After attending numerous ASER trainingssessions, it was finally the day I would get to experience the field. Master trainers from all over Punjab would demonstrate all they had learned about the do’s and don’ts of the ASER survey while the ASER team would monitor their understanding of how to conduct it.
It was a hot august morning as we set out from the hotel at jail road - where the participants were staying - to a village a mere 30 minutes away. Our protocol was that our group would first visit a public school in the village to survey it, and then split up in pairs of two to carry out the household survey. Upon entering the village, I saw happy and innocent faces of children running around playing in the narrow streets who showed us the way to the school with much enthusiasm.
The survey filling process in the school was done as a group activity after which myself and two master trainers separated from the group to survey a house within the village. We were let into a small house by a couple who had been living in the village for over fifteen years. Bakhtiyaar and his wife, parents to five children, four girls and a boy were immensely hospitable and welcoming. They were more than happy to answer our questions regarding their children’s education, three of whom were of the school going age, while two were under the age of three. As we continued talking about education, Bakhtiyaar began to tell us about the financial difficulty he currently faced in sending his older three to school and only God knew how he would be able to send his youngest son and daughter once they were of the age. He spoke of all the false promises that were made to him and his fellow villagers by politicians of the area about providing their children free and quality education. The government’s failure to supply free books, stationary and uniforms made it very difficult for Bakhtiyaar and so many like him who earned a living through wage labor to send all his children to school. What struck me the most in my conversation with him was how important he felt education was for his children – something he had grossly been deprived of –not only to secure better futures for themselves, but also so they could provide relief to other people “much like I was proving to be a voice for him and his children”. He wanted education for his children so they could play their part in making Pakistan a more prosperous country. My conversation with Bakhtiyaar also convinced me that lack of education in Pakistan was not a demand problem. Many such Bakhtiyaar’s in our rural areas realized the dire need to educate their children and send them to school, regardless of gender, however, poverty and a tragically weak system of public education stood in their way.
As we finished our survey and a touching conversation with the family, I left the house with a heavy heart as there was so little I could do for the five children who had been deprived of the basic amenities that we too often take for granted. However, Bakhtiyaar’s optimism and belief in the fact that his children would gain an education and help those around them reminded me that I did not get to lose hope. Not when the people who have so little were willing to give so much back to their community. Their hope gave me a reason to believe in this beautiful country we call home.