The Garage School – saving lives through education
Married to Flight Lieutenant Syed Safi Mustafa, she was widowed a year later, at the age of 21 when her husband was pronounced missing, believed killed in 1971, leaving behind a 2 months old son, Zain. Her husband told her once, “If something should happen to me, just move on with your life.” And these words resonated in her head as she stepped into a new life, all alone.
A New Chapter
Shabina was handed her husband’s death certificate a few days before her convocation for B.A. (Hons.) in Sociology from the University of Karachi. Her mother who was her pillar of strength said, “That chapter is closed and you have a new life ahead of you now.”
” After her sister left for The United States of America, Shabina had nowhere to go, except to seek help of an air force officer who organized accommodation for her in a small apartment in the PAF Base Masroor, Mauripur. Here she worked as a teacher at the base school for a meager salary of Rs. 175 (less than US$ 2) a month.
With the passage of time, she learnt what a pension was and aimed to acquire it. She soon realized that the pension and salary she was receiving was not enough to support her family and provide a good education for Zain thus she started looking for greener pastures. She got a job at the Saudi Airlines where she worked for 32 years. During this time she lived with her brother for two years till he got married and moved to the United Arab Emirates after which she shifted to a one room studio apartment in Clifton where she lived till 1996.
Two Plate, Kerosene Stove and a Long Journey
She started her life with just two plates and kerosene stove in a one room apartment in the P.A.F Base Masroor ,Mauripur, Karachi. It took the government six years to hand over the award of gallantry (Sitara-e-Jurrat) to her for her husband’s martyrdom. She fought with the various departments running from pillar to post, going through many hurdles, including several visits to the court, till she managed to get the land which was promised to her in lieu of the award. To convert the agricultural land into a residential one was another tedious process for Shabina but she left no stone unturned. She finally managed to sell the land after 24 years. With the money received, she built herself a house and provided the best possible education to her son, Zain, who is now an architect.
She resigned from Saudi Airlines after 32 years (1975-2007) of service to take care of her ailing mother who passed away at the age of 96. Shabina has very fond memories of her and she says that whatever she is today is because of her. All her strength has come from her mother’s grooming. Her mother was born in Lucknow, who went to school in Allahabad, the same school where Indira Gandhi studied.
She removed the word “no” from her personal dictionary decades ago. Facing so many challenges at each step has made her a bitter sweet but a very strong woman. Shabina recalls words spoken by her husband, “think positive, be constructive and no one is indispensable!” She looks forward to taking up the challenges put before her. “Nothing comes in a silver platter for me, but I take everything with a pinch of salt.” she says.
The Garage School – Humble Beginnings
“Fundamentally, this was my husband’s dream which became a reality by coincidence.” In a swanky Minerva Court Apartment Compound, in the elite Clifton, Karachi area, what was once intended to be a parking space for an automobile is now a full-fledged learning, teaching and caring centre. The garage was transformed into its existing learning and teaching from in November 1999.
It all began when a young girl Somia, eager to learn and change her destiny was denied admission in a skill development school just because she was not fortunate enough to read or write. Shabina Mustafa felt a deep urge to help this little girl, and hence the school in the garage was born.
Birth of the School
Right away, her small, empty garage was transformed into a learning centre. Fortunately for Mrs. Mustafa, she found herself a great support structure. In fact, on the first day of school, there were over a dozen young and eager learners, joyfully clearing up the garage to set it up as a learning room. Most of them came from homes of domestic servants.
The working hours at Saudi Airlines were flexible thus giving her more time for the school. That was November 1999 and from there on, as the cliché’ goes, there was no looking back. She turned this small space into an oasis of learning.
The school is an extension of her family. “My aim now is to upgrade two of the localities where most of the children of the school reside: Neelum Colony and Shah Rasool Colony.”
From the floor to the school desks was a slow and steady progress. A friend gave her a plank of wood which were balanced on a cement block. Soon after, she received a small blackboard, given to her by her nephew, followed by the desks and benches given by her brother.
After two years she was lucky to be sponsored by Sheraton Hotel. “The Manager went out of his way to take care of us. At first he upgraded the school looks by tiling the floors and painting the walls. He even gave us 5 bicycles so that the boys could go to attend computer classes, not to forget the luxury of being invited on and off to the Sheraton hotel for parties etc. This gave them a lot of confidence and our first step in grooming the children as well as ‘opening the window to the world’, so that these children could now be aware of various other occupations.
Mr. Abbas Vawda – The Beacon of Hope
In 2003, Shabina was speaking to someone about the then young TGS. Overhearing the conversation, a gentleman came over and asked her one straight question whose answer she did not have. “How do you promote these children to the next class?” Since she lacked space the children were promoted from the inside room in the garage to the outside shed and then back again. They were actually going in circles! “I had never thought about this before!” says Shabina. Mr. Vawda then gave her an idea to sponsor her bright students and send them to other registered schools where they could actually move forward. And as a goodwill gesture, he decided to sponsor 10 of our students to regular schools. “It is only because of him that many of our students make up our success stories. I cannot thank him enough for all that he has done for my school over the years.” Mr. Abbas Vawda continues to support several students and he also donates for our medical expenses.
Five Finger Formula – The Traditional Approach to Education
“Holding my outstretched palm, I tell my students about the five finger formula that defines my schooling philosophy. In Urdu it stands for: taur (training), tareeqa (approach), tarbiyat (grooming), taleem (education), and taraqi (progress). I will give you the first four and the progress will then come automatically to you.” says Shabina.
