How Sister Zeph's one-room school in Gujranwala became a global sensation

Published 26 May, 2016 11:44am

Images Staff

Shehzad Hameed's documentary on the school just bagged the best documentary award at New York Festivals

Sister Zeph sees girls getting an education as Pakistan's greatest hope. —Photo courtesy:
Sister Zeph sees girls getting an education as Pakistan's greatest hope. —Photo courtesy:

It seems like Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy isn't the only documentary filmmaker making waves worldwide.

Shehzad Hameed's Flight of the Falcons is about an extraordinary teacher, Riffat Arif, also known as Sister Zeph, who runs a school in Aroop, Gujranwala. The documentary chronicles her life and that of her three students as they struggle to fight against child marriage, corporal punishment and societal pressures to achieve a mutual dream: empowering young girls and women of the nation through education.

Read more: Pakistan's ‘Flight of the Falcons’ nominated for 2015 Asia-Pacific Child Rights Award

And it's getting the recognition it deserves; the film bagged the Gold Medal in the Best Documentary: Community Portraits category at the New York Festivals 2016 held last week. category

Talking to Images, Hameed shares what it was like: "With over 400 jury members representing more than 75 countries, it is one of the finest competitions to be nominated in and I’m the only Pakistani whose work was shortlisted for this years' race, especially in the documentary category."

"Very rarely do we find feel-good documentaries from Pakistan doing well at the global level and I feel extremely proud. One of my beliefs is to try to hire as many Pakistanis for my projects and give them exposure to the kind of work people experience at the international level."

Also read: Pakistan's banning spree continues as two documentaries axed for 'negative portrayals'

The filmmaker also updated us on how his documentary has impacted Sister Zeph's cause.

"Since the doc went on-air, the schools' cause received global limelight. The highlight of which came in 2015 when the Malala Fund decided to further the cause by writing about Sister Zeph and the documentary."

"The appeal to raise funds for the school went global. As a result, various people offered help. One American, Melee Kenworthy from Idaho joined the school and recently paid a visit to Gujranwala. Here, she brought gifts and school supplies for the girls, while offering them self-defence classes."

He adds, "At the moment, the school has gone on from a one-room run down place to a proper building with separate rooms for many activities such as stitching, beautician courses to regular school classes. You can routinely find Sister Zeph updating the school's Facebook page with exciting new updates."

Watch the 48-minute documentary here.