TCF Management in conversation with the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation
MANILA, Philippines – Ordinary people are capable of doing extraordinary things.
In fact, for The Citizen’s Foundation (TCF), one of the recipients of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Awards, it is the ordinary people who should be doing the extraordinary things.
“That is what they are capable of,” said Ateed Riaz, one of the founders of TCF, in an interview with The STAR yesterday. “It’s just the opportunity to do special things that is needed.”
“Ordinary people, normal people, we don’t know who has the potential. Our job is to train, to teach everybody and open windows in everybody’s mind,” he said.
“We used to sit and observe the city. We found a lot of children, coming up, trying to sell us flowers, wash our cars. Where do they come from? Why don’t they go to school? That pushed us,” said Riaz.
“One of our mottos is take children off the streets and bring them to schools,” he said.
Using their own money, the founders of TCF built its first five schools patterned after the private formal schools that they have attended.
Riaz recalled how they wanted to give the children – even those who are underprivileged – the same experience that they had when they were young: assemblies in the morning, corridors, airy classrooms, and good teachers.
“We want to return this to the children, those who can’t afford it. We needed to return the gifts that were given to us. This is our humble contribution to the society,” he said.
This humble contribution, almost two decades later, has touched the lives of over 300,000 students across the country.
“I think in years to come, we’ll be touching an additional 15 to 20 thousand every year. In 10 years, you’re looking at maybe two million children,” added Riaz.
But the challenge is far from over: Riaz says five to six million children in Pakistan – out of 20 million – do not go to school. And the number grows by the millions each year.
“We need a lot of investment in education,” he said. “Education is changing the way people live. It is changing the way people interact.”
“We want every child from our school to deal with another person with dignity, irrespective of religion, economic class, political affiliation. Treat the other human being with dignity, with respect,” he said.
“We believe that access to basic education is the right of each individual and not a privilege. Apart from following the regular curriculum, we focus on the character building of students to equip them with high moral values and confidence,” it said.
TCF, according to Riaz, brings the schools to the community instead of asking the children to go to schools.
“If the school is within half a kilometer to where they live, we discover that they come to school. We build the school in the heart of the neighborhood,” he said.
This set-up also works well with TCF’s commitment to equal opportunity, with Riaz saying more girls are going to schools when these are located near where they live.
“In our country, we need more girls in school,” Riaz added, noting that TCF schools try to maintain an equal ratio of male and female students.
All of their 7,700 teachers are also females, aimed at encouraging the girls to attend classes.
“We wanted to empower the women of Pakistan because they are very smart, intelligent,” Riaz said.
“We have a counseling desk. We have volunteers and paid staff who look after them. Our children have started going into higher education. Many colleges have our children,” said Riaz.
For TCF, illiteracy is the root cause of poverty.
“People who have learned to read and write are more attentive to hygiene and health, less fatalistic and are more likely to turn to a doctor in time of need,” said the organization on its website.
“Hungry people need to be fed, but also need to be able to earn their own living. The sick need a cure, but must also be taught to avoid the unhygienic practices that make them ill. The old adage – prevention is better than the cure – needs to be re-taught and adhered to again,” it said.
Riaz said that it is a “beautiful feeling” every time they hear of success stories among their students.
One graduate, he shared, has just finished a three-month summer internship at Harvard University in the United States. Around 300 teachers now employed by the foundation were their students who decided to return and share the gift of education.
Riaz said that receiving the Ramon Magsaysay Award makes them feel extremely humbled and honored.
“We will be humble and we shall approach more donors and more teachers with this good news and ask them to join the movement,” he said.
From their original goal of reaching 1,000 schools, which they have achieved, Riaz said they are now targeting to help a million students.
“The ultimate objective is to have every child in Pakistan not only going to school but coming out of school,” he said. “This foundation belongs to the people of Pakistan.”
According to him, TCF is very much willing to help people who wish to establish similar organizations in their respective countries, stressing the need for more organizations which can help the government in fulfilling its duties.
“The idea is to help the government do a better job. Maybe the government can learn from them,” he said.
“This is important. We have to believe that every individual is important and extraordinary. We don’t know which one of these is the genius, or the selfless leader,” he said. “And the world needs more selfless leaders.”