Desi Back to Desh

Between airports, airplanes and transit lounges

SMB Girls School Project- revisited

Here is a series of posts I did in early October. Before I post an update I thought it would be useful to set the context again. Here is where things were about four months ago…


Nishtar Road School Project – One

1983…I went to a Parsi school. There it is out there and out of my system. It gave me a solid footing as an individual and put me in care of teachers who changed my life. I found friends who have stayed with me through thick and thin and to whom I still turn to when I am down and out. I remember being happy, at times mean, at times ugly. They remember nicer shades of my personality, memories that even I have forgotten. I look back at strolls through 150 year old corridors, getting on G-3 to head back home from Regal Chowk and Dina M. Mistri, our principal, asking me if I was really sure this is what my religion stood for.

BVS Parsi High School, on main Abdullah Haroon Road, right next to the electronic market and bang in the middle of the madness that is Saddar, made me the person I am today.

I wanted nothing less for Amin…

2003…Fast forward 20 years and the simple wish of a father to bring the best out in his son is easier said than done. All the teachers that I knew made their mark on our destinies and moved on to the school that Allah Mian keeps in the heavens above for them. Mrs. Khan, Sir Azizullah, Hashmi Sahib, Sir Hussain, Mr. Khan… there is not even a single familiar face at the graceful stone structure on Abdullah Haroon that was witness to my first fist fight, my first heartbreak, my white prefect uniform…

Fawzia and I go around town doing a round of schools. We see Foundation, Head Start, Army Public, St Pats and then one morning we walk into Center for Advance Studies, CAS, KG section.

A small bunglow in Rohail Khand society, ivy creepers on the garage door, 12 children in a corner dancing away with the wind, a creative movement teacher with an odd mix of pride, bliss and care on his loving face and the child inside my heart is instantly at peace. I want to go to school here, a little voice whispers…

This was four years ago. Four years with Sami Mustafa and his school and I am sure, I have found the Dina M. Mistri of my generation. The only thing missing is Mrs. Mistri’ cane but the love, the openness and the care I remember from BVS are all around me. Amin is happy, confident, at times a bit reckless like his father, surrounded by his friends, learning and growing. He already has had his first heartbreak and survived. This is his school…

Nishtar School Project- Two

But Sami has a new question. Sami has had this question since 1981. From the year before I started at BVS.

Don’t other children deserve to be happy? To be confident? To grow? To find their own Dina M. Mistri? To dance away with the wind and look at loving faces that look back with pride and joy? To whisper that I want to go to school here…


Twelve years ago Sami and the book group went about answering this question. Do children deserve no better than what they get in a government school?

They found that the problem is not money, there is enough available. It is not political will, despite our numerous short comings, good projects still get sanctioned. It is the psychological mindset that poor children deserve no better than what they get in a government school. A mindset that implies that they have a choice…

To make a difference you need to begin with changing this mindset. In 1995 Sami started with a Government Girl primary school in Karachi to prove every one wrong. The idea was simple, take the CAS School model and implement it in a setting where no one would expect it to work or succeed. What did it involve?

  1. Reducing class size from 80 to 40
  2. Building new rooms to accommodate additional sections
  3. Getting rid of the cane or corporal punishment
  4. Introduction of new interactive subjects covering art, music and story telling
  5. Training teachers
  6. New books, stationary and art material provided free of cost


In 1999 the group added two more schools in Mirpur Sakro (District Thatta) to implement the same model outside of Karachi. In 2003 the process was repeated for a government elementary school in Rahim Yar Khan (Punjab). In each instance they found that the community of students, teachers and parents was more than willing to work with the program, that government teachers, with a little training and hand holding, could teach just as well.

Sami’s grand plan was to prove that with the right combination of vision, direction and support, the school system in this country can work – within its limited resources. It was meant as an acknowledgement that no NGO or donor agency can replace the government in delivering education to our young children. And the dialogue started with these four experiments will help set policy direction in education reform.


Nishtar School – Three

Four experiments down the road, Sami is now on his fifth. This time he is not doing it alone. He is aiming at something much larger and visible and he has put everything he has learnt in the last 12 years to work.

Fatima Jinnah Girls School, Nishtar Road, Karachi is home to an entire generation of women. 3000 girl students, 1200 of them in the primary section. From families who have no real incentive to keep their daughters at school because the education they receive does not lead to a brighter future. They hope that it does, that it may, but it won’t.

Taken one child at a time, it is a tragedy. 46,000 barren schools, it is yet another meaningless statistic, another hopeless cause.

But that is Sami’s point. Is it really? What can you do about it? No don’t wait for the next generation, fix the one in front of you. One child, one school at a time.

Take a government school and start with the mindset. No, poor children do not deserve the education they receive! They deserve better.

To begin with, rather than a rundown building with stray dogs in the class rooms, it would be nice to have something that looks like a school. It would help if the teachers would receive some appreciation for what they do (a best teacher award) and a more sane work environment (better working hours, an organized and effective administration and more control). And do you know why art is not taught? Because art supplies and paper are expensive… So you shouldn’t have the pleasure to while away a morning drawing happy faces as a four year old just because you go to Fatima Jinnah Girls School, Nishtar Road, Karachi? Or should you?

And what about books, change all of the above and still work with broken materials? And labs? For English and computers and science… A library? Perhaps we have gone too far? The poor don’t need books, they need food and shelter and charity…

Why should my child go to a school with all of the above and the one on Nishtar Road shouldn’t? Are they really that different? Sami doesn’t think so…

Do you?


The Nishtar School Project – What can you do to help?

We need money primarily to make a point. Even with the same raw materials, the same teachers, the same students, the same community, you can dramatically turnaround a school.

The money is needed to:

  1. Renovate the school building, clean up the grounds, rebuild the bathrooms, fix the plumbing and the wiring
  2. To build well equipped labs for Computers, Science and languages
  3. To provide supplies and materials for arts and to finance teachers for additional extracurricular subjects including languages, fields trips and vocational training
  4. To change the curriculum to a more functional composition, already tried and tested at the CAS school using book groups books and daily worksheets
  5. An air-conditioned library and a power generator

The capital improvement budget is 12 million in addition to the 10 million already raised, committed and allocated. The operational budget is Rs.500,000 per month.

This is not a social experiment. The end state is a self sustained school that becomes a prototype for change for the government, the education department and the development, funding and donor agencies. Proof that the bumble bee can fly…

How can you help?

We need one hundred and twenty pledges for Rs.100,000 (US$1500) for the capital expenditure required to physically improve the infrastructure at the school. We also need 100 pledges for Rs.5000 (US$85) per month for the next one year to run the school. If you would like to help, get us one of each.


The payment need to be made out to the Book group. For tax purposes in Pakistan, the contribution is deductible and tax exempt.


In addition to money we are also looking for full time volunteers as teachers, helpers, trainers as well as low maintenance individuals with two useful pairs of hand and no inhibitions about the type of work they would end up doing.


If you would like more detail on the initiative or the fund raising exercise, or need bank account information for a wire transfer or would like to volunteer for the effort, please contact any of the following individuals:


CAS /Book Group – Contact point

Sami Mustafa –,, +92 300 825 2047


PCC – Contact point

Sameer Dhodi –

Hameeda Sayani – – 0301 8266188 (afternoons only)

Jawwad Farid – – 0300 251 9368 (mornings only)


Zindagi Trust – Contact point

Shahzad Roy


Snail Mail:

The CAS School

205 Saba Avenue

DHA Phase 8