Pakistan has one of the world’s worst literacy rates. Official figures would rate it at more than 50 percent, but many who work in the education field know it falls short of even 40 percent. The illiteracy problem was on our minds when St. Paul’s High School in the Shadbagh section of Lahore was opened in 1989.
When Columbans established a parish in Shadbagh in 1985, we conducted an exhaustive survey of all families in the new parish, asking them about their unmet needs. Most parishioners are sanitary workers, or “sweepers,” a role that carries a stigma in Pakistan society and socially and economically excludes Christians in a nation that is 97 percent Muslim. The parishioners said they wanted a school because they knew that education would help them break the cycle of poverty and achieve a better life for their families.
The school began slowly with the building of one block of 10 classrooms and an office.
We quickly outgrew the space, and some classes were held out in the open in the cold of winter and the extreme heat of summer. So, a second block of six classrooms was added in 1997, and a third extension in 1999 added eight more classrooms, a staff room, a science laboratory and offices. The school now has 675 students, both girls and boys, and now offers high school classes.
Building Understanding & Fulfilling Potential.
Religious intolerance is a hallmark of Pakistani society and is a growing problem worldwide. From the beginning, there has been a policy to integrate Christians and Muslims and have them working side by side in the classroom. Now, 25 percent of the students and many of the teachers are Muslim, including Miss Lubna who is the principal of the senior section and has been on the staff since the beginning.
We continually try to build up understanding and mutual acceptance of each other’s faith. It is our hope that we will be the foundation of a better and more tolerant society.
The school is unable to cover its expenses and has been assisted by the generosity of Columban benefactors over the years. The economic situation recently has worsened because of the dire economic situation of most parishioners for whom the daily reality is either low- paid menial work or unemployment.
Added to this is the reality that many parents are themselves illiterate and are not convinced of the value of education. In most families, educating a child lies in direct competition with feeding the child—they are simply unable to do both.
Despite the many difficulties, many good things are happening at St.Paul’s High School. It is wonderful to see so many poor children given the opportunity to fulfil their potential and to see friendships between Muslims and Christians both in the classroom and the staff room.
Many children who attend our school become the first generation in their families to achieve literacy. Some of the teachers, such as Miss Irm, Miss Rehana, Miss Usma, are past pupils of St. Paul’s and are passing on the gift of education they have received to others. Education has made a world of difference to the lives of children and families in Shadbagh, and we now ask you to help us ensure that we can continue giving this gift.
Please help Columban Father Liam O’Callaghan provide an education to poor Pakistani children. Your tax-deductible donation will help St. Paul’s High School in Shadbagh, Lahore, keep its doors open.