“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
Christians make about 1.27 per cent of the population of Pakistan as per the 2017 census. Despite the missionary institutions established during the reign of the British in India having played a key role in pre- and post-partition Indian subcontinent and have continued their endeavouring to propagate modern education to students of all religious background that continues still, when it comes to education, the Christian community shows a very desolate and bleak picture particularly those living an impoverished life because of the huge expenses that they cannot afford. Keeping these barriers in view, Nasreen Emanuel, a Christian philanthropist hailing from Peshawar, came forward to help the Christian community and street children to get education.
Nasreen Emanuel, a 60-years-old lady residing in Tahkal area of Peshawar is providing free of cost basic education to people of all ages for the last 30 years. She did her matriculation in 1986 from Nowshera and then completed her Intermediate degree. She had always wanted to do something for her community. After she got married at a young age, she came up with the idea to start teaching the locals of the area to read and write in Urdu and English. However, no journey is a cakewalk. She faced hurdles, obstacles, backlash and a lot more but stayed firm in her aim of spreading education among the masses.
Regarding concerns about the bleak state of education in christian community she says, “Many Christian children are unable to afford education. I not only teach children but adults and senior citizens too, so that they become able to read and write. My setup for teaching these people is the TV lounge of my home. I am trying my best in enabling them to pursue their dreams as education enlightens every society and transforms it.”
Nasreen Emanuel, a 60-years-old Christian lady residing in Tahkal area of Peshawar is providing free of cost basic education to people of all ages for the last 30 years. She believes that to live a meaningful life one needs to be educated: “... They will come to know the difference between black, grey and white. Our people are naive and have spent their lives without getting enlightened with education, therefore, they easily get played ...”
Talking about the challenges that she faces, she says: “Summers become very tough for the learning environment because of the frequent power cuts. Due to lack of finances, I could not manage an alternative, yet the students are still eager to learn. The annual fee of missionary institutions is more than the monthly income of a typical Christian family. The representatives of the community have never come forward to help including the clergy.”
Despite owning some of the remarkable institutions in Pakistan, the Christian community ranks lowest in literacy rate of the overall population. Although, the government is providing equal opportunities to the religious minorities, the lack of awareness deprives them of their rights. They still look only towards the Church and missionary schools as providers of education for their children.
Girls’ education is even more neglected because of these issues and the concern for their safety. Commenting on such issues Nasreen shared an incident where she fought for girls’ rights so they could feel comfortable coming to get educated as it is a big concern for the elders of the community. She recounted: “There used to be a snooker club in front of my house and the males from around the area would come all day there to play. I felt a sense of fear, hesitation and resistance amongst the ladies I teach, as obviously we live in Pashtun society following the Pashtunwali, where parda plays a key role. I approached the elders of the community and the owner of the club but it was all in vain. I fought for them all around KP and the issue got settled through a local jirga. These women and children are my responsibility and I feel compelled to make them feel comfortable.”
When asked about how she runs this self-sustained initiative, she said: “Initially, I used to run a vocational centres where girls were given basic education first and then they were made to learn different skills. The primary source of income was through the vocational centre, but then insufficient resources compelled me to shut it down. Now, my children and husband are helping me out to pave way for people to get educated.”
On the reason for teaching language to senior citizens (some as old as seventy), other than the younger students, she joyfully told: “I want them to acquire religious knowledge so that they would not be misguided at the hands of clerics and priests. They will come to know the difference between black, grey and white. Our people are naive and have spent their lives without getting enlightened with education, therefore, they easily get played at the hands of priests in the name of religion. This is the reason that even a 70-years-old woman is sitting in my home eager to learn Urdu so that she could study the Holy Bible herself.”
Education is a universal right, to fill the gap, missionary institutions used to enroll as many non-Muslim children as possible, but now even these educational institutions do not have space for their own community. It is pertinent to mention that it is also the negligence of Christian parents that they do not send their children to a government schools because of the perceived fear of discrimination. Educational institutions like Convents, Edwardes College, Foreman Christian College, King Edward Medical University and many others are charging high fee that most Christians cannot afford. This leaves out many children from less privileged backgrounds whose only hope are people like Nasreen Emanuel, who despite being confronted with lack of resources and numerous obstacles, are striving for their community relentlessly. Nasreen’s purpose and aim in life is the dissemination of education to all irrespective of their age, colour, creed, race, ethnicity or religion. HH
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