“Let no one be discouraged by the belief that there is nothing one person can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills, misery, ignorance, and violence. Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation.”
-Robert F. Kennedy
She was working as an editor in Bangalore, a very interesting and cushy desk-job. She has penned opinion pieces for top-notch publications in India like Tehelka and the Hindustan Times and is a familiar name to those on India’s twitter verse. Her understanding of sports; be it cricket, football or Formula One can put sports writers to shame while her deep interest in everything from human rights issues and politics to films, music and books makes her ideal girl crush material. Boys love her and girls want to be like her!
It was in the autumn of 2008 that she read of some disturbing news from her hometown back in Kashmir. She recalls” it was a terrible few hours, I was constantly on the phone with my family checking on the situation there, and hearing things that seemed far more real than my laptop and corner spot at work. “This prompted her to re-examine her life and priorities. She needed to see change happen since things were falling apart in Kashmir too often. She couldn’t afford to be in her comfort zone any longer.
She jumped off the corporate bandwagon .Sabbah described her state of mind “I felt I should be with my parents. I felt there were far more relevant things I should be doing back home instead of ambling along comfortably in a city far away, earning and spending in a lather-rinse-repeat cycle, month after month.”
“I decided the very next day I was quitting the city life and heading home where I could help the family Trust we were running in Doda.Once I made up my mind, it was an easy step off the cliff. Just packed and left” she adds. Without further ado, let me present the inimitable Sabbah Haji!
It’s not easy reaching Breswana, a tiny piece of heaven in Jammu and Kashmir. A 10-hour drive from Jammu to Doda and then a five-hour trek across the mountains and you reach the village that houses Haji Public School, set up by Sabbah Haji.She spent the next few months setting up Haji Public School. From two rooms of her father Saleem Haji’s home in May 2009; HPS today has its own building and nearly 200 children on its rolls, besides two branches, in Parsholla and Shadiwan. Sabbah raises funds through social media sites and invites volunteers to teach at her school that has seen no dropouts in the past five years. In this terror prone part of Kashmir Sabbah is nurturing hope.
For Sabbah, the all-round super girl who runs the Haji Public Schools in Jammu & Kashmir, the list of engagements is unending. From training youth in the village to teaching, structuring the syllabus, choosing the furniture, to getting certified by the education board – Sabbah did it all ,to set up the Haji Public School! Besides her work in the mountains of Doda, she finds time for social work, reading and of course net surfing.
When asked whether the sudden decision to return from Bangalore was right she said “I am satisfied and there is so much more to do. I like my people. I love those kids a lot. They make everything worthwhile. They’re smart, sharper than any kids I’ve seen before, and they have so much potential, and the fact that we’re giving them some way to use that brilliance and improve on it, well that’s what keeps me here. I also really like the village life. It’s simple, it’s pure and most importantly, I deal with real people every day. I also like the quiet lifestyle we have in Jammu. I have no craving for the city life or a 9-5 work routine. There is nothing to tempt me back really.”
Talking about her routine she said “I step into a class for inspection and see the kids doing well, or going as per plan. I love interacting with them and having a little crazy fun. I am also very proud of our home-trained teaching staff. We’ve employed local boys and girls as teachers in our school. They are from that previous generation of badly educated kids that did not really know anything. We chose our staff, trained them thoroughly from basic reading and writing up, put them to the job, and they’re doing wonderfully well. I love seeing their improvement always.”“So, a very happy day for me is when the kids are doing well and the teachers are doing better “she adds.
Recalling her initial days in establishing the school” when we started our first elementary school in the village, it was tough going in the initial few days. But soon we started seeing an almost surprising level of improvement. By the end of the first year, we knew we were on the right track. The kids were doing wonderfully well, the parents were happy, and we were very excited about the change that was taking place in front of our eyes.
The area Breswana is very backward, and remote. The tardy public education system, terrible mis governance and corrupt administrations over the past few decades and years of militancy created a generation of near illiterate ‘students’ and youth.Haji Public School has generated a lot of employment in the area .Apart from teachers, administrative and ministerial staff ,jobs have also been created for construction workers and transport staff. That’s quite fulfilling.
Talking about the inspiration and support for establishing the school, Sabbah put her parents first and foremost. “The main person behind the whole enterprise is my uncle Nasir Haji. Everything comes to a standstill without his direction and guidance. And then there’s the Haji Trust, under whom the school runs. Basically we’re all one big happy family working in unison “she adds.