Mr. Abdul Ghafoor Memon known As Alasti, founder, Aasthan Latif Welfare Society (ALWS) has only one dream in his life – to spread light of education among rural girls of Sindh, Pakistan where there are very little opportunities are available for girls to get basic education in the rural areas of Sindh, Pakistan.
A dream of Alasti to educate rural girls came while translating poetry of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, a renowned mystic poet of Sindh, Pakistan. He believes in Shah Latif’s message, so he spent seven years after his retirement form his services, translating into English the works of his guiding saint. His translation covers nearly 786 of Shah’s verses, which makes his work the most voluminous of all English translation. It all began in 1989, having just been through the translation of Shah Latif’s poetry, his restless soul drove him to doing ‘something’. This something turned out to be the urge to wipe out the rampant female illiteracy in his surroundings.
To spread the light, to educate: this became Alasti’s overriding mission – a deep commitment he felt after fully devoting seven years to translating Shah Latif’s poetry into English verse. Alasti believes in educating girls – for educating one girl’s means sowing the seeds of knowledge for the entire family.
Alasti started work on his dream. He began in a very humble way, by painting the streets of rural areas of Sindh with slogans championing the cause of education for girls. He also used to appeal through mega phone to peasants to send their daughters into schools and tell them the importance of education not just for boys, but also girls. He was then joined by some of his friends who themselves felt the pain of illiteracy among rural girls.
With the help of his friends, Alasti started work on his dream and formed Aasthan Latif Welfare Society on 2nd January 1989 in the small town “Darro”, District Thatta, Sindh, Pakistan, named after Sufi Poet “Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai” with a major objective to educate rural girls. The tasks they have jointly undertaken is an onerous one as the education of girls are one of the lowest priorities. He began by painting slogans on some walls, with the message; He began in a very humble way, by painting the streets of Thatta with slogans championing the cause of education for girls. He wrote and wrote and wrote on wall after wall – writing on wall, “education for all”, “let us educate”, “Educate Girls”. Their main focus always remained on betterment of girl’s education of rural areas and started their campaign for literacy in 1989 and independently worked for the promotion of education in the villages of the Thatta District.
They started buying school books which were handed to girls from poor families. Then they tried to enroll them. But schools for girls were few and far away. Before long, they realized that what the girls really needed were more schools. Then they went countryside to persuade parents and village elders to open their villages to the concept and practice. Alasti was ridiculed by everyone when he and his organization, ALWS, proposed the idea of setting up a school where the girls would be educated. There was strong resistance against any such idea in the wake of realization that once educated, the girl would bring disgrace to her family. Most parents perceive that the education of girls has little or no value. In fact the investment in it is wasted as they leave home after marriage. Also early marriage cuts short a girl’s time in school and diminishes the value of schooling to her parents. The girl’s unequal access to education is closely linked with their work burden at homes. The dependence of the family on the girl’s labor at home and in the field results in their relatively low attendance in the schools. The rural areas of Sindh, Pakistan a country where illiteracy borders on 80% educating girls is not a palatable concept for the majority of people. In rural Sindh, girls have been known to be married to the Holy Quran, so as to keep outsiders from sharing in the property of the family. More than on interests join hands whenever some one proposes to make a breakthrough in this direction. In such a bleak circumstances, the setting of these schools was no less than a miracle given the social conditions of the areas. But people gave way reluctantly when they were told that the girls would learn to read the Holy Quran. Strangely enough, the landlords of the area were unhappy at these developments. They did not want the boys and girls in the village to go to school. Because, once educated, these children would be more difficult to control. They began to create trouble in different ways but journey of light had started and no one could stop it.
The society had very humble beginnings – a thatched roof office which they turned into a coaching center for children who had dropped out from schools because they could no longer afford to attend. Hundreds of children were thus coached, provided schoolbooks, scholarships and uniforms, enabling them to rejoin school. Then they tried to enroll rural girls into schools, but schools for girls were few and far away. Before long, they realized that what the girls really needed were more schools.
The funds were not enough to cover all expenses, Alasti had to raise funds. So he sold out all his agriculture lands and spent his whole saving in promoting girl’s education in the rural areas of Sindh, Pakistan and started community girl’s schools. He also decided to sell copies of Shah Jo Risalo, Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai’s book, which Alasti himself had translated into English.
The NGO held the biggest rally of children in the history of Sindh – named “Journey of Knowledge” in Thatta on 25th Dec. 1990 – for education of children in Sindh – led by the then Deputy Commissioner, Thatta. It was the starting point of its crusade for literacy in rural Sindh.
Aasthan Latif Welfare Society played an important role in determining and channelising the available community resources for girls’ education and initiated a non-formal primary education project in 1990 to educate the girls living in the rural areas of Sindh. The first school was opened in 1990 in a village called Dar Maluk Shah.
In the brief span of 15 years, more 20000 rural girls (age group 4-12 years) have so far benefited through more than 500 formal and non-formal schools for girls setup by AlWS in the rural and remote areas of Thatta District and parts of district Badin, Hyderabad, Tando Mohd Khan & Malir under a unique project initiated and managed by ALWS. These schools could be found in the most unlikely places: on the top of mound; on a riverbank or near the seashore. The schools comprise of single room made of straw sticks and mud and some cemented. Aasthan Latif Welfare Society is the pioneers in Non-Formal Primary Education for rural girls in whole of Pakistan. Its Project served as model for other NGOs in Pakistan to open such schools as ours in all other areas/provinces.
Incredibly, single-minded devotion of Alasti, which some saw as sheer “madness” has borne fruit. Alasti has spread light of education among thousands of rural girls who otherwise didn’t have any access to schooling, through establishing and running community girls primary schools in the rural villages of Sindh, Pakistan.