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Pakistan: An Interview with Humaira Bachal

By Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy


[Humaira Bachal is the Founder & President Dream Foundation Trust.  Humaira moved to the Moach Goth squatter settlement in Karachi City, when her village and her home were destroyed by floods in interior Sindh. Her mother, Zainab Bibi at that time took the bold step of convincing her husband to send Humaira and her younger sister, Tahira to school. The two sisters were the only children to go to school in that particular settlement. Whilst the sisters spent their time in school, their friends played in the streets throughout the day. As a typical first grader, Humaira initially believed that going to school was a punishment. However with time, she soon realized that she, in fact, was the “privileged one”.

Her introspective mind and sensitive nature inevitably led her to feel troubled over the plight of the other children in her neighbourhood. She wanted all her friends to go to school as well but knew that financial constraints would probably never let this happen. Humaira however did not know the meaning of giving up and soon had a novel idea up her sleeve to redress this injustice. She would herself teach the children in the neighbourhood. The only problem was the dearth of stationary, copies and books.

Nothing could be too big of a problem for Humaira. She soon started asking her school friends to donate their old school books, copies and stationary, which she collected in a basket at the end of every class when the teachers were away. Soon Humaira’s home school was functional and being attended by the children of the area.

Although Humaira was actively working to elevate the condition of her own village, she had to face setbacks of her own as well. Her father wanted to pull her out of school when she was in grade eight and get her married. At that time Humaira’s mother begged her husband to let Humaira study further. The result of this plea was a resounding slap across Zainab bibi’s face. Despite physical and verbal abuse and the possibility of social boycott in her community, Zainab bibi continued to convince her husband, who eventually relented when Humaira promised that she would marry anyone deaf, dumb or blind without cavil if her father let her finish school.

As the population of children in her school grew, she persuaded other classmates and juniors at school to join in and help in this noble venture. In 2003 she established, “The Dream Foundation” which was aligned with the aims of this very school. The only problem was that the kitchen floor and the courtyard of her modest home were not spacious enough to accommodate the students. Despair settled in her heart and she realized that perhaps her school would not be able to sustain itself. It was at that time when one of her students encouraged her and Humaira rejuvenated by their faith started to look for solutions.  She decided to seek help from the ARM Youth Welfare Society running street schools in the adjacent poverty stricken neighbourhood of Lyari. When the organization visited Humaira’s school, they were pleasantly surprised and impressed. Convinced of Humaira’s sincerity and infected by her positivity and motivation the organization arranged financial support from the Rotary Club, and Humaira was able to rent a space in the neighbourhood that she affectionately named the. “The Dream Model Street School.”

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[Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy is an Academy and Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker. Her work centers on human rights and women’s issues. She has worked with refugees and marginalized communities from Saudi Arabia to Syria and from Timor Leste to the Philippines. By bringing their voices to the forefront, she has often helped them bring about a critical change in their community. Sharmeen has made over a dozen-multi award winning films in over 10 countries around the world and in 2012 Time Magazine included her in their annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world. In 2013, Sharmeen was the recipient of the Crystal Award by the World Economic Forum for her work in documentary filmmaking, making her the first Pakistani to receive this honor.]

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