On the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, there is a neighborhood a world away from the luxury cars, private schools, and orderly streets in the capital. Here, around a Sufi shrine called Bari Imam, mud-brick houses line the dirt roads, little boys with dirty faces offer to wash cars for less than a dollar, and girls in torn dupattas, long scarves, try to sell flowers to people who come to pray at the shrine.
But not far from the shrine is a school that provides education and solace to these street children, who otherwise would face abuse by gangs that operate in the area. Zeba Husain, the founder of Mashal School, is greeted enthusiastically by the students as she walks in the gates with a smile. There is a never-ending flow of people to her office – mothers, volunteers from the country’s top colleges, and private donors with their checkbooks.
Ms. Husain is clearly loved in the community. And yet her life has been an uphill struggle. Getting her initiative to where it is today – with close to 1,000 students, four branches around the capital, and 790 former students mainstreamed into the government school system – has not been easy. “I started with just two children 10 years ago,” says Husain, who is in her 50s now.
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