Seema Aziz is the founder and chairperson of CARE Foundation Pakistan, the largest educational NGO in the country, educating some 300,000 children through a network of close to 900 schools.She is also a successful businesswoman – the co-founder and managing director of Sefam, a multi-brand, high-end fabric and apparel retailer.
The story of CARE started in 1988 when Ms Aziz was assisting villages in flood devastated areas outside Lahore, providing food and water and later helping to rebuild homes. She became, as she says, like the Pied Piper, with village children following her around everywhere. She realised they had nowhere to go, there was no functioning school. Their parents were clamouring for a better life for the children, but had no ability to provide it. And what Ms. Aziz understood was that “all people have the same dreams and the same hopes and the same fears….everyone loves their children and wants a better life for them. So if the opportunity does not exist, then we are all at fault. We, as a society, are at fault”. She decided to step into the breach — and thus was born CARE Pakistan, with the ambitious goal of providing quality education to every child in the country.
The school that Ms Aziz envisioned was revolutionary in concept — a co-educational, free school catering to the most underprivileged, with a curriculum taught in English. She was told that it would never work, that this was too heretical a model, that girls would not come. But in spite of the naysayers she persevered, and on the day the first school opened its doors, 250 children were waiting to go in. Boys and girls. And CARE has not looked back.
Over the years, CARE has also been invited to take over the administration of a large number of poorly performing government schools, and has created a successful model of public-private partnership. As Ms. Aziz says, the onus lies on all of us. “If civil society comes together…..we can change the narrative of education”. The dropout rates at CARE schools are low, and a substantial number of students go on to further studies. “Education is the only thing that changes lives. It helps people stand on their own feet, take charge of their own destines”, says Ms. Aziz.
PAWA has supported one of the CARE-run schools, CDG Girls High School Gulshan Park, since 2013. Funds donated by PAWA have met infrastructure needs, teacher training, library facilities, and the costs of equipping and maintaining a new science laboratory.
In her interview with PAWA’s Kamalakshi Mehta, Ms. Aziz talks about the trajectory of CARE Pakistan and describes what she calls her “journey of joy”.