Akhuwat Foundation, a project of Dr. Muhammad Amjad Saqib, was founded in 2001. Dr. Saqib is a development practitioner and a philanthropist who joined the Civil Service of Pakistan in 1985 and served at senior positions in the Government of Punjab including General Manager of the Punjab Rural Support Program (PRSP). He resigned from Civil Service in 2003 with the intention of becoming a social entrepreneur and contributing to the social dynamic through Akhuwat.
The foundation is playing a leading role in improving education for the marginalised and neglected communities in Pakistan. One of their main projects is NJV Government Higher Secondary School and we at ChalkTalk, spoke to them to find out more about their efforts in‘giving back to society’!
Q. How and when did Akhuwat Foundation come about under the guidance of Dr. Muhammad Amjad Saqib?
A. Dr. Amjad Saqib laid the foundation for Akhuwat when he gave Rs. 10,000 to an indigent widow who used the capital to start her own sewing business. This small donation helped her build a better life for her family. She returned six months later to repay the loan and requested that the amount be used to help other underprivileged people.
This sowed the idea and over the last 17 years, Akhuwat has grown exponentially distributing more than Rs. 53 billion to over 2,300,000 families all over Pakistan with branches in more than 350 cities. Today, Akhuwat stands as the world’s largest interest-free microfinance institution. We are determined to ensure that no one has to beg in order to maintain a sustainable livelihood. We found our inspiration, not in economic logic, but in the spirit of compassion and generosity.
Q. What are some of the current projects that Akhuwat is involved in at the moment?
A. Our work is targeted towards social inclusion of the marginalised and disadvantaged through provision of convenient and approachable solutions such as interest-free microfinance, free quality education, free clothing, subsidised health services and equal employment opportunities (including transgenders).
Q. Akhuwat has adopted some government schools. What role does Akhuwat play in their rehabilitation and what is the government’s role after Akhuwat enters the picture?
A. The foundation, under its Akhuwat Education Services programme has adopted and revamped 200 schools in order to provide quality education to marginalised communities in Sindh and Punjab. In collaboration with the Kiran Foundation, Akhuwat has also adopted the DCTO School which aims to improve the lives of the abandoned people of Lyari. The government has played an instrumental role in the adoption procedure and has also helped in providing funds for the massive rehabilitation at NJV Government Secondary High School.
Q. Tell us about the NJV Government Higher Secondary School and Akhuwat’s endeavours to return it to its former glory.
A. Narayan Jagannath Vaidya Government Higher Secondary School, otherwise known as NJV High School still stands tall on main M.A. Jinnah Road in Karachi even after 163 years. It was built by Sir Bartle Frere and was named after the first deputy inspector of Sindh to honour him for his services.
It is the oldest government school in Sindh and is housed in a historic building made with beautiful yellow sandstone. It is one of 600 buildings listed as a heritage site and even housed the Sindh’s National Assembly at one time.
In 2015, Akhuwat undertook the task of restoring NJV School to its original grandeur. Before engaging in other substantive operations, a massive civil works project was undertaken to renovate the school and provide facilities like functional bathrooms, clean water, functioning doors and electricity. Akhuwat took on the difficult task of restoring the building without losing its originality. The walls were sprayed with political graffiti and removing it without painting them was a tremendous challenge.
Our aim is to provide quality education as well as top-of-the-line extracurricular activities to our students. NJV School has up-to-date technology in its IT Lab and the science lab and library are also under renovation. The barren ground and rooftop have been transformed into a football field lined with Astroturf; tennis and basketball courts and a cricket pitch. Students are provided with free education, uniforms, transport, snacks and books. At the moment, the number of buses is not enough to facilitate all students, so transportation is only provided to far-off residents.
Q. How many students are currently enrolled in this school at the moment?
A. Currently 1,018 students are enrolled in NJV School and the school is open for both, girls and boys. In fact, we played greater emphasis on female admissions this year since an educated woman creates an educated family. We are proud to say that over 60% of our new admissions this year were girls!
Q. What are the grade levels offered in the school?
A. NJV School provides education from Kindergarten to College level.
Q. What kind of programs/subjects are being taught to students?
A. We offer subjects offered generally by other schools such as English, Math, Science, Social Studies, Urdu, Sindhi, Nazra, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Islamic Studies, Economics, Civics and Physical Education (P.E.). In addition, we offer some unique classes. For instance, our students begin the day with Home Period in which some of them read out their thoughts and observations from their journal while others discuss current events.
All our primary students take music class where they learn to sing, play instruments and dance. We have art class for all grades from KG to grade XII where the curriculum includes a balance of art history, technique and gives students the chance to explore and enhance their creativity. We also offer computer classes with state-of-the art technology where we teach students about research, cloud computing and programming. This year, we have introduced a weekly Vision Period where guest speakers come and talk to our students about varied topics.
We have more programmes offered after school. In ‘English as a Second Language’, we further polish the spoken English skills of our students. Our scout students just returned from a camping trip in Balochistan. We regularly host football tournaments and have a chess and table tennis club as well.
We hope to continue diversifying and expanding our offerings to students at all grade levels.
Q. Who are the teachers teaching in NJV School?
A. It is a mix of government staff and private staff. The private staff goes through a rigorous interview process with roughly one in ten getting the job.
Q. How many students have graduated from NJV so far?
A. Thousands upon thousands. The school has been in operation since 1855 and is the oldest government school in Pakistan.
Q. What are your sources for funding the school?
A. We have three main sources of funding. Firstly, the Sindh government, which has given us an endowment to run the school. Secondly, Akhuwat’s varied fundraising operations in Pakistan and internationally. And lastly, private fundraising specifically for NJV. However, despite these sources, we still face a very large shortfall every month.
Q. What is the future like for an NJV student? How will they be able to afford higher education?
A. We offer scholarships to top-performing Grade XII students. In addition, we collaborate with organisations like Aman Foundation to provide our students with quality vocational training. Unfortunately, given the current situation, the reality is that many of our students will most likely not be able to attend university. However, with time, as we build a wider base in our primary and secondary schools, this will change.
Q. Do you have any programs whereby students from the more privileged echelons of society can participate in volunteer or mentoring programs for your students?
A. Absolutely! We work with schools including L’ecole, Karachi Grammar School and Cedar College and students from these institutions volunteer or mentor our children on a regular basis. These experiences prove invaluable for both parties, giving each a glimpse of life on the other side. We are also planning to start an After School Programme for students soon to further strengthen the mentor-student relationship. Many adults and corporate employees also volunteer their time and expertise regularly to mentor our students.
Q. How can the general public participate in the rehabilitation of NJV and other schools adopted by Akhuwat Foundation?
A. We charge no fee from students and rely completely on funds; so our most critical need is funding. Every month we have to make tough choices – scale down events; hire good but perhaps, not the ‘best’ teachers; simplify a wonderful lab experiment – simply due to lack of funds.
Other than funding, we are in need of passionate and visionary staff. We are always looking for people who want to help us build a leading institution in the country; give our children the world-class education they deserve and help improve the standard of education all over Sindh and Pakistan. Our doors are always open for people who think they can assist us in our operational work and add value with their expertise and knowledge!
If you wish to get more information about Akhuwat Foundation and its social endeavours, please see their contact details below:
Address: 19 Civic Center, Sector A2, Township, Lahore, Pakistan
Timings: Monday to Saturday – 09:00 am to 05:00 pm
Phone: (042)-111-448-464 or (042)-35122743