Legacy unbounded

By Zubeida Mustafa

Do icons really pass away? They can’t, because being iconic makes them immortal in the public collective consciousness. And it is an icon that Anita Ghulamali had become. What made her so outstanding was her will to take on the most powerful enemies of education in Pakistan.

Her constituency comprised the common people. Her battles were fought for them and the only battle she lost was with death on Aug 8. The outpouring of admiration and affection for her that has followed testifies to her sincerity.

She is being eulogised most for her contribution to education and rightly so. But the difference she made to this key social sector has yet to make an impact. I am confident her ideas will prevail, though it may take time. In education the decay begins insidiously and reform is a long-drawn process that spans generations.

Anita Ghulam Ali (Photo source: dawn.com)
Anita Ghulam Ali (Photo source: dawn.com)
What was most striking about Anita was her love for the people of Pakistan. Her concern was primarily for the education of children. As the managing director of the Sindh Education Foundation, her thinking was focused on public-sector schools where the children of the poor study. She knew the wealthy could take care of their sons’ and daughters’ learning needs.

Small wonder she was happy teaching microbiology for over two decades at the SM Science College to youth from low-income localities who were enrolled there. When she gave up teaching to move to the policymaking side of education, she made the maximum use of her position to benefit the institutions that catered to the needs of the poor.

Anita Ghulamali focused on schools where the children of the poor study

It was for them that she thought up schemes and mobilised support. There are a number of them benefiting 370,000 students today when their founder is no more, the adopt-a-school-programme being the most well known.

The teacher in her never died. She knew that to demand accountability from others she would have to prove her own integrity. Working in a sector that has acquired notoriety for its money-making propensity and corruption, Anita was actually feared for her honesty. Many education ministers known for their alleged corruption and nepotism fell out with her and avoided her for she fearlessly lashed out at them in public. She once resigned as education minister in an interim government when pressure was brought to bear on her to transfer teachers to new postings to facilitate the electoral prospects of a favoured political party.

As a teacher she had developed the quality of instinctively assessing people and networking accordingly. She knew who was good at what and from where authentic information could be obtained. Since she was always generous in giving time, guidance and references many found their work facilitated by the SEF under Anita’s stewardship.

I just had to pick up the phone for any information I needed and there was her brusque “hello, bolo” often followed by an invitation to come over to discuss the issue in person. I owe to her the historical insight she gave me into education in Pakistan and why the problems have multiplied. She invariably referred me to the relevant people in related departments who could tell me more.

It was her concern for the well-being of people around her that endeared her to all. Her versatile mind came up with ideas to enhance the performance and knowledge of the SEF staff. The ‘Critical Discourses’, the like of which I have not seen in any office, were organised periodically to bring together a wide range of scholars, poets and writers to speak to the SEF staff.

Another brainchild was to help the female staff with young children needing babysitting facilities. One day on one of my visits to the SEF I found a small child playing in the garden into which Anita’s office opened. There she was trying to arouse his curiosity in some plants in the flowerbeds below the window. Upon inquiry, I was told it was Hamza, her colleague Sadaf Zuberi’s son. Hamza’s pre-school years were spent at the SEF.

Sadaf tells me, “The arrangement for bringing Hamza to work was allowed by Anita Apa as a natural move. I remember this came up during a conversation of what will happen after the baby arrived. Next morning she told me in a matter-of-fact way, ‘Of course you will bring the baby over’. She made it sound as if it was a very normal phenomenon. Other children of my colleagues followed suit.”

And now Sadaf has migrated to Canada where she works at the Art Gallery of Mississauga. When her director learnt of the babysitting arrangement at the SEF she followed in Anita’s footsteps. Sadaf says, “Hamza is growing up at the Gallery this summer. Anita Apa’s legacy continues in shades more than one — just as she was.”

That is what icons are. Their ideas cannot be limited by boundaries. They are universal for the wise to adopt.

Source: Dawn

8 thoughts on “Legacy unbounded

  1. The best tribute to Anita Ghulamali's work will be that we re-double — and accelerate — our efforts for education reform. Solutions must be prioritized and implemented to salvage the future of Pakistani children.

  2. There are very few in Pakistan like Anita — dedicated, committed, upright and selfless. She was indeed a beacon for many; let us pay tributes to her by following those principles.

  3. Thanks for sharing with us your tributes to Apa Anita, a great educationist, intellectual, social reformer and critical friend, who devoted her whole life to marginalized people in Sindh. My association started with her when she was lecturer at SM College and I was teacher at Sindh Madressah-tul-Islam. We met again in Sindh Secretariat # 3 (Old KDA Building) and used to share the same room due to lack of space. Whenever she invited me to her programmes she would not let me go without cultural and others gifts with me. The last gift she gave me was a ‘book reading light’ that I keep with me forever. She will remain a role model for many of us! May Allah rest her soul in eternal peace (Ameen).

  4. Read your piece on Anita Ghulam Ali today and it helped me mourn her better. I have had a heartache since I read about her death, all my childhood memories of her came rushing back. I had been browsing the papers for an obituary fitting her stature and reading yours I feel I can stop my search. Beautifully written.

  5. Thank you for your tribute to Anita. She was a remarkable person. I came to know her from close during early 1990s when Ajmal and I were planning and preparing the Karachi ki Kahani number of Aaj Urdu quarterly. She was very warm, receptive and encouraging. Not only she contributed an article about her memories of Karachi, she helped us approaching other people and accessing information. Later on we built a relationship. She was interested to know the distribution of many publications that we brought out and always purchased them for her library. She was interested in literature, arts and performing arts. I regret that I was not able to benefit from her company of late when I got too involved in my own affairs.

  6. It is one of the great tribute to Prof. Anita, I am also one of the lucky person who worked under her supervision for over 09 years at SEF. I am very much sure that her quest for creating quality education access for all marginalized children in Pakistan will do come true. As I personally know, there is a good number of girls studied in the SEF's Project Schools (in those areas where there was not any school) who completed their secondary education. Many of those have taken her legacy forward by join teaching profession and other would follow. May Allah rest her soul in eternal peace, Ameen.

  7. Thank you for this heart-warming write up. Those who knew Anita were fortunate. i too was one of the lucky ones. i remember we were both at a discussion organized by some students in PECHS when she had her first heart attack. I remember how brave she was. Of course we didn't realize it was a heart attack. I drove her to the Jinnah Hospital and stayed with her till her mother, the vivacious and lovely Mrs. Feroze Nana, took over. That attack and subsequent health problems didn't slow her down. She surely was one of the most indomitable and loveable people that i knew. Will miss her sorely.

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