There is no shortage of criticism of the NGO sector in Pakistan. Stories of mismanagement of funds, corruption and a failure to deliver whatever goods were promised, abound. Despite the often negative press there are thousands of organisations large and small that do deliver the goods, and one of those doing the delivering in considerable quantity is The Citizens Foundation (TCF).

What they deliver is education, and they are almost breathtakingly good at it. They now have a presence in every province, with schools in 83 towns and cities. As of April 2011 there are 730 schools and 102,000 students, with an almost 50/50 gender ratio. Additionally, by the end of this year they will have about 4,800 adults learning to read and write in 140 centres nationwide. All their teachers are women, the schools are all built to a high standard and the TCF owns the land all the schools are built on.

Teacher absenteeism is very low compared to government and many other private schools, and most of the schools have a awaiting list of children seeking admission. All of the teachers have received training and training is ongoing throughout every teacher’s period of employment. All the schools are located in urban slums or impoverished rural areas.

For such a large organisation their office staffing is low — 280 against 5,400 faculty staff and 2,500 school support staff. The TCF publishes regular newsletters and their accounts are both transparent and annually audited by a reputable auditor. So good is their bookkeeping they have won awards for it — most recently the International Award by the South Asian Federation of Accounts (SAFA). The organisation has pledged to enrol an additional 10,000 out of school children in 2012.

Clearly the TCF is a success. So how do they do it - deliver quality education at a price that even the very poor are prepared to pay? The answer lies in the pockets of the Pakistan diaspora and in the vision of the people who set the scheme up in 1995. Organisationally they are one of the few Pakistan NGOs to have a professional management team coupled with high levels of governance.

This ensures that standards are maintained and the ethical values of the organisation secured. From the outset the schools have been co-educational and the curriculum, whilst in line with whatever local requirements are, is modified and updated regularly in order to give students the best possible educational experience — a better experience than many children from much more privileged backgrounds might get. And all made possible by the generosity of people of Pakistani origin worldwide.

One of our unsung strengths is our generosity, but we often wonder where it is that our money is going whenever we donate to a seemingly worthy cause. With TCF donors know where their hard-earned money is going, there are tangible results.

I cast my critical eye over two TCF schools recently, one of them their maiden project in a desperately poor part of Karachi, home to Bengali-speaking fisherfolk. I have lost count of the number of schools I have visited in Pakistan over almost 20 years, from the deserts of south Punjab to the mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan. It would be fair to say that I have a well-developed sense of cynicism, and rarely find that the education being delivered is much beyond mediocre even in some of the more expensive schools I have seen. But with the TCF — and this was my first visit to TCF schools - clearly there is something very different in the works.

Entering from noisome foetid alleys the school was a point of light. There were green plants everywhere that looked like somebody actually cared for them (also present in the second much larger school I visited that day) and the courtyard was festooned with students artwork. A smiling Principal led the tour. Class sizes were a little over thirty and the classrooms were light and airy. The children were confident and seemed happy at their work and the teachers were attentive, listening to what the children had to say. Textbooks were of outstanding quality — some of the best I have seen in Pakistan — likewise the equipment in the classrooms. There was no sense of make-do or second-best anywhere.

And there was a little pot on a desk. A pot of ointment to ease the soreness of the hands of the children who shell shrimps when they are not at their lessons. That little pot perhaps told me more about the TCF than any annual report or website. It spoke volumes about caring, of a sense of simple humanity, of kindness, of an organisation that got the detail right in the context of the big picture. The quiet success of The Citizens Foundation is something we can all be proud of, because they really are building a better future.



Why They Are Different?
TCF claims to be different. Why? here is their explanation:


1.          Education for the masses - All our schools are located in urban slums and rural areas of Pakistan. These are areas characterized by extreme poverty, where people neither have the means nor access to quality education.

2.          National presence - We are present in 83 different locations nationally, with enrollment of 102,000 students

3.       Mission -

          o          Quality Education

          o          Better Future

          Through the power of quality education enabling moral, spiritual, and intellectual enlightenment. Creating opportunities to improve quality of life.

4.          Professional management - We are one of the few non-profit organizations in Pakistan that are professionally managed by a team of highly dedicated managers and staff employed on a full-time basis.

5.       High level of governance - We have been assigned a non-profit organization governance rating of GR8+ by JCR-VIS Credit Rating Co Ltd. These ratings are based on a scale ranging from GR-1 (lowest) to GR-10 (highest). The assigned rating denotes a high level of governance in TCF.

6.          Certified by Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy - We have been certified by the PCP after a detailed desk review, field evaluation and approved by their Certification Panel. Certification by PCP is a seal for organizations that exhibit exemplary standards in organizational effectiveness. TCF is amongst the highest scoring organisations certified by PCP to date.

