On 13th December 1997, a tragic and somber day, a day of honor and hope, a young flight lieutenant of the Pakistan Air Force named Rashid Ahmed Khan made a choice that proved his courage and his unfailing loyalty towards his nation and its people. When his Mirage unexpectedly caught on fire, instead of immediately ejecting from the plane, he chose to guide it away from the populated city of Karachi sprawled below and, in doing so, he chose to sacrifice his life for ours. A young, brave life, the only son of his parents, Shabbir and Khursheed Khan, was snatched from this Earth by the cruel hands of Death. But what he didn’t know was that the people he left behind would work and work hard to keep his memory alive. And so from the ashes and sparks of that fire of destruction and death was born a new dream and a new vision and a new life.
To quote Mr. Shabbir, the father of Rashid Khan, ‘When I went down to the AF academy in Risalpur for a graduation ceremony, among the guests gathered there, some were my comrades-in-arms in the war of 1965. I sat down with them and told them I have an idea in my mind of building an ideal city in a rural village, a project that I believed in.’
Those words become the inscription on the birthstone of Rashidabad, for exactly one year after the tragic death of Rashid Khan, on 13th December 1998, the foundation stone of Rashidabad was laid by the then Governor Sindh General Moinuddin Haider.
Mr. Shabbir and his circle of retired army officers gave their respective army pensions for the culmination of this dream and together they bought 100 acres of land, at a 6km distance from the village of Tando Allahyar with an initial fund of Rs. 2.5 crore.
Rashidabad was born.
The devoted, dedicated, faithful people working in Rashidabad focus their energy on three major sectors of socio-economic progress and upliftment; education, health and hygiene and providing services to the poor and needy, specifically physically handicapped children.
Rashidabad has three major schools, with a total population of 2200 students, which are driven to provide quality education to its pupils to ensure their highest level of personality development and to make them loyal, productive citizens of Pakistan.
The Sargodhian Spirit Trust (SST) public school is a venture of the PAF Public School Sargodha Old Boys Association and has an open merit system to encourage the best students from all over Pakistan to apply and continue their education from sixth grade to IGCSE A-level. The school is built on a vast area of land and I think the best way to describe it would be as a small city within a city. SST boasts of a national level swimming pool, three lush green football fields and hockey fields and a small zoo with the cutest little white rabbits hopping around, noses twitching in the air. 25% of the student population is on merit scholarships. They have state-of-the-art science laboratories, an informative library and an auditorium with a seating capacity of 1000 people. When I walked into the room, I felt as if I had walked into the set of the famous Bollywood film Student of the Year.
The grounds of the school also include a dining hall where students are encouraged to maintain discipline and punctuality and four individual houses that accommodate the resident students with a capacity for 100 students each and in-house offices for the House master, Trainer master and two more important positions that our guide told us about and I promptly forgot the name of as I was too busy looking around in wide-eyed wonder and awe. That school must be where J.K Rowling got her idea and inspiration of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter series from.
The second institution is the Khawaja Yaqub Khan academy which caters to 900 students from a diverse socio-economic background and provides them schooling from kindergarten to matric level. This school also provides free tuition and accommodation including living and studying expenses to those children who come from financially weak families.
During my stay there I met two sisters, Neha and Priya, whose parents are in Karachi and the mother works as a maid at a household that agreed to finance the education of these children. They study at YK academy and live in a girl’s hostel with a capacity of 250 girls with four beds in each room. They are Hindus but they pray five times a day and the elder sister even teaches the younger students the proper recitation of Quran. They are taught to believe in the equality of men in the eyes of God and they carry this lesson with them wherever they go. They talk to their parents once every week and the most profound thing to note is that they call the people working in Rashidabad using familial titles such as Abba or Dadi.
Dadi over here refers to a mature, senior woman with a strong spirit and a kind heart. Shaista Apa is the most humble, compassionate and considerate person that I have ever had the fortune to meet. Despite having seen her fair share of tragedies in life, she is down-to-earth and modest, her belief in Allah is steadfast and she welcomed us with a beaming smile and open arms. Seeing her as the incredible woman that she is, I easily believed our guide Mr. Javed when he told us all the children of Rashidabad run to her with the smallest of scrapes and bruises yelling, ‘Dadi! Dadi!’ and find comfort in her calming presence.
With the light of hope and faith shining in their eyes, Neha and Priya told me they want to study very hard and grow up to become a doctor and a lawyer respectively. Such small hands and feet, such big dreams and visions. I wish them the very best on this sometimes tough but ultimately rewarding journey of life.
Rashidabad also has a branch of The Citizen Foundation Ruhab Kassam Campus responsible for shaping and building the future of 900 students with education and extra-curricular activities meant to engage and enhance every aspect of their development.
An academic complex housing a secondary and higher secondary school with a residential teacher training campus is also being built.
HEALTH AND HYGIENE:-
I woke up early in the morning and after offering my Fajar prayers, camera in hand, I went in search of peace. But what I realized two seconds later as I step foot out of the compound we were residing in was that peace in Rashidabad could be found in every sparkling crook and dust-free cranny and it was because of the people that lived there. As I strolled along the quiet, clean roads, my breath fogging the air ahead of me, I could hear the silence calling to me, the peace enveloping me, the calmness surrounding me.
