I want to repay The Citizens Foundation for taking me from Pakistani slum to Harvard
Going from an inner-city slum to an Ivy League university is an incredible journey for anyone. But for a girl in Pakistan, a country where the female literacy rate is 38%, it is an almost unheard-of achievement.
Anum Fatima made international headlines when she won a summer scholarship to Harvard. She grew up in a Karachi slum but attended a school run by The Citizens Foundation (TCF), an education charity which has opened 1000 schools teaching more than 145,000 underprivileged children. TCF schools are built in deprived areas and are open to all faiths and ethnicities. They also focus on giving both girls and boys equal access to education – 46% of their pupils are female.
Now 23, Fatima was one of TCF’s first graduates. The daughter of a maid and a driver, she completed her undergraduate degree and has started a Masters Programme from CBM, a leading business school in Karachi, with a TCF scholarship. Fatima says: “I want to be the CEO of a leading company but before that I want to spend a few years at TCF to pay them back for all they have done for me.”
Anum has given presentations on the challenges girls face
While she was delighted with the news that she would be jetting off to Massachusetts, her father had a slightly delayed reaction. Fatima said: “He had not heard of Harvard. When he went to work that day, he asked his boss, who told him what a tremendous achievement it was.”
Fatima came first in her class at the Harvard summer school. She says: “It was an advanced learning programme for English. There were 15 students from all over the world. I topped my class and received a certificate and a book signed by the Dean.”
During the three-month trip she also spoke at the US State Department and interned at a US-based think tank. She was able to give people an accurate description of the educational challenges in her country.
Students get science lession at a Citizens Foundation school
Fatima said: “People in the West think that girls in Pakistan are not allowed to study. In all of the presentations I made and all the people I talked to, I told them that parents wanted their girls to study but it was the lack of resources and awareness that held them back.”
The need for education to be made a priority in Pakistan is clear – 26 countries that are poorer than Pakistan send more children to primary school and one in 10 children worldwide who are not in primary school live in Pakistan. TCF believes its model is a Pakistani solution to a Pakistani problem.
Ateed Riaz, Co-Founder of The Citizens Foundation, said: “Everything related to education is a step forward; whether it is under a tree, in a garage or in a tent. However, we felt that since we ourselves are a product of formal education, we will build our institution along the same lines. We will create schools which are properly built, and not in a tent or basement. We were confident about our decision and there was never any hesitation or doubt regarding the path we had chosen.”
The Citizens Foundation students walk to school in Pakistan
It has an all-female faculty, employing 7700 female teachers in 100 towns. This is done to encourage gender equality as parents are more likely to send their daughters to a school with female teachers.
It is an innovative solution to breaking down the many barriers women in the country face. The ethos across all the schools encourages students to become open-minded, peace-loving and socially responsible members of society.
A spokesperson for The Citizens Foundation said: “As an organisation we are thrilled with the achievements of our students. In particular, Anum Fatima’s success has been an inspiration to all those who work for TCF.
“Moving forward the charity is focusing on increasing the quality of TCF education. Another aim is to complete the clusters of TCF schools by building more secondaries, ensuring our students are supported in continuing education. Finally, TCF are now seeking to widen its impact and increase access to quality education for the most underprivileged.”