Rob Bavington, our CEO, left for Pakistan on 3rd November, together with his nephew Dan. It is the first visit any of us from the UK have been able to make since the start of the pandemic and it has been a busy three weeks involving a lot of travelling to see 15 of the schools and projects supported by Starfish Asia.
This article contains some of Rob’s reports and reflections. I started by asking him what he thought were the three main benefits of his visit.
“First and above all, it has given me a new connection and a heart for the schools and students we are supporting. It has given me fresh energy to understand their needs. Secondly, I have a better understanding of what the Lahore office team are facing, and how we can best support them. And thirdly, it’s all about relationship — meeting the staff, the project leaders, Danishmand and Jasmine. All very useful.”
Visiting schools in southern Punjab
It is a seven-hour drive to the town of Khanpur in southern Punjab. Rob and Dan, accompanied by Danishmand, Jasmine and Rafaqat, visited several schools on the way down, and stayed two nights in Multan. I am picking up a feeling for the difference from school to school. Not all schools are equally equipped. Why do some work better and others work less well? We came to St. Paul’s School in a village called Stuntzabad. Most of the students’ parents work in the fields. The school is absolutely fantastic. I asked the principal if he was married. “No,” he said, “I’m not married. I am married to the school.” He teaches in the school and goes out of his way to make sure his teachers are supported and the students are doing well.
“We arrived late, but were greeted by children and teachers. Shama, the principal, showed us round the new building, which is very nearly complete. This will give the school three more classrooms, two washrooms and living accommodation upstairs. Six teachers are adequately qualified and all are graduates of Gordon School. They cover nursery to year 8, giving 86 pupils a good start in education.”
Over the past two weeks we have visited about 15 schools and homes. How different they are from each other! The difference is in leadership. One may be thriving, but another is just not making progress. If we can invest appropriately with these leaders, then there is great hope for all the schools to give much better results.
Reflections on Leadership “We want to work really hard to get alongside those leaders who may have started their school because they had a vision for their community, but they do not have the know-how to do it well. If we find that some are not gifted, we will work to get people alongside them, so their students can get the best possible chance in life. The main thrust of the coming year must be teacher and management development. Jasmine and Rafaqat will prioritise certain schools.”
Success for Sana This amazing young lady has struggled against the odds, discouraged by her parents and forced to work in a factory. With the encouragement of a head teacher she managed to pass her Matric exam with 808/1100. Moments like this make all we do seem so worthwhile. Rewarded and honoured for hard work and success.
The Star Shine School, Lahore
I was really impressed with this school. The principal, Elishba, is not personally highly qualified, but she understands basic education and she has a lot of drive. The kids knew their stuff. We asked them questions —and they could give good answers. It is a very cramped space (they clearly need some extra classrooms) but obviously learning was taking place. The teachers are all fairly well qualified.
Progress of Life School, Faisalabad
“Some schools we visited are in really poor areas. To get to this village school we passed by an open drain, which smelled horribly. There was rubbish everywhere. The building was tiny and cramped. And yet the leader of the school has got a fantastic vision. He has a genuine heart for the education of the children in the area. You just get a sense that they want to make a difference. The challenge for us is to support and work with them so that the conditions of the school and the standards of teaching are sufficient to make a real difference.
The School of Hope, Faisalabad
“We visited three schools in Faisalabad, about three hours south of Lahore. One of them was the Marjorie School of Hope. If you can see beyond the crowded conditions, it actually proved to be quite a good place for learning. The teachers were quite well qualified and had begun to put into practice some of the principles that Jasmine had shared in the Leaders’ training a few weeks ago. There is of course room for improvement.
A fresh perspective (Dan’s Interview)
Dan is 19 years old and the nephew of Rob Bavington, Starfish CEO. Dan accompanied Rob to Pakistan as part of his Gap Year. We asked:
Q1. What were your observations when visiting schools?
My most striking and memorable observation at all the schools was the gratitude from pupils and staff for the support that Starfish provides, most clearly displayed in the elaborate welcome ceremonies.
Q2. What would you say is the biggest challenge for Starfish in terms of improving schools?
The most striking problem is the drop-out of students as they reach the older years, because many poor families either don’t value education or can’t afford to keep their children in school. Some parents don’t believe that school will lead to a more prosperous career and this narrow vision has been passed down to the students, who have a limited range of careers they aspire to.
Q3. What was the highlight of your trip?
The highlight of my school visits was St. Paul’s school and having lunch with pastor Shamaun Masih. He has no children of his own, but passionately explained how the school was his ‘child’, which for me was one of the most powerful things I heard in all 3 weeks. I also enjoyed visiting Abba Home. Project leader Ashraf prided himself on the fact that the girls run much of the ins and outs of the home, from looking after pets to the cooking. This gave each girl a great sense of purpose.
Q4. How have you been impacted by what you saw and learnt?
I have a greater appreciation of how fortunate I am to be in my position in the UK. I use the visit as a reminder to be more grateful for all I have, and less naive when considering someone else’s circumstances. The work of Starfish honestly changes so many lives, so even when challenges seem too large, don’t forget your impact.
Liz EllisStarfish Asia 1200 627
20 December 2021
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