Children at their school in Jhang, Pakistan, before the project provided new chairs, blackboard, and books.

By Michelle Tanner, past president Rotary Club of Matamata, New Zealand

A random Facebook message with an invitation to present at a Rotary polio conference in Lahore in 2014 was the start of an amazing journey that took me from rural New Zealand to Pakistan and culminated in a project to improve the education of children of garbage pickers in Jhang, Pakistan.

While I was in Lahore, Rotarian Khalid Haider invited me to his home city of Jhang, three hours west of Lahore. There he took me to visit the Rotary Education Center Dar-ul-Ehsan, established in 2002 and funded by his Rotary club, Jhang Saddar. I was impressed at the efforts of the local Rotarians, and appalled that, in the 21st century children were educated in these conditions. They wrote on slates! There were hardly any books, almost no furniture, in fact virtually nothing. Just a willingness on the part of the children to learn and of the teachers to teach. The Rotarians were doing all they could but they needed help.

I returned to New Zealand to seek the support of my fellow Rotarians. In July 2016, when I became president, this was our international project, supported by a district grant.

I emailed the news to Khalid who went into action rallying support from other overseas Rotarians who had visited and pledged support and setting up a Facebook page. Building work commenced in January 2017 and was completed in months.

Sadly, Khalid died just weeks before the opening ceremony but he saw the work completed and we dedicated the development to him. The inauguration of the “Rtn. Mian Khalid Haider Block, Rotary Literacy Centre” was a day that I will remember forever. The transformation was stunning. Classrooms renovated and furnished; new classrooms built; and computers, tables, chairs, blackboard, and books installed. In addition, our new Interact club’s first project, a book drive, provided additional books for the pupils. But it was the children that made the day. They glowed with excitement and anticipation. I look forward to following their progress.