September Issue 2014

By | People | Q & A | Published 10 years ago

Nadeem Hussain might have continued to aimlessly roam the streets of Ibrahim Goth, had TCF not opened its doors to the children in the slum. Now 22 years old, he can proudly name the IBA — one of the best business schools in the country — as his alma mater, and dare to aspire to what, not too long ago, seemed an impossible dream.

How did you come to know about TCF?

When TCF opened a school in our katchi basti, Ibrahim Goth, teachers would visit all the houses in the neighbourhood asking parents to enrol their children in the school. Two teachers also came to our house and spoke to my mother. My mother has studied until class five, and so she was able to teach me the basics of the Urdu and Arabic alphabet. I was eight or nine years old at the time, and my mother decided that since I was a bit older and knew the basics, I should be enrolled in class four.

How did you spend your time before you started going to school? What were your ambitions for the future?

For children living in slums, there isn’t much to do. We used to spend our time roaming the streets, just like other children who grow up in katchi bastis do, nothing more. I never thought about what I wanted to do when I grew up. The concept of ‘future ambitions’ didn’t exist for me then.

Before I was enrolled in school, I had no formal education and had never even seen the inside of a classroom. I definitely struggled. I failed my mid-term exams in the first year, but in the end of term exams I stood second in my class. My school really helped me in this regard, because they held extra classes for those students who hadn’t attended the first few years of school, for an hour or two after school. Managing all the work was difficult, but it helped that the other children at my school were from similar backgrounds like mine. And then my mother was always very supportive.

What would your life have been like had you not gone to school?

Many of the boys in our neighbourhood who are my age work in factories in the industrial area near our basti. They do mazdoori (work for a daily wage) in various textile and iron factories. When I was in class eight and nine I used to go to school during the day and work in a factory at night. Eventually I stopped going to the factory, but those friends continue to work to this day. I would have been doing the same thing had I not enrolled in the TCF school. I just think I’m very lucky. I was the first person in our katchi basti, and the first student from my campus, to go to university.

Didn’t the other boys in your neighbourhood want to follow in your footsteps? 

When I started school there were some boys in our neighbourhood who were a few years older than me. Their parents thought that their school-going age had passed, and hence it was better for them to work instead. Many of my friends did join the TCF school like me, but they dropped out eventually and ended up working in factories due to financial constraints. My mother’s primary education also meant that she understood the importance of a good education, and I think ultimately this is what made the difference between me and the other boys. Their parents had never been to school.

How has TCF practically changed your life?

At IBA, one of the girl’s in my class was the daughter of the man who owns the factory where my father is a labourer. So I have personally experienced what TCF is trying to achieve — breaking down class and social barriers. Whenever I attended classes with that girl, I used to feel extremely proud. We studied in the same class, were taught by the same teachers, at the same institute.

Now equipped with a BS degree, what would you like to do in the future?

I am currently working on a project called ‘Consumer Confidence Index,’ which is a joint venture between IBA and the State Bank of Pakistan. I lead a team of 15-20 enumerators and it’s basically research oriented work. In the future, however, I would like to join Pakistan’s civil service.

Was the transition from a TCF school to IBA smooth sailing?

At IBA, the students in my class were from some of the best schools in Pakistan. I was the only one who had studied at a public college. In the beginning, IBA was very challenging. Where I live there was no concept of education before TCF set up a school, whereas at IBA the students I had to interact with had very different socio-economic backgrounds. Although the environment was very different socially, I did settle down eventually and made some really good friends who were very supportive. It was academically that I had trouble. All the lectures were delivered in English, and while we were taught English as a subject at TCF, it isn’t the language we conversed in, so I found it very difficult to keep up with the lecturers. But I am the kind of person who tries his best to adjust to new situations; I would translate entire lectures into Urdu and then Punjabi in my mind. Four years later, however, I am comfortable with English.

In my senior year at IBA, a couple of friends and I initiated a project — we wanted to build a TCF primary school that would be named after IBA. We gathered funds from IBA alumni, students and the faculty. The director of IBA, Dr Ishrat Husain, was our main support and motivation throughout the year. The school will open in 2015.

I was also the editor-in-chief of the literary magazine, Quill. We published literary contributions from the student body in seven different languages (English, Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi, Pushto and Persian) to demonstrate the linguistic diversity at the university.

This interview was originally published in Newsline’s September 2014 issue.

Hiba Mahamadi was an Editorial Assistant at Newsline