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article imageZindagi Trust: Advocating for better education in Pakistan Special

By Vincent Sobotka     Mar 22, 2011 in World
The Zindagi Trust was founded by Shehzad Roy, a famous Pakistani musician, in 2002 with the vision to promote the reform of the horrendous conditions of Government schools in his native country.
"After pondering over the state of education and health in our country, I realized that the ‘something is better than nothing’ view cannot apply to education and health.” The words of Shehzad Roy, clearly pasted on the Zindagi Trust website, sums up the passionate force driving the organization to slowly, but surely make progress raising funds in an effort to reform the Government educational system in Pakistan.
Tauheed Ashraf is a member of the Board of Directors and North American ambassador for the not-for-profit 501(c)3 organization. In this interview he explains his history as a native to Pakistan and his continued involvement with Zindagi Trust.
Vincent: I see that Zindagi Trust assists in only Pakistan. Are you from Pakistan, or do you have family there? If not, where are you from?
Tauheed: I am from Pakistan, some of my family is there, most of it is in Canada.
Vincent: How and when did you become involved with Zindagi Trust?
Tauheed: I met with the president of the organization, Shehzad Roy, at another fundraiser and he convinced me to help his organization.
Vincent: What was the fundraiser for? How did he convince you?
Tauheed: (The fundraiser was for) his charity, Zindagi Trust. He asked me to visit the schools that he has built.
Vincent: On the organization's website, you are listed as a "Lead Volunteer," what exactly defines your duties?
Tauheed: I am actually on the board of directors for Zindagi Trust USA. The information must've been outdated or incorrect.
Vincent: Did you begin as a volunteer? What are your essential duties as a member of the board of directors?
Tauheed: I did start as a volunteer. As a director I am responsible for fund-raising, expansion, overseeing accounts and donor relations.
Vincent: In regards to the "I am Paid to Learn" program, why do you believe that it would not be more effective for the Zindagi Trust organization to invest that money into improving more schools and allowing them to fill with students who wish to receive a quality education without an incentive bonus?
Tauheed: As a matter of fact we are moving away from the idea of paying students. Paying them was an incentive that originally brought them to school. However, once they start, they get hooked to education.
Vincent: Is the consideration to rid this practice due to its lack of success, or for another reason? Is your organization able to provide statistical information regarding how successful this program was?
Tauheed: The program is quite successful, but we are more interested in reforming the Government Schools.
Vincent: Was SMB a private school?
Tauheed: No, it was a government school. It still i a government school. The staff, the teachers, they're still being paid by the government.
Vincent: Is SMB a grade school or high school?
Tauheed: I think it goes up to 10th grade.
Vincent: Has SMB been the only school yet transformed by Zindagi Trust? If the conditions of SMB were so unsanitary upon Zindagi Trust's adoption, and the school was already occupied with students, then why was there not more of a push for the Pakistani government to commit tax contributions for improvement?
Tauheed: (The Pakistani) Government has over 200,000 institutions to run, most are very similar to SMB. We want to change the way the government operated in Pakistan and show them that they need to invest in education just as much as they do in military expenditures. Also, SMB is a model school where we don't want to compromise in quality. Once the government starts funding more than what they do, they will ask us to compromise on quality, which is something we can't do. This is a complicated subject.
Vincent: Please elaborate as much as you'd like, I would prefer you not to limit your answers. You mentioned that part of the organization's efforts go into military expenditures, exactly what expenditures are you referring to, and why would the military need any investment from Zindagi Trust?
Tauheed: The government spending mostly goes into military. The government only spends about 2% of the GDP on education and that's what I was referring to. Our organization only works solely for education, we have nothing to do with military. Although, we do work close with military in disaster relief efforts, but our focus is providing education to the underprivileged.
Vincent: But you do work somewhat with the military?
Zindagi Trust works with Pakistan military to provide relief to those affected by the 2010 flood.
Zindagi Trust works with Pakistan military to provide relief to those affected by the 2010 flood.
Zindagi Trust Media Blog
Tauheed: Yeah, we do somewhat when it comes to disaster relief, such as the flood of 2010. What happened was that none of the (not-for-profit organizations) had the logistical capability to distribute the aid. Also, us being a not-for-profit organization we focus on education, yet the disaster was so huge that people were asking, because they trust our organization so much, to go in and provide disaster relief. So, in October, we did a food drive here in Chicago. We packed about 600,000 meals in two days and we shipped them. That's not our core effort, but in the face of disaster you have to pretty much do everything that you possibly can. So, again, the military is the only organization that has the logistical infrastructure to help us out and distribute the aid. Those people are affected all over, north to south. Some are more accessible than others, being close to big cities, but the issue is people in the north are still suffering because, although they're far away from the city, military is the only one that can airlift and drop food. That's why we've only worked with the military. Most of our projects we are doing on our own, such as "paid to learn." Obviously if we want to take over a public school, we have to work with the government on some level.
ATTENTION: Visit the Shehzad Roy's Zindagi Trust blog for information and media on further outreaches they've made to communities in Pakistan and the disturbing practices which they are fighting to change.
Vincent: Which Province are you from?
