Having started a free school for underprivileged children in a small rented building in 2006, wife and husband duo Sadia Qamar Raja and Qaiser Ghaffar now run The House of Light School in a huge, sprawling building some 27 kilometres from the capital city’s centre in the Bain Nala neighbourhood in Union Council (UC) Pind Bagwal.
When the school was first started, it only offered nursery classes. Today, the school has 300 students from nursery through to the tenth standard and employs 20 teachers. According to locals and administrators of the school, students are provided with free education, uniforms, books, other study materials and lunch.
The school is affiliated with the Federal Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education and its students first appeared in Secondary School Certificate exams in 2016. One of its students, Aneeza Amanat, had obtained 943 marks in her exams.
The double storey building stands out in the area and is surrounded by greenery. It boasts play grounds and other state-of-the art facilities.
One of the co-owners, Qaiser Ghaffar, won the 2015 local government elections for UC Pind Bagwal chairmanship. He told Dawn the project is being run with the support of donors. He said anyone can ‘adopt’ a child and bear their monthly school expenses including books, uniform and lunch.
“Of our 300 students, 137 have been ‘adopted’ and their expenses are born by donors,” he said, adding that one student’s expenses come to Rs2,400 a month. The double-storey building of the school was also constructed with the help of donors, including the Japanese Government.
He said federal minister Dr Shireen Mazari, artists Shehla Rafi and Arjumand Faisal and former ambassador Afzal Akbar Khan are some of the donors and have been helping the school for many years.
The couple want to expand the school and plan to start a college as well in the same building and then move on to establishing a university for poor students.
“Education is our mission and passion. It gives us immense satisfaction that our school is contributing towards society,” Sadia Qamar Raja, who is also the principal of the school, said.
She added that the school only offers admission to students living within a 10km radius and only in nursery classes as it cannot handle a lot of students.
She said the only exceptions are orphaned students who are admitted throughout the year and in all classes. “I studies in Islamabad Model College for Girls F-7/4, which is considered one of the best public sector colleges in Islamabad. When our students are done with their matriculation, we help our female students get into that college and several of our former students are enrolled there,” she said.
“Let me tell you one thing, our society is very generous when it comes to spending for a good cause,” she added.
Administration and Finance Officer Ahmed Naeem Qadir said he is hopeful that the school will bring about a major change in the future of the rural area when its students start their professional lives after completing higher education.
He said poverty is one of the main reasons so many children are out of school. “We offer everything for free and poor parents are happy to enrol their children here. Every year, we receive more than the 30 applications for nursery class we can approve,” he said.
Mr Qadir said the school has a science laboratory, computer laboratory and sports equipment. He said the school has a transparent system and gets regular external audits to share with donors.
Originally published in Dawn, March 10th, 2019