“We as parents are so grateful for the new school building.” These were the words of Shamoun, a Christian father of four in the Gojra region of Punjab, Pakistan.
Shamoun’s two older children – Samuel (ten) and Mischal (seven) – are among 660 Christian children from impoverished brick-kiln families who are now attending ten Barnabas-funded new school buildings. God willing his younger children, Suleman and Joshua, will join them in the years ahead.
Like many Pakistani Christians, Shamoun has a difficult and low-paid job at a brick kiln – open air factories where bricks are made by hand, the tall chimneys of the kilns towering above the landscape in parts of Punjab.
Neither Shamoun nor his wife had the opportunity to attend school, but both are greatly aware of the importance of education for their children.
“I’m so happy that now my kids can play and spend best time at school while learning,” Shamoun adds. He and his wife pray that their children will escape the poverty that they experience as a daily reality.
Accounts like this are a reminder of the importance of education for Pakistan’s marginalised Christian community.
Christian schools such as these – among more than 120 supported by Barnabas in Pakistan – help to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty and illiteracy. Without them, most children of Christian brick-kiln families would never have the chance to go to school. Without schooling they would never learn to read or write, nor acquire numeracy and other important skills that would open up the possibility of getting a job with a decent wage.
Fees at other schools are very often beyond the means of Christian parents. Even if they could afford the fees, the extra expense of providing exercise books, stationery, bags and transport costs (schools are often too far away to make the journey by foot) is prohibitive. Even relatively short journeys to school can be dangerous for Christian children, and especially Christian girls – girls and young women from Pakistan’s religious minorities are especially vulnerable to abuse, or even abduction, forced marriage and forced conversion to Islam.
Christian children who do attend free state-run schools can face discrimination for their faith – bullying from their peers and teachers, being marked down in tests and exams, and pressure to convert to Islam.
“I do not want my children’s future to be at the brick kiln”
As well as the school buildings, Barnabas has funded school equipment for the children as well as paying teachers’ salaries at the ten new schools. There are no fees charged to the brick-kiln workers who send their children to these ten schools.
Children are taught about their Christian faith alongside their academic study, which helps to strengthen the next generation of believers. Pupils appreciate the care and compassion they receive from Christian teachers who take a personal interest in their wellbeing and development.
Bashir is another Christian father and brick-kiln worker, in Faisalabad. His two children – Arman (eleven) and Ribca (ten) – attend the new school there.
“My parents were working at the brick kiln – that’s why they took us along with them at brick kiln for work,” he explains. “They could not pay any attention towards our education.”
“But,” he adds, “I do not want my children’s future to be at the brick kiln.”
Bashir gives thanks to God for the provision of the new Christian school. “Teachers of this school are very good and treat all the students very well”, he says. “Now I can see my children successful in the future – not only in academic education but also learning about their faith.”