1 October 2016
I’ve always mentioned how much I dislike my emotional side. I teared up. It was bitter-sweet/ happy-sad. This afternoon, like all past charity experiences and phenomenal encounters with local heroes will stay with us for a lifetime. It will continue to teach us and be the drive for more future small-scale charity work. Totally surreal, inspirational and touching. This Islamabad afternoon will always have a special place in our hearts.
[Syed-Guide : Me: Master Ayub: Kenneth: Qamar]
After a short drive, the car stopped outside a familiar open park area. This is the area that I thought I’d found on my own however, I later resorted to asking my friend Shoaib and Qamar for help. Qamar not only found the place but also made contacts with the man after my own multiple failed attempts to do so. I’ve wanted to meet Master Ayub ever since the start of this year. In fact, I’ve shamelessly stalked and researched him for many months- trying to piece together valid information, his whereabouts, his work and making that decision to include this into the charity chapter for Pakistan. So imagine my joy when Qamar told Master Ayub about our arrival – wow, heart beating so fast….this is it. Finally!!!!
The children sat in groups studying different subjects and doing their homework. A teacher sits at the front with a small blackboard by their side.Everyone was quiet- studious, well behaved and extremely polite. They clearly understood what teamwork is.
After a few rounds of walking to each individual groups, I really wanted them to be my students. Thinking back at my former teaching career where I taught rebellious kids in Australia who told me to “shut up man” and those spoilt kids in China, these students are the exact bunch that would make me want to go back to teaching. Clearly Master Ayub taught them well.
I was overjoyed to see Master Ayub. I was nervous with excitement. Adorned in a white shalwar kameez, he sat on a plastic chair facing the slightly older students. I walked past his renowned bike that has been his companion for many years and held my breathe. It was surreal- I came to Islamabad primarily for him. He turned around and greeted all of us with that warm Pakistani welcome.
Master Ayub gestured for Qamar, Kenneth and I to sit down so we did – together towards the left side of the open air school. Human beings regardless of their upbringing, nationality or faith essentially are all experts at connection and understanding. Master Ayub understood my little obsession and why I wanted to visit him and we all spent that beautiful afternoon chatting and being there for the kids….even if it was for a few hours. The long conversation that we had was interesting, memorable and engaging. Again, it was such a privilege to dive into the mind of a local hero and an incredibly inspirational figure.
The following are his responses to some of my questions and of course, the background story of his work for education and his fight for equality.
Master Ayub is a retired firefighter (he is still on-call 24-7 in case of any operation), a spiritual leader, a recipient of the 2015 President’s Award (he rode his bike to Parliament House to receive his Award) and above all, a teacher.
Master Ayub’s father passed away when he was young and after spending time in his village, he came to Islamabad and became a firefighter to make a living. He encountered many hardships during his life. Only when one experience the tough side of life will one appreciate and cherish life.
So Master Ayub, what prompted you to start your school?
When I came to Islamabad, I saw that despite it being the Capital City, many children roam the streets and have no schooling. So I decided to start my open air school. I have been providing free education for children of Islamabad since 1982. The school has been running for 31 years now- free education where students are encouraged to finish schooling and graduate with life changing skills.
“Master Ayub, as a former teacher, I feel that education is important for any child and indeed for the country. What is your view?
Yes, this is my passion. I have divided my passion and time for my own children, for myself and above all- for these students. My wife is very supportive of my work. Education does change lives. Let me introduce you guys to my students.
Master Ayub wanted us to meet his students……there is a story behind each beautiful face.
The young man in the blue shirt who later dined with us alongside Master Ayub first came to the school at the young boy’s age. He used to collect rubbish on the streets and education has completely changed him. Having graduated already, he is now Master Ayub’s son-in-law and a teacher at the school.
This boy in yellow has learning difficulties. He is a victim of bullying and people would throw stones at him- making him feel inadequate and useless everyday. I can identify since I’ve been bullied since Year 2 up to university. He bears scars from bullying well- so do I- I look at my left knee and I am constantly reminded how it feels when others put you down however, as a strong individual and under the guidance of Master Ayub, a holy sign was bestowed upon him- he wants to be singer. Now holy sign- when will you appear in my life? hehe
Master Ayub, I admire that you also place emphasis on education for girls because without it,they will be stuck in a cycle. Some families frown upon education and want them to get married while others can’t afford an education.
For Master Ayub, education has no gender barriers and he is very proud of his female students as he called each up and explained to us their unique stories. The girl (third to the right) is an orphan and has since been studying under Master Ayub. The girl in the pinkish rainbow top was consistently beaten by her father- a drug addict. The girl in the yellow dress find it hard to continue with her education since her father is a poor gardener. My mind zaps back to Valentine’s Day 2015 where I spent it with 16 girls at an orphanage in Jaipur India. As a didi (sister) to them, I can’t help but feel happy and sad at their stories. They are similar in their tragedies: poverty, broken families, forced marriages yet so unified in their happiness: meeting a local hero who offered them help.
“You see, if a girl is educated then she will change the lives of her children,” said Master Ayub. [Very true indeed]
The girl on the left wants to be a scientist or minister, the stunning girl in the middle wants to be either a doctor or a lawyer, her little sister wants to be an actress and the girl on the left wants to be a teacher.
I stared back at the beautiful faces of these young women who are fighters and much stronger than me. I smiled as I looked at them since I’m also looking at the future of Pakistan. They have so much to contribute!
As the conversation came to an end, Master Ayub said: “I’m not a hero, these children are the heroes. We need to explore their capabilities and give them an education.” The school is never short of new students especially young ones who are the future for any country.
Before going off to dinner, Master Ayub said “When I die, this school will continue because I have now new teachers and I will continue to teach them from the grounds of this school because I will be buried here.”
And that was the moment when I teared up- speaking about life and death makes me cry. I thought of my Uncle and those who have gone before me. Sigh- someone please tear out these emotions so that I don’t have to make things so awkward for everyone.
I looked up at the sky- my way of stopping my damn tears and watched as darkness took over- another new day awaits. I have learnt and experienced so much this afternoon.
As evening approaches, Master Ayub said goodbye to the kids. They left and after giving them high-5’s and telling them that they can and are changing their lives, we headed to Saidpur Villages. Time to dine with a local hero before the inevitable goodbye.
As foreign tourists, maybe Kenneth and I should not care too much about the educational situation of a host country nor intervene. However, charity is universal and that sense of understanding unifies all. We are mere dusts in the world and our presence this afternoon equates to a single drop in an ocean. Although our supplies are tiny and will not last long for the kids, being able to shake their hands will always be one of the highlights in my life.
We are not here to judge or tell Pakistan what to do. We are simply here to give something small back to a host country- to meet incredible local heroes and to make the students smile even if it was for a minute and above all, tell them that “They can do it!” – because it’s worth it : ) Life is short and when we can do something meaningful, we must seize that opportunity….make someone smile..even if that will last for a second.
Words are insufficient for me to convey my feelings – to sum it up: what a honour and privilege this has been!