7.          Purpose built schools - Our schools are designed by reputed firms of architects and are complete with a library, art room and all essential facilities such as water, electricity, toilets, play area, furniture etc.

8.          Scholarships & assistance - Scholarship upto 95% may be provided to all needy students, resulting in many students paying as little Rs 10 per month. Books and uniforms are heavily subsidized and provided at easy installments.

9.       Co-education system with a balanced gender ratio - Female student representation in our schools in most cases is 50%.

10.          Comprehensive & dynamic curriculum - Although our schools follow a curriculum in line with the officially prescribed syllabus by the board of their respective region, it is suitably modified and regularly updated to meet the demands of modern-day education. This is done to ensure that students in TCF schools receive the most up-to-date education available.

11.     Regular quality assessment -€“TCF Education Program is regularly evaluated through periodic inspections and assessments to ensure that the quality of education delivery is up to TCF prescribed high standards.

12.          Trained teachers an a dedicated teacher training centre - Education in our schools is imparted through formally trained teachers, hired strictly on merit basis. TCF organizes an extensive Pre-Service Training (PRESET) for its new staff every year. This training is spread over 100 hours of various modules dealing with child psychology, learning styles, assessment methods and child-centered teaching strategies. Apart from PRESET, rigorous In-Service Training (INSET) is conducted every summer to keep our existing faculty abreast with new trends and pedagogy in teaching.

13.          Complete education under one system - Our students have the opportunity to obtain complete primary and secondary education (up to Grade X) under one schooling system, thereby giving them consistency in environment as well as the quality of education.

14.     No discrimination - Our education program is open to all persons and communities, regardless of their race, color, creed, religion or location.

15.          Promoting women employment - We only hire female faculty and presently there are 5, 400 teachers and principals across all our schools.

16.     The education panacea - Through education, TCF aims to transform children’s lives in many distinct ways -€“better health care, family planning, and a tolerant and positive attitude towards society.

— Courtesy -





Making dreams a reality

By Sidrah Roghay

Sidra Saleem is the only student in her class at school who has made it to university. She wears a lab coat, and the confidence she carries herself with hides the years of struggle she has put in to get into a medical university.

She began her schooling from kindergarten, when The Citizen Foundation opened a school in the deprived area of Ibrahim Goth. The experience changed her life. “It was the first school in the area. The neighbourhood had no roads, and the nearest bus stop is a 30- minute walk,” she says. 

Sidra is the middle child of her family, and has four siblings. In their own ways, all of them have done well academically. The oldest is a sister, enrolled in an MBA programme at Bahria University. Then there is a brother Nadeem Hussain who is currently at the prestigious Institute of Business Administration and then Sidra, a first year student at Dow University of Health Sciences. Sidra made it to the highly competitive Dow purely on merit as did her siblings. The youngest two, like their older brother and sisters, are also studying at The Citizen Foundation, and they too dare to dream big.

The younger sister wants to go to the Lahore University of Management Sciences, and the youngest of the lot goes a mile ahead — he dreams of Harvard.

If it had not been for the Citizen Foundation, these children would have never seen their dreams take shape.

When Nadeem completed his intermediate, he gave the test for the IBA, but he had no idea about the fee structure, and the scholarship programme at the university. He holds Ishrat Hussain, the Dean of the IBA, in high esteem, because when TCF contacted him he was “very cooperative”. Nadeem received admission not only on zero tuition fees, but the scholarship came with free logistic and transport, which “no other student at IBA is receiving currently,” he claims. Books were still a problem, so he applied for the National Talent Hunt Programme at the IBA which will extend the scholarship to course books and a monthly stipend as well. Currently, living at the IBA boys’ hostel, he is waiting for his Bachelors’ to end, after which he says, “I will think of specializing further”.

Sidra, meanwhile, is grateful to both her parents and her teachers for her success. “The only reason I was able to get into a medical school was because my parents supported me and my teachers guided me to proper intermediate colleges,” Sidra says.  The others from her class either dropped out because of financial pressures, or scored too low in their intermediate “because of the state of colleges in the city”.

“Often poor families tell their girls to sit at home, because most colleges are too far away, and there was no access to public transport in the area. But my father was different. He would excuse himself from the wire factory he works in, and walk for 30 minutes with me to the bus stop”.

Looking around her neighbourhood saddens her, “because a lot of talent goes to waste due to lack of facilities. Ironically, there are students at my university who have scored 80 percent in their intermediate but fail to impress me. There were smarter students in my class. They should have been here, not them”. 

The family from Ibrahim Goth is like a lotus in a stagnant pond; they stand out from the rest, because their children dream and their parents help them live up to their dreams. Their children walk with confidence and do not hide their humble background in the affluent crowd they are moving in today, because “it takes time to settle in”, but then they got where they are on ‘pure merit’.  The Citizens Foundation School they went to gave them the confidence and opportunity to shine.

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