You don’t often encounter people – the other kind – who give a whole new meaning to the term ‘generous,’ almost making it seem like an unachievable ideology. These individuals are often seen putting others needs/wants before them, going out of their way to help the needy or simply doing things for the greater good. Such is the extra-ordinary story of an ordinary man popularly known as “Master Ayub.” He has been running a non-formal school for children predominantly from the Katchi Abadis - urban slums of Islamabad, for 28 long years.
Mohammad Ayub, a native of Mandi Bahauddin found himself in the capital, searching for work in 1976. He initially enrolled into the army but due to an accident, was deemed ineligible for it. He then joined the Civil Defense, meanwhile volunteering at the Fire Brigade on occasions such as the Ojhri Camp disaster of ’88 and the Marriott bombings of ‘08 (where he also burnt his hands).
“I always had this urge to help people in some manner,” says a reminiscing Ayub. “Although I donated blood and helped people with first-aid, I knew there was more I could do that would really make a difference.” The school’s first seed was planted when Master saw teenage boys idly roaming around in street gangs, washing cars and begging in a local market in sector F-6. From here, he got his first student that soon became 3 and a year later, about a 300. Having taught 1000s now, Master recalls his challenging journey to teaching. “I had to face a lot of troubles to educate these children. I had initially come to this park – points at the public park in F-6/3 where we sat – but I was thrown out because neighbouring ‘VIP’ houses didn’t want any disturbance in their zone. I then moved into one of the Katchi Abadis but objections were raised again. I finally got permission from CDA (the local municipality that governs Islamabad) to teach in this park however, what you’re seeing right now only came into being a few years ago. When I first started teaching here, it was a waste disposal spot that my students and I cleared out,” he continues to speak, disappointment trailing in his tone. “People discouraged me in every way possible; policemen never gave up on a chance to pull my leg, the local authority initially didn’t cooperate either and even the Katchi Abadis’ kids would mock me, occasionally throwing pebbles at me or puncturing my bicycle. Now the same kids, taught by me, are employed in government institutions – not only that, but they never forget to pay their regards or ask after me.”
Master informs that not all of his students go to a formal school – some work and only attend his school in the evening. He beams with pride when he tells me not a single child in his family is uneducated and that many of his ex-students’ children study in his school now. His wife and daughter also tutor back home. “My income is very limited. I send some of it to my family, keep some for myself and the rest for these students – for their stationary and books. I also bare the education expenses of some of these kids” he shares, while looking towards the young boy who teaches grades 6 and 7 at the school. “I have been teaching and paying for his fees, uniform – even his Eid clothes for 12 years.”
When I ask Master what advice he’d give to our youth/students, his answer is an affirmative “ilm parho aur parhao”(educate yourself and educated others). He emphasises on the importance of ‘embracing’ wisdom and knowledge, which according to him, can only be derived from education. He encourages all his students to become doctors, lawyers, police and army men but urges them to never turn to extremism for it destroys progression.
How can the Pakistani education system be revived? “The biggest setback for Pakistan is lack of education,” Master explains – and why is that? “Schools charge a lot for tuition fee and books, which deters poor parents from sending their children to school. Even if these parents put their blood and sweat into getting their children educated, they don’t receive the product of their hard work because most teachers in government schools are lazy and inefficient and would rather talk on their cellphones than teach their students.” Your appeal to the education ministry? “My request to our statesmen is very simple: keep a strong check on the efficiency and quality of government-run schools and my personal appeal to them is if they could assist my students with their school fees.“
I ask Master if he receives regular donations: “There are people who bear expenses of a few of my students while some contribute towards students’ stationary or donate otherwise, but that’s not too often. I mostly pay the electricity bill(s) of the room I have rented as a store for my students’ stationary, chairs and black boards. Often my students receive small gifts from these donors but that’s that. I don’t have any regular donations. Some individuals helped me get this park but no one has ever taken the initiative to build a proper school for my students.”
When I ask Master how he manages his personal life, work and this school, he replies: “My wife and kids are very supportive of this cause so that’s not a problem. Work is fairly manageable however, running this school requires a lot of responsibility but I’ve never considered it a burden – in fact, have always enjoyed it.”
Master’s list of accomplishments includes the prestigious Pride of Performance along with various other awards from reputable institutions like the Pakistan Education Foundation. His work has been admired and applauded internationally as well.
For sometime, Master also sold newspapers and made envelops to earn money yet, he’s very content with life and thoroughly enjoys teaching – especially mathematics. “I don’t teach these children so I could come into the limelight and receive awards. I do this because I want to. Nobody thought I could pull it off but I had faith in God and myself. I knew the life He has given me should be made extra-ordinary so that when I die, I die in peace for having helped thousands of children pursue their dreams” Master’s eyes twinkle when he says this.