Supporting worthy causes is not without its own challenges, helping the deserving and needy is harder than it may appear, and good intentions are rarely enough. Impactful philanthropy is rewarding but simultaneously challenging. In my view there are few causes that are as meaningful as supporting quality education in a country like Pakistan. The Citizens Foundation (TCF) plays a very valuable role in this respect through its various chapters across the US.
Living in Washington DC, I support TCF’s DC chapter. Every spring the DC chapter organizes a flagship event in the form of a glamorous fundraising gala. The activities of TCF across the US (including the DC chapter) are supported at the grassroots level by a vanguard of motivated volunteers and communities of Pakistani heritage.
This year at the DC event, TCF will honor and celebrate the success-story of the son of a Pakistani truck driver called Zafar Ali. Zafar hails from Khyber Agency in FATA. He moved in 2013 from FATA to study at a TCF school, the Yousuf Khan campus, at Hawke’s Bay in Karachi. As a TCF alumnus, Zafar was admitted to the reputable D.J. Science College in Karachi, from where he made his way to the United World College (UWC) in Mostar, Bosnia for an International Baccalaureate (IB) program on a full scholarship. After completing his IB program, he was admitted for an undergraduate program in Political Science at the prestigious Lewis and Clark College in Oregon on a full scholarship. It is noteworthy that Zafar is the first TCF graduate to enroll in a full-time, four year degree program outside Pakistan.
Zafar is a precocious young man, motivated to make a difference by educating himself. There is no question in my mind that Zafar’s struggle was a monumental one, and his budding success story is that of a young man who fought for his dreams. His successful struggle proves that one can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds by a combination of grit, motivation, resilience, and some measure of luck in the form of external support. Indeed studying at TCF provided the elusive element of luck that enabled Zafar to subsequently flourish.
Zafar’s TCF experience was a key enabler in his success. When speaking to Zafar, one senses his optimism. He is on a journey and he is relishing it. As he puts it, “it doesn’t matter how you start, what matters is how you finish.” To capture his point of view, it is not about starting off well but finishing well. He is not competing against anyone else, only himself. To paraphrase him, “we each have our own race to run regardless of our background, and winners are declared only at the finish line”. And what matter for him is the finish line and not anything else. I think his drive and success are because he believes in the need to keep moving forward, believing in himself, and following his passion.
I questioned him on what he disliked most in life. He responded that he hated complaining. He feels that a complaining attitude creates natural hurdles in the path of success. For him life is not about making excuses for the challenges and constraints one faces; rather it’s about demonstrating courage, optimism, and resilience in a manner that opens pathways to bring change, purpose, and deep meaning. This main reason that he is at this stage in his life focused on his studies and that is his number one priority, as it rightfully should be. He has his priorities right.
While Zafar’s story is inspiring, we need thousands and thousands of Zafars as positive role models for children in Pakistan. Those are starkly in short supply. Unfortunately governments have given short shrift to the education imperative. One wonders who is going to take care of our children’s educational needs. How and when will be see a change in the attitudes of our policy makers? We don’t have the answers.
It is sad that over 25 million children of school-going age are out of school in Pakistan at present. It is this void that non-profit organizations like TCF are filling. TCF has been around since 1995, having founded over 1,200 schools for underprivileged communities. Mrs. Shimmi Kidwai who runs TCF’s DC chapter has dedicated over 20 years of her life to supporting education in Pakistan. She told me that she fervently believes that lasting change can come in society through education only. There is a Chinese saying that if you want to plan for the next 100 years, you should invest in education. Promoting education on a gender-neutral basis has manifest benefits for societies. We also know that investing in a girl’s education has more societal benefits than one can enumerate. An educated woman has the confidence to make worthy choices which reinforce positive trends in communities and societies. It also gives her the sense of freedom and empowerment to stand up for what she rightfully believes in.
For every Pakistani this problem is a challenging one, and we can only win when we are all united and work as a team. We need to encourage others – rich and poor alike – to join in this push to improve the lives of these children. If we all participate in and support volunteer work and other social activities, we can make a difference.
We all understand that education is the only path out of hopefulness for so many. What is also important is that supporting education for the less fortunate is also a path of fulfillment, as I strongly believe that while doing so we start off by empowering others and end up empowering ourselves as well. We need this positive sprit to join in this push to improve education in Pakistan. We all know that we as a nation do not have perfect tools or endless resources but as individual citizens with resources we can do better if we put our hearts and minds to it. Our positive initiatives are the way to address the plight of education. That doesn’t required specific experiences or some kind of expertise, all we need is to take the lead and play a positive role in society.
In the 21st century, there are myriads of opportunities to lend our voice through the internet, donations, and through volunteering, and of course social activities. All we need to rethink is how best to help in order to give needy children a fairer chance at life. Over the past couple of decades, a growing stack of evidence has shown that positive social behavior – including helping others – improves our own mental and physical health, and extends life expectancy. The evidence suggests that social activities that involve helping others are particularly healthy and fulfilling. Altruism is a powerful force for health and happiness alike, and it seems to be deeply embedded in human neurochemistry. Maybe this deep-rooted social element in all of us explains our yearning for a life of meaning. We wonder about our purpose and we care about our legacy.
Our unconditional support for this cause matters, be it big ways or small. This support transforms lives, creates opportunities, and makes a difference in society. Let us resolve to support organizations like TCF so that we can continue their incredibly positive mission. Let us celebrate the spirit of TCF and its ability to imbue that spirit in Zafar and thousands of other precious young minds in Pakistan.
Shaziah Zuberi is a fashion designer and mom of teenage twins. She is passionate about blogging about a variety of contemporary subjects inspired by her thoughts and passions. She is based in Washington DC. Her twitter handle is @ShaziahZ.