Pakistan’s newest national boxing champion was met with applause when she returned to Government Girls Secondary School (GGSS) Wali Muhammad Haji Yaqoob in Lyari town, Karachi. Students and teachers alike cheered as the superstar showed off the prized championship belt—though she still had to go to class and complete her schoolwork like everyone else.
While Maria stands alone as champ in the ring, the grade 10 student is amongst many girls at school excited to learn. Just a few years ago, student engagement at Maria’s school was falling and girls’ participation in classes, sports, and all school has to offer, was uncommon.
In 2014, the school’s administration connected with the Sindh Community Mobilization Program (CMP), implemented by Blumont and funded by USAID, to rally the community behind girls’ education. Working together, CMP and the school formed a school management committee to get families more involved in their girls’ futures with the hope of improving enrollment and retention.
School management committees, made up of parents, school staff, students, and other community members, were created to spark local ownership and investment in schools. They identify what schools need, raise funds and supplies, and engage the whole community in school affairs. Since 2014, CMP has supported 750 of these committees in Sindh province.
An unforgettable sports day
A sports day in 2017, organized by the new committee and supported by CMP, was what inspired Maria’s love for sports and started her on the path toward her national title.
Nafeesa Noor, the school’s head teacher, said that the original goal of the day was “to motivate the students to participate in the sports activities for their mental health.”
During the event, students played cricket and football with their families and teachers cheering them on enthusiastically. From that day on, “a lot of the parents’ perspectives changed, especially the men, regarding girls’ education and extra-curricular activities,” Nafeesa said.
The event helped show parents that school could be a place for learning,
as well as a place for supporting girls’ growth and well-being. Another takeaway, the head teacher shared, is that the community grew prouder of the girls every time they competed in sports and represented their hometown.
The community’s role in supporting girls
The school management committee, with guidance from CMP, focuses on garnering local buy-in on school events, upgrades, and equipment. “We established and initiated the basis for promoting girls’ education with the support of the committee and the community members,” said Nafeesa.
School improvement plans are co-designed by the community and the school administration. The committee has arranged for extracurriculars, and raised funds for uniforms, equipment, and new facilities. The students are regularly participating in poetry classes, quiz competitions, theater, and debate organized by the committee. The primary school girls now have their own sports activities, too.
In addition, the committee has supported the school with holding awareness sessions to get parents more acquainted with the school and encourage them to enroll their daughters. Enrollment at GGSS Wali Muhammad Haji Yaqoob has jumped since the committee was formed, now comprising more than 1,100 students. Parents in the area are now more involved in their children’s education, especially women.
“It’s very necessary for girls to have support from their families—especially their fathers. It increases their confidence, which helps them realize their potential to do wonderful and positive things in their educational careers and, of course, in their lives,” Nafeesa said.
The future for students like Maria
Maria’s love for boxing has been fostered by her family, her school, and her community. When she was first introduced to the sport, her family was hesitant to let her join a club. After the successful sports gala, Maria’s family recognized the growing support for girls in sports in the community and signed her up for boxing lessons and a coach.
History has been made since – Maria has earned several titles and is revered among her peers at school. The palpable community-wide support for girls like Maria is encouraging families to enroll their daughters in school, while advancing gender equality and breaking gender stereotypes. Nafeesa said, “We are providing these opportunities to our girls, and they are proving that they can do anything in life if they get the chance.”
Through the school management committees, school administration and local communities have an empowering platform that will help them achieve more for their students and their schools.