By Hira Nafees Shah
Squeals of excitement and giggles rang out as teachers told more than 300 students to take their places in the playground.
Life was generally a dreary affair for these children with mounting pressures like inflation, unemployment and poverty taking a toll on their families. Their days were filled yearning for the basic necessities of life. But the prospect of temporarily setting aside their worries and doing something different in class, was one worth looking forward to.
One by one they craned their necks as a group of smartly dressed youngsters in their early twenties, approached the playground with invitations for the young students to compete in an essay competition on the topic of the power of education for good. This scene was repeated in 19 more schools associated with six organizations which all cater to underprivileged students.
Altogether about 2,000 students participated in the landmark Creative Writing contest called “Jeet Ke Parhao,” The brainchild of Global UGrad alumnus Hassan Mujtaba Zaidi, the competition was funded by an Alumni Small Grant. The Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network’s grant program helps exchange program participants contribute to their communities after they return to Pakistan.
Zaidi created the competition because he was concerned that schools focused too much on rote memorization for students, which did not enable them to express themselves creatively or challenge their analytical skills.
He set up a non-profit called “Discovering New Artists” (DNA), through which the idea of Jeet Ke Parhao originated, after Zaidi and his team of dedicated volunteers realized that many children living in slums had excellent ideas, but needed help putting them down on paper.
But while the 24-year-old wanted to give something to the students, the children also had some life lessons to teach him.
“Visiting the schools for underprivileged students was an eye opening experience for me. In some schools, the children were so excited to see us, that they wanted autographs,” Zaidi said.
For Arooj Aurangzeb, the communications officer of DNA, the experience was quite emotional which sometimes brought tears to her eyes.
“Once we had a creative writing competition in the Kot Lakhpat Jail. We gave a topic of Yadgar Safar (A Pleasant Journey) to the children to write and one boy was not writing anything. When I asked him, he said he had no good memories because he did not have a mother,” she said.
Aurangzeb believes that despite the hardships these children face since they come from disadvantaged backgrounds, they will grow up to do something wonderful for the country one day.
But the kids themselves are not looking so far ahead in the future. For them, the icing on the cake was the prize distribution ceremony where the students with the best essays won prizes.
“I liked the competition because I won a prize,” said Aliza Jameel from Umeed Headstart School.
The prizes entailed a one year scholarship for the winning essay, and a six months scholarship for second place. Course books, stories books and uniforms were also a part of the prizes. In addition, the first prize winner was also offered a monthly stipend of 500 rupees to teach the students who needed help in their studies, to teach a sense of social responsibility.
One of the judges Afshan Sajjad, a teacher with more than 20 years’ experience, said reading the work of students from welfare schools was refreshing and inspiring.
“I was amazed by the wonderful ideas that these students had and actually felt quite hopeful about the future of Pakistan after reading their essays,” she said. One of the articles that she liked best was by a girl named Komal who wrote that her favorite personality was a farmer because of the hard work that he put in growing crops which fed everyone.
Nearly all the children said they had enjoyed the creative writing competition, and Jeet Ke Perhao also affected their teachers. Mrs. Zeba from Hope Uplift Foundation put it this way.
“I really appreciated it when these very educated youngsters came to our schools located in under privileged areas and mingled with our students,” she said. “From the expression on their faces, I could see that they genuinely loved our children.”
But Zaidi—who left a high paying job to focus full time on his non-profit– refuses to see himself in a heroic light and credits his volunteers for the success of Jeet ke Perhao.
“It is my passion, I love my job. My family struggled to provide quality education for us and when I look at these underprivileged children, I feel for them even more as I understand,” said Zaidi with a glint in his eye and fervor in his voice.
For more on “Jeet Ke Perhao”, visit: