In a country where just 55 per cent of the population can read and write, and even cities like Islamabad and Karachi are nowhere close to achieving universal literacy, one village in southern Punjab has managed to ensure that every man, woman and child is educated.
The village of Rasoolpur in Rajanpur district is home to approximately 3,000 people. Not only does it enjoy the unique status of having achieved 100 per cent literacy, all adult residents have completed Matriculation. How does a small village in Punjab succeed where the country’s largest and most prosperous cities have failed?
“My people undertook five migrations,” says Jamshed Ahmad Kamtar, a resident of the village, about how his ancestors belonging to the Baloch Ahmadani tribe came to the Punjab. “We endured floods and kept migrating, and eventually settled in Rasoolpur.” The clan arrived in the area in the late 1800s. What set them apart from others in a similar situation was an accident of history
“One of my ancestors had studied in Delhi and was passionate about education,” Kamtar explains. “He managed to convince his brothers to pursue education and to educate their children.” And thus the seed was planted. “We had very little when we arrived, but we had one member of our tribe who valued education above all else.”
“Their faith in the power of education helped to start a tradition and it transformed their lives,” says Manzoor Ahmad Khosa, Headmaster at the Rasoolpur Boys High School. “When they settled in the area, they had no land to start farming. But they valued education, and education became their way out of poverty and their path to progress.” Where other landless migrants might have sought low-paid work as agricultural labourers, the people of Rasoolpur were able to secure jobs in medicine, engineering, banking and other professions.
Rasoolpur today is a model community in many ways. “People don’t steal, and there is no crime,” says Kamtar, who cannot remember the last time a resident of the village was named in a police inquiry. “My elders tell me the last time an FIR was registered against someone from our village was in the 1930s.”
By 1935 the community had built two schools, one for boys and one for girls, on land donated by a benefactor. Today enrolment stands at around 700, with nearly equal numbers of boys and girls in school. Both schools are well equipped, with 12-13 rooms each, along with computer labs, and there are no problems with water supply or electricity. Over the years, many students have gone on to pursue higher education, with a number of MPhils and PhDs in the community.
“In the 25 years that I have been working at the school, the passion for education has yet to wane,” says Headmaster Khosa. “Children are motivated to learn and there is more competition nowadays, because when everyone is educated, everyone wants to study further to improve their prospects.” Khosa, who lives in a neighbouring village, says the residents of Rasoolpur have inspired him and his family as well. “All my brothers have gone to school and all their children are going to school. Most of the young people in my family are also pursuing higher education. Rasoolpur has set an example for us all.”
To a casual visitor, Rasoolpur is like any other village in the country’s most populous province. But look closer and you will notice that it is cleaner, quieter and better organised. The residents are not particularly wealthy and there is no push towards urbanisation. “There are no televisions or cable TV, and people don’t sit around wasting time,” says Kamtar.
“The beautiful thing about Rasoolpur is that instead of the darkness from outside casting a shadow on Rasoolpur, Rasoolpur’s light shines on villages that surround it,” says Khosa. “Other villages in the area want to follow their example, and other communities have started to value education because they see how it affects everything, not just income or attitudes but your entire community and your quality of life.”
For over 100 years, the people of this small village in southern Punjab have been building their version of a model society. Their focus on education above all else has turned a small group of migrants into a thriving community where poverty is non-existent and where every child has the chance to achieve his or her full potential.