Friday, July 31, 2009

Rock the Qasbah!

Qasbah Colony is home to thousands of people who live below the poverty line. This volatile neighborhood now houses close to 10,000 IDP families from Swat and Buner. In July, The Citizens Archive of Pakistan conducted an initial survey of the neighborhood and identified 100 families were eager to send their children to summer school. 

The children ages 5 to 15 years had their education disrupted when violence erupted in the valley earlier this year. Many of these children are eager to return to school. However, since government schools in the city have been closed for their summer break, they have been deprived of this opportunity.

The Citizens Archive of Pakistan identified a Community School (Naunehal Academy) and spent 3 days with more than 300 children at the school, located in Qasbah Colony, on the 15th, 16th and 17th of July, 2009.

At a time when these children are disorientated about their country’s history, we felt it was essential to highlight some of the more positive aspects so that they may feel a sense of pride and accomplishments. 

I had never volunteered for any social or community service in my entire life and I felt a bit hesitant volunteering with the Internally Displaced children. However, I decided take this project on as an exciting task and got involved. It was a little difficult convincing my parents to let me go to Qasbah Colony, but they eventually agreed as they knew it was for a good cause.

Our IDP Project took place in a school called Naunehal Academy, within the Bright Education Society network, where the IDP kids between the ages 7-15 were gathered on the 2nd floor of the school. There they were distributed in different classrooms with 2-3 volunteers placed in each room, to work with a group of 25-30 children each.

Among many games on Day 2, I did two very exciting activities with the children. The first activity was called “Friendship Hands”. We placed a long strip of paper on the floor on two sides of the room and made the children (who came in batches) sit in the middle. Every child was given a bunch of crayons and drew an outline around their hands, coloring them in and writing their names within. The kids also drew different objects (mostly related to nature) rather than just writing their names. I remember using “Daer Kha” quite frequently since I witnessed some exceptional artwork.

Those who were bored after a while moved on to the second activity. Here, we taught the children how to make paper planes and they entered a plane-flying competition. Within no time, every kid in the room wanted to fly a plane of his or her own. They decorated their paper planes beautifully, calling them their ‘dream planes’. Sadly, one child also made a drawing showing a drone dropping missiles on a house.


Sameed Hussain

Brainstorming activities for the children at Naunehal Academy proved to be difficult as we were faced with a huge language barrier. We needed to think of games that required the least amount of talking – these games had to be very visual, educational and entertaining. After hours of coloring, drawing and translating (into English, Urdu and Pashto), we were finally ready.


The road that led up to Qasbah Colony can be best described as uninviting and chaotic: a mountain cut in half, vibrant ‘party’ flags adding color to the surroundings, and a school encircled by a cemetery. We had prepared for 150 children. Almost 300 showed up. While this was daunting, we were overjoyed as each adorable face showed up around the winding staircase inside the school.

Raana Kazmi

The day started with the one hour long journey to Qasbah. All the interns were squashed together in the van with Mariam playing the role of our “tour guide”.


We laid out a giant snakes-and-ladders game in the school, which was an instant hit amongst the children – each square contained bright images of Pakistan’s national flora and fauna, important monuments and facts about the four provinces. All information was trilingual – in Pashto, English and Urdu. By the end of the day, we had not only taught the children about the history and culture of Pakistan, but most of us knew how to ask, “What is your name?” in Pashto.


On the second day, we were far more organized and had more volunteers to help us. The  kids and their mothers were opening up to and we were familiar with them – they were now coming up to us, saying hello and posing cheekily for the camera.


On the third day, we included games like hopscotch and bowling. We partnered with Habib Bank Limited in order to hold an art competition. The art corner was the most popular on this day, as the kids had some fantastic supplies to use and they were all very eager to participate in the competition.


As the last activity of the day, we sat the children in a circle and sang national songs with them while Nadir played the guitar. All the kids lined up around the big hall to say goodbye to us and we celebrated the success of the IDP project by going out for lunch. :)


Tabinda Siddiqi

On Day 2, we reached Qasbah Colony really early. We unpacked all our supplies from the van and CAP car and took them up to the second floor of the school. We were more prepared than the day before, with more activities for the kids to keep them busy and we had a greater number of volunteers to help us. We were more mentally and physically prepared for the boisterous kids.


Naveed, Nadir, Rameez and I were assigned to the coloring room. We gave the children crayons and motivated them to draw. They were pretty shy at first but then began to enjoy themselves. We thought they might have been hesitant to join us, as we were strangers and did not speak their language – Pashto. We asked the children to draw Pakistan’s flag, their hands, their houses – whatever sprang to mind. Some of the drawings were amazing and some of the kids were so engrossed in their coloring that they did not want to go from the coloring room to other activities. Some children drew pictures of their homes in Buner. They were so happy if you praised their drawings and asked them questions about their artwork. It was sad how pieces of crayon could mean so much to them – some children did not want to return the crayons after their drawings were complete. They would grasp the crayons so tightly that you could feel the warmth of their hands when they eventually returned the colors to you.

Saad Ashfaq

The two days were an eye-opener for me – not only were these children exceptionally smart, but they were like solar-powered batteries. They were not tired as long as the sun was shining and remained eager to learn. The younger children were mostly cautious and reserved; however, as their ages progressed so did their boldness and confidence.  The children proved that there is abundant hope for these people. They learned unpredictably fast, their mothers’ cheering them on. If there is anyone who can move on and rebuild their lives after the devastation they have seen, it is these men, women and children.

Two days with these families was enough to convince us- there is hope.

Hiba Mahamadi 

1 comment: