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Insan Foundation Trust » History
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Since 1992 Onwards … Insan formally began its work in 1992 with the mission to provide basic literacy skills to the working and street children in Lahore, i.e., the second most populated city of Pakistan. “Insan” is an Urdu word for “human” and serves as the basic principle for the organization to work for and with all humans irrespective of any identity. Insan faced one of the glaring realities in the factory area of Lahore at that time – the considerable population of children working in automobile workshops, small hotels and shops whose exploitation put at stake their own future in particular, and their humanity in general. Thus, Insan wanted to do something for them as well as for humanity.

The volunteers of Insan, who started off its first ever Child Education Program in 1992, hailed from urban universities and colleges. Those youth were under the impression at the outset that poverty was the fundamental reason of children’s being at the workplaces or streets than schools. They believed so because they themselves were from the privileged class and were thus unaware about the political side of poverty. So, their first impression while approaching the deprived children was driven by “mercy” rather than “critical consciousness.” However, their naive perception vanished very soon when majority of the children revealed that they had attended schools at least once in their lives but dropped out because of corporal punishment by the teachers and the threatening and dull environment existing at their schools. Therefore, the harsh reality coming from children’s mouth themselves helped Insan come to the conclusion that it needed to make its educational program “attractive”, “meaningful” and “relevant” and it should involve parents and communities in the process. This was how games, theatre, exposure trips and community festivals and meetings became part of the ‘informal educational system’ and children found themselves to be at home and well-connected to the organization. Insan implemented its first program for eight years. It established educational centers that were mostly located in factory area and urban slums of Lahore. These centers are working in urban and semi urban and rural areas.

During its first eight years, Insan catered to about a hundred students per six months in each of the six educational centers. At one point of time, Insan also launched one such center in a village called “Theatre” near the Pakistan-India border. The technique of education coined by Insan was very innovative but very simple. Insan used newspapers for enabling children to identify alphabets, connect them to make words and words into sentences in two to three months time. Very soon, children got used to being able to identify basic social, political and economic issues of their communities also. Then the organization engaged them in reporting incidents of child rights and human rights violations taking place in their communities. Selective reports were published in the newsletters. Sometimes children also draw and gain space in the newsletter’s art-corner. This was how Insan moved with its Child Education Program in which “critical consciousness” remained at the center stage. It was through this process that children came to know how badly society was treating children as well as women. They started asking questions as to why men killed women.

In eight years of work, many of the of the students became volunteers and started helping Insan undertake theatre shows, even in the streets and bazaars, in Lahore and elsewhere to educate people about the negative impact of child labor and poor educational system on children. “Mistree Natik” or “Mechanics Theatre”, which was named after the first batch of child workers who were mostly automobile mechanics, also started performing in every nook and corner of the province. And it was noted on the way that their relationship with their child-apprentices was very different from the one which they faced as children themselves. (Insan Natak – Phoenix Or Dodo in Lahore, Muhammad Mushtaq, Telling Stories to Change the World, Page 139-146,  Published by Routledge, Link: http://www.amazon.com/Telling-Stories-Change-World-Narrative/dp/0415960800).

During years of work, Insan’s opinion about problem of child labor started shaping in a holistic manner. Insan started feeling that child labor existed because of poor educational system and poor education system was the product of poverty of resources as well as thought. The poverty of thought refers to development priorities and the political will of the policy makers. So, the organization felt that the issue of child labor cannot be addressed unless development priorities of Pakistan are aligned to the cognitive needs of children; Pakistan increases spending on children rather than on bombs and guns; and the state takes care of girl children and women. So, some years down the road, Mistree Natik and the educational centers had developed a consensus about peace, girl rights education and women’s rights as priorities of its advocacy initiatives along with basic literacy and child rights education.

As Insan moved to the end of 2000 its work had synthesized and the organization felt that it was being pushed to explore new venues. The organization was under great pressure from new communities and old and new students to further ramify and this stress prompted it to realize that it could not manage to go with the same speed and in the same direction due to the scarcity of financial resources. The organization analyzed that there was a need for more local groups and organizations to join the struggle and moving one step ahead – from service delivery to advocacy and training – was a must. It felt it was in a position to share its experience and transfer the corporate knowledge gained in all those years. Whereas it concluded that providing equality education to all children was the prime responsibility of the state according to the national and international commitments and that unless peace, rights education and women’s rights becomes first priority of the state of Pakistan, there was hardly any constructive change expected. This realization then guided Insan to launch a national-level capacity development, peace advocacy program and women’ s rights education program with small likeminded groups, organizations and institutions across Pakistan.

The training program, called Child Labor Advocacy and Training Program, was logically an offshoot of the Child Education Program. It helped partner groups and organizations design and undertake similar forms of programs according to their own local realities. Through this program, Insan moved from stage 1 to stage 2, from delivery of the services to training and motivating many more groups and organizations on “how to institutionalize, mobilize and deliver.”

The organization developed a range of training manuals, educational games and organizational development tools and checklists, etc. The training workshops and exposures included comprehensive introduction to the social, political, economic and legal side of the issue of child labor, child rights, role of the government and the state, human and financial resource mobilization, program design and proposal writing, program monitoring, reporting and evaluation, etc. In four years of the training program since 2000, Insan trained forty organizations and helped them design long-term child development and leadership programs. As follow up in the capacity development program, those forty organizations made child labor education and peace activism as part of their organizational missions and programs.

By disseminating information and motivation material, Insan expanded membership in its peace campaign, Dove Day, to the interested segments of society, mostly youth and their parents. Insan launched this peace campaign in 2002 in the context of war hysteria and armed conflicts in the regional context. The members of this campaign used to gather at Lahore and Islamabad at one point every month and fly cut-outs of dove to voice out peace and demand symbolically from the state to opt for peaceful negotiations to solve the conflicts. Women’s rights education remained at a low profile, mostly as assertions and punctuations, in the debate of rights and peace until 2007 when Insan developed a game on giving orientation to common citizens and rights activists about women’s rights. Insan contacted women rights activists, trainers and researchers to add content to the game, especially from the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Constitution of Pakistan. In the beginning of 2008, Insan had its comprehensive strategic review. As the result of this exercise, the organization underwent structural change and developed its strategic direction. The women’s rights and gender came to the forefront in the light of the new strategic direction. This development took place fundamentally because

  1. the new leadership that stepped in strongly felt that rights are indivisble, universal and unalienable
  2. women could not be isolated from mainstream struggle even if it is all about rights of children and youth
  3. such policy discussions and legislative processes were on going on at the national level that bore serious implications for women in Pakistan
  4. many civil society organizations and government institutions demanded from new leadership of Insan to work on women’s rights, gender and women’s empowerment keeping in view the potential of the organization.
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