Tauheed: Punjab, (Pakistan), however, my parents migrated from India to Pakistan in 1947.
Vincent: I understand that between all four provinces of Pakistan there's a bit of cultural difference and sometimes a sort of resentment, or close-mindedness..
Tauheed: Absolutely. Actually, the history is that when Pakistan and India split-up in 1947 some people migrated from India into Pakistan, just as some migrated from Pakistan back into India. So, a lot of those from India migrated and settled in Karachi. Even though they're on their third generation, they're still somewhat referred to as migrants. Kirachi I'd say is about seventy-percent imigrants from India and people sort of resent them. The locals resent them. People who talk like that are basically uneducated for generations. The bottom line is that we need to educate people so they can go above and beyond that.
Vincent: Your continued investments, as far as education is concerned, are they going to remain in the city of Karachi or are you going to expand into other cities and provinces?
Tauheed: We are absolutely going to expand into other cities, we have to. We realize that we can not bring about change in the mindset of the government by having just one school in one city, so our plan in the next ten years is to have 50 such schools all over Pakistan. I think that it's tough, but it's very much achievable. We are working on, right now, how we can expand the funding, how we can direct government spending more into education and nurish fifty more schools all over Pakistan.
Vincent: Fifty schools that you're going to build?
Tauheed: No, we are not into building. We will take over government schools, each with around 1,000 to 3,000 students.
Vincent: I also understand that, particularly in Pakistan, the higher education system is very flawed in terms of how educated the graduates of these schools actually are.
Tauheed: It's kind of complicated. There's three types of institutions (for schooling in Pakistan); the government schools, the private schools, and a third, which is a very small (minority system), madrassas. So, overall, there are close to about forty-five million children in Pakistan. Twenty-five million go to school and about twenty million don't even go to school. Of that twenty-five million which go to school about sixteen million go to government schools; about eight million go to private schools, if their family can afford to send them; and about four-percent of the children (attending) school go to madrassas. These are usually the poorest of the poor who can't afford to send their children (to school) or keep their children at all, so they send them to these boarding-house type madrassas where they can learn.
Vincent: So your plan is to institute free tuition for government schools?
Tauheed: Government schools are currently free, but the quality of education they receive is very horrendous. They are using textbooks that are fifteen-years-old; and principals, all the way down to the janitors of the school are all political appointees, because of corruption. So, they're not hired based on their qualifications. (Our mission is) about creating a system where people are held accountable for what they do. Even the lowest (quality) private school is better than the best government school. Our hope is that if we create enough institutions people will start sending their children to more government schools and that will encourage the other twenty-million to go to school once they see the quality of education they can receive.
Vincent: Did you achieve your education in Pakistan?
Tauheed: I finished high school in Pakistan, and then I went to the University of Illinois when I (moved to the United States).
Vincent: Do you have particular contacts within the government of Pakistan that you are working with?
Tauheed: The first (school) is always the most difficult because you have to fight with people at every level, and people are always opposed to change, even if it's a good change. So, the first (school) was very challenging because our president (Shehzad Roy) was recieving death threats for doing this. Once you get over that, I think everybody can see the value in it. Now, (government officials) come and see the school in action and working. They all want to do model schools in every city, at least. So, I think we can easily do all of the major cities, which could be another ten-to-fifteen schools, but when we start moving away from cities and into smaller areas then we will again run into friction because people are a bit more close-minded there.
Imran Khan  legendary Cricket player  now takes part in a Pakistani political party and is attemptin...
Imran Khan, legendary Cricket player, now takes part in a Pakistani political party and is attempting to aid the Zindagi Trust with government school reform throughout the country.
Vincent: As far as the fifty schools you plan to target in the next ten-to-fifteen years, are any going to be higher education universities?
Tauheed: Quite possibly. We are working with another individual from Pakistan, his name is Imran Khan. He is an ex-cricket player - a very famous ex-cricket player in Pakistan - and now he's in politics. He is known for doing quality work; he's established the first cancer research facility in Pakistan and people all over the world travel to get treatment at that facility. He's also started (helping) some higher education institutions, and basically we are working with him and his organization.
The Zindagi Trust has volunteers in Pakistan, Britian, the United States and Canada. In may, they will be hosting a series of fund-raising dinners in major cities across the U.S. The events will include performances from Shehzad Roy, and VIP ticket purchasers will be allowed a meet-and-greet with Shehzad and other Zindagi Trust members.
The schedule is as follows:
May 13, 2011 - Chicago, IL - Belvedere Banquets - 6:30 pm
May 14, 2011 - Houston, TX - Sugarland Ballroom - 6:30 pm
May 15, 2011 - Cincinnati, OH - Oasis Golf Club - 5:00 pm
May 20, 2011 - Scottsdale, AZ - Hyatt Regency Resort - 7:00 pm
May 21, 2011 - Los Angeles, CA - Sheraton Cerritos - 6:00 pm
May 22, 2011 - San Francisco, CA - Computer History Museum - 6:00 pm
Organization and ticket information can be found at the Zindagi Trust website.
More about Zindagi Trust, Shehzad Roy, Education, Education reform, Pakistan
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