Bushra Tayyeb Afzal

Miracle Woman, Bushra Tayyeb Afzal, a Director on the Board of The Citizens Foundation (TCF) is a star in the field of education in Pakistan. On returning to her city after years, she found her true calling and since then, there has been no stopping. When TCF started in 1996, those involved in the project decided to make schools with very strict terms, keeping in mind the wishes and limitations of those who TCF aimed to cater for. “We wanted to make schools where girls and boys studied together with 50% of the students to be females. To achieve that, we decided, firstly, to employ female teachers. We also ensured that the schools were easily accessible on foot,” says Bushra. When Bushra initially started considering becoming a part of TCF, she was reluctant. “I thought this is all games and play, something that regularly happens in Pakistan, but when I visited one of the 5 schools under TCF at that time, it brought tears to my eyes. I saw some of the harsh realities of Pakistan. I had just moved to Karachi from the Middle East after many years and on meeting the principal that day, I realised that it is education which can bring a change in this country, so I opted for this path,” Bushra reminisces.

The first and the most important challenge Bushra and her colleagues at TCF faced was changing the mind-set of the poor families. The parents did not want to send their children to schools; rather they wanted them to work and bring home money. This is of course one of the issues faced by other developing countries as well where education is severely undervalued by people. Parents were especially reluctant to send their girls to school. They would argue that their children would not be able to bring in the benefits of education in terms of a livelihood for at least 11 years. “Although, some of the mothers really wanted their daughters to study for them to secure a better future for themselves, the Madrassas in our targeted areas used to create issues. Therefore, to make them understand the benefits of this long term investment, our principal used to go to their homes personally and convince them.” Changing this thinking was very difficult but Bushra is now proud of the students, especially girls, who ended up joining TCF. “The girls who have done Matriculation under us are very intelligent and convince their parents to allow them to keep studying. The flowers are now blossoming,” says Bushra with a proud smile.

Another major challenge that Bushra highlights is the issue of funding. Since it was a new organization, convincing people to invest in the future of Pakistan was difficult. But since their education was for everyone, not just for a particular religion or sect, it made it easy for a lot of people, Muslims or non-Muslims to donate and support TCF. A lot of friends of the founding directors of the organization contributed generously for the cause of education. “This happened because the trust factor we were able to create is very strong,” Bushra explains. Sometimes, people also refuse but Bushra says she has learnt to knock on their doors again and again. “There is no shame in asking for the betterment of the underprivileged.”

“Although this wasn’t very common in our generation, I am all for working women. The girls are so intelligent, they are risk takers and entrepreneurs. I encourage them completely. When I listen to our girls at TCF, it surprises me – the children studying there do not have a lot of exposure but their aims and ambitions make me very proud. Once I asked one of the girls what she plans to do in life, she told me ‘fashion’. She said she designs clothes and gets her inspiration from the television shows she watches. And on hearing that I told her that she must visit Paris as that is the fashion capital of the world. I met her again after some time and asked her if she has finally decided what she wants to do and she very matter of factly said ‘meinay Paris jana hai!’. The aim is to inspire and encourage our children,” says Bushra.

For Bushra, her Miracle Moment is yet to come but she feels very proud handing over the reins of the organisation to the younger generation, which is the future of Pakistan. When we have people like Bushra, selfless and resolute, who don’t just wish well for the country but take practical steps to make it a better place, there is no reason for us to feel that the future of Pakistan is bleak. As long as the flame of education is burning, we will find a way out of darkness.