Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

By donkey cart to high school

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Back in the mid-1990s, village Sultan Chang near Tando Adam in Sanghar district had only a middle school for boys. Girls too could attend this school, but only until grade five when, by the standards of the Chang Baloch, they were old enough to be married to raise their own families.

Reshma Chang who attended school with her younger brother was made of different mettle, however. Raised by an illiterate mother and a livestock farmer of meagre means, she wanted to be a judge when she grew up. When she was in grade five, her brother, her schoolmate and escort, died after a brief illness. With no other ‘man’ available to accompany her to school, parental pressure bore down on Reshma to give off education.

The girl resisted and eventually finished primary school.

Now, if she was to continue, Reshma would have to attend the girls’ middle school in a neighbouring village. It was therefore with great difficulty that her family agreed to let her continue. However, because of the difficulty of a lone girl walking three kilometres each way, the arrangement was that she study at home and attend only appear in the periodic exams at school.

Three years later, Reshma’s won her next battle against tradition when her parents permitted her to attend high school in Tando Adam, thirteen kilometres away. This victory was not easy, she points out. It took days of pleading to convince them to let her ride the bus to and fro.

Saduro, Reshma’s father drove her on his donkey cart the two kilometres to the main road, saw her get on the bus and returned to his milk delivery chores. In the afternoon he returned to collect his daughter. Sometimes she would not be picked up and then her father drove her all the way to Tando Adam. When it came time to send in her admission form for the matriculation exam, Reshma’s family was facing a financial slump. Unable to raise the seven hundred rupees, she thought she had reached the end of her academic career.

Some of her schoolmates from better off families raised the necessary sum. And so in 2002, Reshma became a matriculate. But college was expensive and the girl who had always dreamed of being a judge was forced by poverty to discontinue. Even as she helped her mother with the household chores, Reshma did not let her dream perish. Three years later she successfully passed her intermediate exam as a private student.

In 2006, Shahdadpur-based Sindh Agriculture and Forestry Workers Coordinating Organisation (Safwco) and Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) initiated a community physical infrastructure project in village Sultan Chang. In keeping with their system, the NGO organised women’s and men’s committees in the village. Reshma’s ambition and drive won her the slot of general secretary in the committee. (She had, meanwhile, privately completed her bachelor’s degree). From this platform, this remarkable young woman campaigned for a girls’ school in the village.

A two-room roofless hulk was renovated and furnished by the NGO and in September 2010, Community Model Primary School opened its doors for the girls of Sultan Chang. With only twenty pupils, the beginning was modest. Labouring from eight to one with her charges, Reshma spent the rest of her workday canvassing with parents who preferred to keep their daughters home, especially when education was to cost twenty-five rupees a month. Within three months she had eighty-one students on her rolls.

While the bulk was kindergarten students, there was a handful of grade one girls who had dropped out of the local boys’ school. Hiring additional help (with higher secondary school education), Reshma is already, eight months since her school began, well on her way to lighting up the darkness of the girl child’s world in Sultan Chang.

Painfully aware that as a private middle school student, she lacks proficiency in English and computer usage, Reshma aims to have it otherwise for her students. There are plans to register it with the Department of Education so that the school can, when the time comes, be upgraded to the middle level.

Reshma says there are among her wards bright sparks who want to be professional working women when they grow up. There are future doctors, lawyers and teachers. In fact, nearly one-fourth of her pupils want to be teachers. ‘I may have failed to become a lawyer and a judge, but I was never defeated,’ says Reshma. For her being a teacher is just as good. In the years to come, some of her protégés will surely sit on the bench of justice. That, she says, will be her ultimate success.

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My Books

Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

Books at Sang-e-Meel

Books of Days