By: Maryam Usman
ISLAMABAD: Veteran broadcast journalist Durdana Ansari has extended operations of her charity organistion Pearl Education Foundation from Britain to Pakistan, aiming at helping marginalised community of the society to weave them into the mainstream.
“We teach functional spoken English, reading, writing and computer skills among life-skills,” said Ansari who was honoured with the prestigious Order of British Empire. “Committed students go on to learn business and enterprise skills.”
By collaborating with local institutions and individuals, she plans to improvise the work the organisation has been doing in England since it was established in 2006.
Geared at enabling British-Muslim women to develop their leadership qualities, skills and acumen, thereby allowing them to achieve better economic integration. The project caters to people from different walks of life, backgrounds and cultures.
“The importance of this work goes beyond bringing these marginalised individuals into the mainstream. It is about their children, who surely cannot feel comfortable in their identity, especially if their mothers – a major influence in their lives – are unable to participate fully in the society,” the eminent journalist said.
According to her, the skills they acquire enable them to integrate into wider society, build self-confidence, go into higher education, gain employment and bridge the generational gap for enhancing the quality of life.
The project that was initially operating from centres in the United Kingdom, equips women with skills that are basic to their employability. The project was later expanded to centres in Bolton, Bristol, Bradford and Leicester besides five centres in London.
Limiting funds meant that by the end of 2009, classes were carried out on solely voluntary basis in London alone. The organsiation has recruited over 7,000 students and around 500 volunteers across Britain.
Rather than being in a cocoon, individuals from cosmopolitan cities of Pakistan should come forward to work for betterment of the society at large, said Ansari, who is engaging university students and young professionals as volunteers.
The organisation is working closely with International Foundation for Mother and Child Health, which offers free-of-charge healthcare services in Sindh’s Mirpur Sakro and HOPE (Health-Oriented Preventive Education) Foundation, a non-government organisation in Lahore.
“Some of the women in these localities do not even know basic Urdu, so we are working towards enhancing their language skills at all levels and making them aware of health and wellness by communicating their issues in an effective manner,” the journalist said, alluding to communication barriers among mothers and daughters owing to cultural stigma.
While volunteers in England have held Skype classes with students in Karachi’s neighbourhood Korangi, she said, adding that there is need to bridge geographical gaps by bringing them closer. “Plans are afoot to collaborate with schools on the outskirts of Rawalpindi.”
By engaging volunteers such as college students into mentoring activities, Ansari aims to bridge socio-economic gaps and eliminate stereotypes. “We want to educate mothers and young girls for them to help their children to stay away from extremism and this can only come about through enlightenment at a grassroots level.”
But with such lofty plans, the organisation lacks any proper structure or long-term planning in the country. “We still need resources, dedicated office space and volunteers to take this forward,” she said, adding, “I welcome businessmen and academicians to come forth and join this noble cause.”