so that they know how this school has progressed.  We have hired private teachers for the KG section because we needed teachers who were experienced and who focused on early childhood learning.

At Zindagi Trust we have co-curricular activities such as with ‘AHUNG’ the organization that focuses on sexual and reproductive health education. It was very difficult to accept them in some of the schools but surprisingly in our school, the program penetrated so well. Now after the programme even our 3rd grade children know what ‘good touch ‘and what ‘bad touch’ is.  So now even the small children are prepared to take care of themselves which is a very good thing.

At our school, we even have mind sports. Our children even know how to play chess; In 2014, the National Champion of Pakistan at school level, was a SMB Fatima Jinnah student. If the Sindh Chess Association arranges a program, then the first 3 positions will be from SMB Fatima Jinnah.  So I think Zindagi Trust has empowered the girls, they are getting very confident and vocal. Sometimes even the teachers complain that you have empowered the girls so much that they sometimes don’t listen to the teachers. However, there should always be a balance; we don’t want our students to behave badly nor do we want them to be always pressurized by the teachers.

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So in this way, Zindagi Trust is doing well; you can also come teach any of the subjects such as English, maths physics etc. Our children are very responsive, you would like them; they are active, they are dynamic kids and they want to learn. With volunteers they learn much better and we don’t receive any complaints from the children which we receive about their class teachers. Most of the class teachers are government teachers and they usually have their limitations. They aren’t able to teach the way youngsters like you can teach. There is a big difference from what was taught years ago and what is being taught today, so we find that youngsters are very versatile in their style and thinking which is good for the students. It’s very hard to convince government teachers to change their teaching styles and to ask the children more open-ended questions and more thought-provoking questions where they can express themselves freely. 

Zindagi Trust has tried its best to train government teachers as well, however, it’s always great to have youngsters like you to come in and teach or train. I would like to quote an Ayaat from the Quran ‘Jis ney kisi eik shuks ko zindagi di, us ney puray kainaat ko zindagi di’.

Once the volunteers came in to teach, the children have started to love the subjects that they have previously hated. If the children are taught with enthusiasm and relate the subject to their everyday lives, they can make the children enjoy the subject more.  I keep telling teachers to relate the learning to the child’s life. The volunteers may have been relating the subject to their lives which is why the children were more engrossed and engaged in the learning.

Apart from the academic curriculum we have a good sports ground where volunteers can come in and teach the children any kind of sports. We have a 10,000 books library, and a teacher’s resource centre with 35,000 books. However, the coordinators and teachers don’t know how to effectively utilize it and give maximum benefit to the children.

Hopefully you will find our staff very friendly and accommodating. You don’t have to commit a full week even; you can come in according to your own convenience such as 3 hours per week and we will accommodate you. You will have a great time teaching children with such different mind-sets.