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Just a drop in the ocean, but a drop still

When I started my Teach For Pakistan Fellowship last year, we were in the middle of COVID related school closures. I teach in a public school in Tarnol, one of the rural sectors of Islamabad. My students, unlike their more privileged peers, didn’t have access to Zoom or other digital distance learning solutions, so we had to find ways suitable in our context.

Every week, I visited the community to distribute learning packs to my students. One such Monday morning, as I stood outside the school gate to distribute the learning packs, I saw one of my students, Komal, making her way through the crowd.

“Teacher, my cousin Ayesha couldn’t come to collect her homework today,” she panted. “She met an accident yesterday that cost her two of her teeth, lips and much of the rest of her face.”

My lips quivered and my heart sank at the thought of her scarred face. Komal accompanied me as we took a rickshaw to Ayesha’s house; it was a long ride, and I began to wonder how Ayesha made this commute on foot every day. As I walked through the entrance door, I saw a little girl in her mother’s embrace, lying visibly in pain but maintaining a warm smile on her face. Her deep brown eyes sparkled as she saw me enter.

“How are you feeling, Ayesha?” I hesitantly asked.

“I’m better, teacher. I can’t wait for schools to re-open because our phone got damaged in the accident, and I can’t watch your videos anymore,” she mumbled through her injured lips.

In that moment, more than ever, Ayesha and her commitment to learning amidst crisis made me believe in the path I had chosen for myself. Every day, I step into this work to be a source of support, both academic and emotional, for my 100 young girls. Ayesha, and many like her, give me hope for a Pakistan where our girls will fulfil all their dreams and claim their well-deserved space in every sphere of life.

When my student, Maryam, tells me that she wants to be a scientist, and Laila sneakily picks up my marker every chance she gets to write on the board and pretends to be a teacher, my heart swells with pride and my smile widens. My students are not just determined and capable, they are full of love, compassion and empathy which they give generously to whoever displays even a speck of kindness. And that’s what keeps me going.

Earlier this month, I spoke to the father of one of my students about the dreams he has for his child and his response left me at a loss for words, “All my life, I had to depend on others because I wasn’t educated. I don’t want my daughter to be dependent on anyone. I want her to support me as well, she is no less than a son.”

Every time I look at his daughter, I see hope; I see a cheerful little girl with a high ponytail who leaves me notes at the end of each class and is always eager to learn. Despite the challenges posed by the gaps in our education system, my students and their will to learn, win the battle every day. A year into my Fellowship, my students have improved academic outcomes by two grade levels. The shy ones now argue over who gets to sit in the front row, and the disruptive ones have become class toppers. I recognize that the scale of the problem is much larger, and as an individual, I am just a drop in the ocean, but I am a drop still.

2020 Fellow Maria teaches English and Social Studies to 5th graders in a public school in Tarnol, Islamabad. Maria graduated with a degree in Accounting and Finance from LUMS.

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