By: SAHER BALOCH
KARACHI: A block away from the Nation Secondary School in Ittehad Town lives 11-year-old Attiya Ali, who survived the attack on the school in March.
With both her feet paralysed, after getting a bullet wound that resulted in a spinal injury, Attiya is slowly making progress. With the help of leg braces, she leans against a wall every day for about 20 minutes as her parents and 16-year-old brother stand by to support her.
Lying on her bed, with the trophies she won at the prize distribution ceremony on a small stool behind her, Attiya says she aspires to be a teacher. “This is what I want to be. By then, I might be able to walk even,” she starts off shyly.
Attiya spent three months in hospital, eventually shifted onto a stretcher for two months and now to a wheelchair.
Her teacher, Hajra Gul, 26, who now handles the affairs of the school, said she tried to hold onto Attiya when the shootings started. “As all of us dashed towards nearby rooms, Attiya missed one of her shoes in the main hall. Being a child, she went back to fetch it and got hit by a bullet,” she adds, feeling a bit guilty for what happened to her.
Since the attack on the school, all six of Attiya’s siblings are staying at home as the father says he cannot pay their school fees. Getting defensive, her father, Arshad Ali, says: “I earn just Rs15,000 a month by working in a floor mill. Most of my earnings are spent on her treatment and transport to the hospital. It doesn’t save us much to spend on education. It’s not like I don’t want to educate them.”
“My biggest wish is to see my daughter back on her feet,” Attiya’s mother, Khair Un Nisa, said while blinking away tears. Not educated herself, and neither her husband, she is at present making him understand the good their children’s education would do. Switching to Pashto while speaking, she said: “We can’t afford their education. I have accepted that. But I can’t afford to see them become militants either.”
Low on funds, high on hopes
The deserted street leading up to the Nation Secondary School gives an impression that the school is closed for the day. But on getting closer, the sound of children’s laughter and noise from inside the school makes all doubts go away.
Recently made principal of the school, Rasheed Ahmed’s nephew, Aftab Ahmed, is very much aware of his new responsibilities. One of them is to win the trust of the parents around the neighbourhood to send their children to the school.
Though the school is functioning moderately, points out Aftab, the children and their parents are still jittery and get scared even by the slight sound from around the school.
“Just a day ago there was a short circuit in one of the electric meters close to the school,” says Aftab. “The sound, though not much, scared the students enough to run out of their classes.” The parents, he adds, are no better. If the school does not conclude on time, parents gather around the school, anxious to know what is happening.
The school has done away with the second shift after the number of girls attending the school decreased. There is only the morning shift now. “Most of the children studying here are getting free education as they can’t pay the Rs350 fee. But we are fine as long as they are sending them to the school.”
Aftab speaks about everything but gets flared up when asked about the existing threat to the school. “See, if they say there are the Taliban in the area, why they are not being arrested? I heard the reason we were attacked was because Malala Yousafzai visited the school. Who knows? Why should I stop living or doing what I want to do because of them or anyone for that matter?”
However, there is a silver lining amid the uncertainty, adds Hajra Gul, pointing out that in recent months 150 students were enrolled in the school. “We are low on funds and don’t have enough space inside the school and yet parents keep sending their kids here. I think this is an achievement,” she says smilingly.
At present the school has 14 female teachers and three male teachers, who teach around 450 students inside the school.