“My basic aim is not just to give them education but to make sure they stand on their feet,” says Shabina Mustafa, the founder and driving force of The Garage School (TGS); an institution that believes in a holistic approach to education. “I want to groom my students into becoming successful; more importantly, I want them to become good human beings.”
It was just another day in November, back in 1999, when Mustafa’s maid convinced her to convert her garage into a school for the children of the basti. “I told her, well, you clean out the garage – it was full of junk – and then we’ll see,” relates Mustafa, smiling at the memory of the spic and span garage, complete with a linoleum mat spread on the floor, which greeted her when she came home from work the next day. “There were 14 children, all looking at me with hope; that was the beginning and there was no looking back after that,” she says.
Gradually more and more students trickled in; and not just children. “We had students of all ages coming in; it was a challenge to accommodate them all in a tiny garage, even though we were running two shifts.” Mustafa thus decided that TGS should function as a stepping stone; a place where students are groomed and coached so they can be accommodated into mainstream institutions. She thus approached Nasra School and single-handedly prepared her students for the entrance exam. “I worked with them night and day, but it was worth it. 22 were accepted at Nasra School and 16 by St. Patrick’s Technical College.
This has continued to be the TGS modus operandi; students are groomed according to their natural bent and talents and placed in appropriate institutions, many of which accept TGS scholars at reduced fee. “There was Anil who passed out of Nasra with flying colors; he went to Bahria College and is now a manager at a multinational company. His brother came first in the Aga Khan board exam while the third brother is a straight A’s student and wants to be a doctor,” Mustafa relates her success stories with pride and it is through her efforts that they are able to secure the funds to complete their higher education.
Sponsor a child: 150 USD (US Dollars)* per year will take care of basic schooling, books, uniform, shoes and basic health care. It will also provide a set of Eid clothes, shoes, bangles, etc.
Sponsor textbooks: 5,000 USD will buy a TGS student a year’s supply of textbooks, exercise books and stationery.
Sponsor a teacher: 100 USD per month will help TGS hire a trained teacher and improve their standard of education.
Sponsor a child through college: Many children are keen to pursue a higher education; contact TGS for information on how you can help someone attain a professional degree.
“Taleem (education), tarbiat (upbringing) taur (manners), tarikay (behaviour); all these lead to the fifth T – tarakkee (success); this is our motto,” says Mustafa. “I tell my students that I will help them get the first four in place, but the fifth they must achieve themselves, the desire to succeed has to come from within.” The motto aptly illustrates TGS’s unique approach to education; while other schools are content with teaching students to read, write and pass exams, Mustafa believes their responsibility extends far beyond just that.
Health and nutrition:
Regular check-ups are part of the routine at TGS as one room functions as a clinic and a doctor visits thrice a week. “Heart defects are a common problem in the community due to inter-marriages,” mentions Mustafa as she relates how she organized heart surgery for two children (only one was her student) in India. She raised the funds, took them to Chennai, along with their parents, and stayed with them in the hospital. “Both are perfectly fine now,” she smiles. Later on two more children – a TGS student and a girl from the basti – underwent the same operation at the Aga Khan Hospital. The money was provided by friends of TGS but it was Mustafa’s personal dedication that drove things through.
“Ear operations are always being scheduled, often six at a time, as, due to infected water, many of the children suffer from weeping ears. Plus we provide hepatitis, typhoid and flu vaccines annually.” Every TGS student receives a glass of milk or a carton of juice, biscuits and some dates every day; even the teachers (most of who are ex-students and come from the same background) receive a glass of milk and multivitamins.
Sponsor health program: 180 USD per month will take care of the medicines and health supplements provided regularly to each student.
65 USD per month will keep the children supplied with milk, biscuits, dates, eggs and seasonal fruit.
“Anyone can give them an education,” explains Mustafa, “my priority is to help them find a job and groom them for a career.” In line with this thought she provides them ample opportunity to discover their interests. “Field trips are a regular feature at our school as they help open up the children’s horizons. We took a bunch of students to Nawabshah, Sindh, by plane and one of the girls was inspired to become a flight attendant.” The older girls receive lessons in grooming and English conversation and eight of the first batch are working as beauticians at leading salons.
Computer lessons are next on the list, for both boys and girls. “A lot of older women want to learn the basics of computers in order to stay in touch with their children aboard; our female students can go to their homes and teach them in return for an hourly fee.” It is obvious that Mustafa’s busy brain is always coming up with ideas to motivate her students and help them find their place in the world.
Sponsor computers: TGS needs six computers for this course. You can help them by donating 1,200 USD.
Once Mustafa moved into the bigger premises (TGS now operates out of an apartment in Neelum Colony as well as the original garage) she found the space to put another pet ambition into practice. “Now that we were situated right in their basti, it was easy for the women to walk across for our afternoon classes. Within eight months they learnt to read and write Urdu and basic maths. Some women chose to continue with the two year course which takes them through primary level schooling and now, if they wish, in another two years they can sit for their Matric exam.”
Men too can benefit as TGS offers evening classes from 6pm till 9pm for men with day jobs.
Sponsor Matric Program: 6,000 USD per year will put a student through four years of the Matric program.
Unfortunately lack of space is keeping Mustafa from implementing several of her ideas, “I had to close down the ladies’ sewing classes due to lack of space, and though I want to start cooking and beauty classes, it’s just not possible because we’re bursting at the seams.” Her dream is to have a place where she can devote room to street children, “It will be a place where they can stay after school hours, do their homework, play indoor games; this will help to keep them off the streets and away from violence, drugs, etc.
Mustafa already pays around 760 USD in rent every month; taking up an additional apartment would cost her another 500 USD. “Ideally we need someone, or a group of people to donate a plot of land or a bungalow within that area so we can find a permanent solution.”
Sponsor rent: 750 USD per month will allow TGS to function at current premises. An additional 500 USD per month will help them get an extra apartment.
Total rent: 1,250 USD per month.
400 students, or as Mustafa puts it, 200 households, are part of the TGS family; a family that celebrates every occasion together. During Ramazan, Mustafa provides free rations, “Everyone gets sugar, flour, oil, powder milk, bottle of sherbet, packets of sevaiyaan, pulses, chick peas, etc.; the quantity depends on the number of members in the family. If I get enough money I also provide fruit, at least a few times a week.” On Eid, every child gets a new outfit, a pair of shoes, bangles, clips, etc.; Mustafa herself runs around, trying to find cheap, yet durable fabric, then getting it stitched by the women she taught to sew – at TGS everything works in a full circle.
Mustafa’s ultimate aim is to find a place big enough to hold all her dreams: a place she envisages as a ‘family-oriented community school’ which will cater to the needs of the entire household, from the infants to the elderly. “Schooling, health care, vocational training; a gymnasium for physical education, a four bed clinic with a round-the-clock doctor for emergencies, a subsidized store…” Mustafa’s wish list may sound unrealistic and far-fetched but as a woman who was widowed at the age of 19, and who brought up her child singlehandedly, Mustafa has learnt the power of perseverance.
“I look at what I started with and how far I have come. I have no doubts that one day I will manage to achieve this dream.”
Contribution for school building:
TGS needs a minimum of 360,144 USD
to buy land on which to build a school building; alternately they can buy property for approximately 540,216 USD
. You can help TGS realise this goal by contributing generously to their School Building Fund.
All donations can be sent to:
Standard Chartered Bank
Account no. 014544048-01
Donations are tax exempt.
For further information, please visit the TGS website: www.thegarageschool.org
or contact Shabina Mustafa:
400 children look to you with hope!
* Rates may change due to fluctuation in rupee value against the dollar.