It was there in the way the white geese were frolicking in the water under the bridge and the ducks were swimming in the lake. It was there in the embrace two men stopped to share with each other before going to work in different directions. It was there in the way I sat on the cool marble of the Masjid Shahbazi and watched the sun rise high in the sky, the golden rays bathing the early morning joggers and laborers, the dense mist evaporating like a silken sheet slowly unveiling a masterpiece.
And a masterpiece it was- the art of Rashidabad painted by two artists who saw beauty in hopelessness, tragedy and grief. Who chose to not only move on but move on with a purpose-to serve and provide. They dream of establishing an ideal city like Rashidabad in rural areas in all four provinces of Pakistan.
In the health sector, the Fatimid foundation has opened a blood bank and hospital which provides free of cost treatment to Thalassemia patients and the LRBT eye hospital which treats nearly 300 patients daily with 50 surgeries in a day.
The Bilquis Mushaf hospital has 200 beds for patients and treatments are offered at an extremely subsidized rate to the poor people who come from nearby rural villages while a Zakat fund provides free services to the needy. When we were walking along the corridors of the maternity ward, a sudden, unexpected cry rent the air and a few moments later a nurse came out carrying a baby swaddled in a blue blanket. She stopped to let us have a look as the family members watched on with face-splitting smiles of pride and joy and in that atmosphere of suffering and pain, that small baby was a ray of innocence and a hope for a better future.
Two separate institutions have been built in Rashidabad for the physically impaired children, one is the Deaf Reach and the other is IDA-RIEU Sultan Ali campus for 200 visually impaired boys and girls along with an in-campus residential facility.
While we were touring the school, we met with a very respectful and unassuming senior teacher named Mohammad Shakir. He demonstrated the Braille writing system that the blind use to learn and told us that this system has made it possible for them to learn Arabic, English and other languages and a vast array of subjects. His passion for teaching and his zeal and zest for life shone through his words even as he told us about the accident that stole his eyesight. He quite humbly shared his experience as a customer service provider at a call center and his enjoyment and satisfaction at being able to work and support himself and his loved ones was inspirational and stimulating. Two cheerful and robust women who were a part of the teaching staff, namely Miss Mariam and Miss Sobia, were also the epitome of dedication and hospitality.
A Darul Sukun campus for 250 mentally and physically disadvantaged children and a senior citizens home for 100 residents is in its planning stages.
Sixteen residential houses, fifty family complexes for doctors and teachers and another twenty-four apartments for the staff have been built.
The AMZI home financed by the Mustafa benevolent trust houses 300 destitute orphans and 70 widows or senior citizens.
A number of other welfare projects are working at a steady pace to improve the living standards of the rural population such as project Al-Maida which provides healthy meals for patients, AMZI plant that filters 5000 gallons of water a day, The Hunar Foundation intent on developing the vocational skills of students and financial loans are provided to young entrepreneurs and graduates at no interest by Batool Shah micro finance.
Rashidabad also focuses on recreational activities and sports as an important aspect of growth. While we were staying there, the annual Junior Open squash championship was taking place at the Rehana Nazar squash complex and we spent quite a few enjoyable hours in that house alternately cheering and groaning at the win and loss of our favorite players, a few among them included Fawad Khan, Hamza and Zeshan, who went on to win the championship. The energy filling the two courts seemed to spill from the gaps in the glass and get absorbed into the souls of the audience sitting at the edge of their benches; hands clenched tightly into fists and rapid breaths held in anticipation. And then a deafening roar of victory that would shake the rafters. A pat on the back of the defeated player and a handshake was never forgotten though, those few moments of a shared struggle displaying their honor and sportsmanship.
I met a number of talented squash players that had also gone abroad to represent Pakistan in international competitions and won awards too. These people are the building blocks of our country, the foundation on which the success of our nation will be built and Rashidabad is striving to polish and shine their core to bring out the light within. Among the many players a few included the reigning champion of last year, Saifullah, who also played basketball with Russia a few years back and Medina who won many squash competitions with great skill and alacrity.
Saqib Iqbal was another young, spirited player who holds the post of a lieutenant in the Pakistani army, works hard from dawn to dust and has participated in various squash competitions including US, Asian and Red Crescent Squash championships in 2016.
When I was leaving Rashidabad and we were standing at the gates waiting for the Daewoo bus to arrive with Mr. Shabbir, Mr. Javed, Mr. Mustafa and a few others who had kindly come to bid us farewell, I looked back with a heavy heart at the city of peace, knowledge and safety and what I saw behind the clusters of buildings, beneath the layers of cement and plaster, buried in the clear, rippling waters of the lake was that the students, workers and residents of Rashidabad had come together to create a beautiful community, but more than that, together they had created a family.
In the end, I would like to offer my sincerest gratitude to all our hosts at Rashidabad who made us feel very welcomed and comfortable throughout our stay, especially Mr. Shabbir and Mrs. Khursheed and the members of the junior staff. A special note of thanks to my aunt, Rashida Habibi, for the dedicated and selfless work that she has done (and is still doing) throughout her life. Without you, I would have never known Rashidabad existed.