“I feel education is the most basic tool for poverty alleviation. Its absence adversely effects individual’s economic progress and consequently that of the country. All that the Pakistani child needs is an opportunity and through TGS, Shabina strives to provide holistic and practical education to students and individuals, which will stand them in good stead in the future. She instills the belief in her students that everything is possible and readies them to meet life’s challenges. A little encouragement – and this Pakistani child will do wonders in any field! This child is our future and I need help – any kind of help, to bring this child the opportunity to do his bit as a responsible, productive citizen of his or her country.”
Sixteen Years and Counting
Just a few years after it started, the garage was spilling over with children. First they moved to a classroom in the car park outside the garage but within months that too seemed like a temporary solution. At that time Shabina realized that the time had come to open another branch of her school. So in January 2007, TGS opened its doors in the heart of Neelum Colony, the locality where most of the students reside. This second school, a rented premises of three floors, not only provides academic classes but also vocational training classes such as carpentry, computers, cutting, sewing and embroidery.”
TGS was started to create awareness of education in our society. To achieve this, TGS adopts an inter-faith approach where students from all backgrounds study together, moving forward together, as a community. Students are provided free education, funded through sponsorship programs and donations from friends and members of TGS.
Due to the increasing number of students, TGS operates in two shifts, morning and afternoon. The morning shift caters to elementary school children from Pre-Nursery to Grade 5.
An increasing number of members from the two colonies are joining TGS for education. TGS will be catering to the increasing number of students through our expanding network of friends and donors, together moving towards the enlightenment of society. “The growth, as termed by my son, has been organic!” says Shabina
Our Principles and Objectives
The Garage School is the students’ home where they celebrate their birthdays and religious festivals, get annual medical checkups and vaccinations. Here they get free education, uniforms, books and stationery. They also receive biscuits, milk, bananas, boiled eggs and vitamins to ensure nourishment for body and mind. She says “a healthy child will have a healthy mind”.
Children are taught tolerance and respect of all religions and to respect each other. In addition to that, TGS gives social counseling to students and their parents to help instill confidence and a place in society so that they are able to take on the challenges in life and finally move ahead. They should feel proud of who they are and what they are aiming to achieve. “All this would not happen if the education is not complete without grooming and finally turning them into good, productive human beings.” This is the vision of Mrs. Shabina Mustafa.
“My basic aim is not just to give them education but to make sure they stand on their feet.” says Shabina Mustafa, the founder and driving force of The Garage School (TGS); an institution that believes in a holistic approach to education. “I want to groom my students into becoming successful; more importantly, I want them to become good human beings.”
“I am not looking at the first or second generations but I’m focusing on the third generation which will finally take on the responsibility of our society” she says, “My son asks me not to leave my students like Eliza Dolittle. Provide them with vocational skills and get them jobs. This is the challenge that I face today.”
TGS believes in social responsibility as well. She provided the children [with] all-round care. That meant not just teaching them the skills of reading and writing. They also receive snacks such as eggs, fruits, biscuits and milk to keep them healthy so they are not distracted by hunger.
The school and its well-wishers took care of the expense of 5 teacher’s weddings. Most of the teachers come from the same background as the students. That prompted Shabina to set up a marriage fund for the girls in the neighborhood who cannot afford to buy clothes or jewelry for their wedding.
TGS celebrates birthdays of the students as well. The child cuts the cake while the rest of the class sings a birthday song for him / her. The cake is then distributed in the class.
“I make sure that the children of my school don’t miss out on little happy moments of their lives while instilling the concept of date of births unlike their parents.” says Shabina.
Another factor that has helped The Garage School to produce great human beings: its approach to inter-faith relationships. Shabina’s students are of different religious denominations Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Sikh, but all religious festivals are celebrated with equal zeal.
Eid (the biggest Muslim religious festival that comes after Ramadan, the month of fasting) is celebrated with enthusiasm. Clothes are bought and gifts wrapped. Children are taken to markets to choose their own shoes and bangles, and as this involves their likes and dislikes, it also gives them the chance to enjoy eid shopping. At Christmas they attend a mass at church. She makes sure to explain them the importance of all other religious festivals. She feels that this will help her students learn more about other religions and teach them to live together in harmony irrespective of creed and caste.
Shabina has adopted a well-rounded approach to education that entails not only teaching her students the alphabet but also discipline and culture. She talks of the values she instills in the children: honesty, hard work, health and hygiene as equaling to a human being. “My aim is to provide equal opportunity through education, direction and guidance to attain financial independence beyond gender differences.”
Greater sustainability of the school
Shabina hopes that one day, someone could maybe donate a store to her where her students can work and earn money. A super market with all the facilities where most of her students are employed which will provide a long term solution to their employment needs and in return promote the sustainability of The Garage School.
Still operating out of a rented building in Neelum Colony, Shabina dreams of a permanent building that TGS can call its own, with ample ground where she can build a sports centre and a gymnasium that these children can use for a nominal fee. She believes it will keep them off the streets and prevent bad habits. She wants to build a family oriented school where the needs of the families will be fully catered. She wants a polytechnic institute and a hostel taking them in ‘from birth to death’.
Her dreams however don’t end here. She thinks it would be great to have easy access to public libraries in and around the area where people can read books or even a free newspaper over a cup f tea so that people can get to know what’s happening in the world.
“If I give these children the best of everything, they will know what to strive for. They will know how their homes are to be kept and they will want to achieve all that. I take them as my own children and aim to give them the best of everything, whether it is a good environment to study in, a vibrant infrastructure or quality education.”
“I may not be alive to see the fruits of the seeds that I’ve reaped. But I am sure that all my young buds will bloom into beautiful flowers one day.”