By Midhat Ali Zaidi
Karachi, Sindh – January 2016: “Inclusiveness of the education programmes by engaging children from varied ethnicities as well as those with special needs and disabilities can pave the way for a peaceful world and sustainable development,” said Phillippe Cori, Deputy Regional Director, UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia.
He was visiting various projects under the UNICEF Social Cohesion and Resilience (SCR) programme in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh province in Pakistan. The SCR programme is engaging children, adolescents and communities for the promotion of social cohesion and resilience, in the urban slum areas of Karachi as well as Badin and Jacobabad – while advocating at the provincial level.
With their life and livelihoods tied to the ocean, the fishermen community of Ibrahim Hyderi in Karachi is situated alongside a jetty on the Arabian Sea. The urban slum hosts a population of nearly 150,000, most of which is involved with the fisheries trade. For anyone entering the area, the stench of rotting fish wafting off the sea breeze may be somewhat unpleasant but not for the children of Ibrahim Hyderi, who grow up cleaning and processing the days’ catch brought in by their family members.
“Most of the children here work at home to help their families prepare the sea-food items to be sold in the market,” says Rafiq Channa, project manager Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF), while pointing to the prevalence of out-of-children in Ibrahim Hyderi. PFF is a non-government organization that works to advance the goal of social, economic, cultural and political rights of small scale indigenous fisher communities in Pakistan. His organisation is working with UNICEF to facilitate the SCR projects to improve the situation of children’s education in this community.
The SCR programme works to integrate peacebuilding and education through building institutional capacities, developing both community and individual capacities. It is increasing access to conflict-sensitive education, and generating evidence and knowledge to formulate long term strategies to achieve concrete outcomes.
With limited or no facilities for people with disabilities in the area, growing up with a hearing and vocal impairment was a challenge for Sameena. It comes as no surprise that her family never thought of sending her to school, as they imagined her not to be able to learn through regular instruction techniques. All this changed when UNICEF launched its Alternate Learning Pathways (ALP) in Ibrahim Hyderi, to facilitate the entry of out-of-school children into mainstream education.
“When she first came to the ALP centre, Sameena had only limited communication ability,” says Naghma, a teacher running the UNICEF supported ALP centre Gharib Nawaz Para, who has worked very hard to help her student overcome the barrier created by her disability. “No one could ever expect Sameena to be able to learn and to do so well in her studies. That she was among the highest scorers in the final examination for 7th grade in her class has brought us great pride and joy.”
Sameena is among the hundreds of students studying at ALP centres established under UNICEF’s SCR programme in neighbourhoods around the jetty. She has successfully been mainstreamed into a formal Government school, where she surprised her teachers and classmates with her ability to comprehend lessons and perform well in the exams. Smeena’s disability has not hindered her quest to acquire an education. Her teacher tells the visitors that Sameena endeavours to become a teacher and help children like herself in achieving their dreams.
“It is very encouraging, even energizing to meet children who became true agents of change within their community,” said Philippe Cori, after meeting Sameena. “Empowered communities, particularly children are the best chance towards attaining the sustainable development goals. They truly stand for the ‘S’ of SDGs. It is therefore important for countries to put children at the centre of their development agenda.”
UNICEF’s SCR programme is working to empower communities by building trust and lasting bonds between people from different ethnicities residing in the targeted districts. It has established 195 ALP centres and Community Schools for out of school and over age children to promote social cohesion and resilience among communities. Until now, more than 1,400 children have benefitted from the programme to enter mainstream education system.
UNICEF has also provided support to 140 Government Schools and teachers in Sindh for improved knowledge on SCR and Child Friendly Education. The children and youth from diverse backgrounds regularly engage in sports, theatres, youth festivals and thematic days which emphasise the values of social cohesion among community members.
“I am very impressed with the strong ownership of the fishermen community in leading the education of their children through formal and non-formal approaches,” said Mr. Cori, while addressing junior leaders and peace committee members who had gathered at the PFF office to welcome him. “The fishermen community of Ibraheem Hyderi have placed children at the centre of their agenda. It is sufficient to meet the strong and joyful children here to understand that sustainable development will only come by investing in children and youth. The positive energy and confidence of these children shines through to demonstrate how this investment has paid off.”