In the old country they were stopped in their tracks by the need they saw, for schools and food and hope. Back in Mississauga, they appealed to hearts and were heard and how. Words by Laura Schober. Photography by Azam Khan
Helping Pakistan’s poor through charity is in Haroon Khan’s blood. That’s why in 1995, the Mississauga realtor founded the Zafar Sultan Memorial Trust in honour of his late mother.
As a young boy growing up in Karachi, Pakistan, his mother, Zafar Sultan and aunt, Begum Berlas, headed the All Pakistan Women’s Association that was founded in 1949 by the wife of Pakistan’s first Prime Minister, Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan. Berlas was a politician’s aide, while her husband taught the Urdu language to politicians and foreign missionaries, so it wasn’t unusual for Khan’s family to spend lots of time at the homes of prime ministers and diplomats.
“When we were children, we would go to their homes, visit them, be a part of their family,” recalls Khan, who is now in his late 50s.
One of the Prime Ministers was Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, a good friend of the family whose home Khan remembers playing in as a young boy.
Khan immigrated to Canada in 1972 which he says was the “best decision he ever made.” He has been organizing the largest South Asian Canada Day celebration since 1995, an event with anywhere from 1200 to 1400 people attending annually. Now his priority has turned to education.
Khan’s younger brother Azam, one of the Trust’s directors, plays a vital role in the projects the Trust takes on. Azam remembers that a speech his son, Kasif, made while he was in grade six at Hazel McCallion Senior Public School in Mississauga, emphasized the need for developing countries to do more to promote education in underdeveloped countries. It prompted the Khan family to reevaluate the importance of education in the Trust’s mandate.
A year before his nephew’s speech, Haroon Khan visited Pakistan on a business trip and saw children cleaning cars for money late at night on the streets of Karachi.
Though Khan gave the children some money, he still felt it wasn’t enough.
“That moment left a mark on my heart,” said Khan.
“When I saw these kids cleaning these cars…they were not begging, they were trying to work and earn the money. And that’s what hit me, that if they keep on cleaning cars all their life, they have no life.”
After that evening, Khan decided to see what type of schools existed in Karachi, but what he found disappointed him – the education system was not as good as it was when he was growing up there.
In June 2005, Khan had the opportunity to make his case for opening a new school in Karachi after meeting with a minister in the Pakistani government.
In 2006, the government offered to the Zafar Sultan Memorial Trust a building they could use for their proposed school that would aim to provide the best education to the poorest of the poor.
“We saw the building, but it was just in shambles,” says Khan about the school, which initially had no washrooms or electricity.
So Khan chose to renovate the school, investing some of his own money along with generous donations from friends and family.
In August 2006, the Trust opened the Farabi Government Primary School in Karachi after an extensive two-month, $100,000 renovation.
The renovated school now has electric fans, a modern lighting system, computer lab, medical lab, and web cams that allow people anywhere in the world the opportunity to interact with students in the classroom.
For students to attend the school, they first have to come from a family that makes less than 10,000 rupees a month or approximately $120 Canadian. Secondly, prospective students have to successfully pass a test.
The school teaches subjects like english, history and mathematics to approximately 300 students enrolled from nursery school to grade five. Khan plans to add one more grade each year.
When last August’s monsoon rains caused massive flooding in Pakistan – killing 1600 people and displacing over 20 million – Khan couldn’t ignore the country’s plea for foreign aid.
With the help and support of friends and family, Khan organized a food drive in Mississauga. The response from the community was more than he bargained for.
From August to October 2010, over 225 volunteers from Mississauga and Oakville came to a warehouse on Derry Road just west of the Toronto airport to help pack large boxes of food and medical supplies.
Over 7000 boxes were sent to Pakistan.
It was a true family affair, with Khan’s daughter, Daanish, 26, and wife, Kulsum, devoting their time to the flood relief efforts, along with Khan’s two brothers, Tariq and Azam.
In total, $350,000 worth of food items and $40,000 worth of medical supplies and medicines were sent to Pakistan.
Prominent members of Mississauga’s political community also donated their time packing boxes, including Mayor Hazel McCallion, Mississauga-Streetsville MP Bonnie Crombie and the Consulate General of Pakistan, Sayed Akbar Adil Shah.
In December, Crombie, McCallion and Shah spoke at an event Khan organized to award the many volunteers of all ages with honorary certificates marking their participation.
In an email to Mississauga Life, Crombie wrote that “she was overwhelmed at the outpouring of goodwill and compassion from the community.”
“I was surprised at the compassion, empathy, and altruism,” wrote Crombie, saying she felt inspired by the many volunteers who had given up their weekends over the course of two months to support Pakistani flood victims.
Also in December, the government of Pakistan granted the Zafar Sultan Memorial Trust a new building adjacent to the primary school which will be used for a new high school. The government is now looking into ways of working with the Trust on a pilot project that could extend to 25 new schools.
“We have to do something for our kids. That’s all,” shrugs Khan.
For more information on the Zafar Sultan Memorial Trust or to make a donation to this charity, please visit www.zsmtrust.com.