AN UNFORGETTABLE JOURNEY
Uneza Akhtar, Director of Administration, Completes 10 Years of Service at TCF-USA
The brief given to me was to write my TCF story and experience working with the organization for 10 years. If I say that day one seems like yesterday, it would not be an exaggeration. The most meaningful and gratifying aspect of my association with TCF-USA is a simple yet powerful graph right by my desk in our Chicago office. This graph depicts the growth of schools from 350 school units to 1,202 school units in the last 10 years. Each year the number of children swell steadily, from 40,000 to 175,000 now!
Over the years, I have downloaded images of TCF school children for newsletters and reports to share with donors, shiny faces scrubbed clean, the joy in their eyes piercing the distance from Pakistan, the green leaf logo glistening on their school uniforms. These strong images strengthened my commitment and held me responsible to every child denied their right to read and write their own future. It gave me reason to swing my feet off the bed and onto the floor each morning, brave the rough Chicago winters driving to work and be grateful to be a small a part of a great organization.
The learnings have been many. That a vision with perseverance and passion can sow the seeds of change in an urban slum or barren rural landscape. That action begets action and is a powerful example as proved by the founders who built the first five schools. That change when it finds its foothold is compelling and contagious. That change may not bear fruit immediately, but its impact is inevitable and irreversible. That built into the dream of literacy for every child is that change will not happen overnight but the work must continue. That the mission to get every child off the street in Pakistan and into schools drives the Pakistani diaspora to give with urgency and out of deep concern for the system which utterly fails them.
Each community has its strengths, and one of the strongest hallmarks of Pakistani-Americans is their immense generosity. It has been humbling and an honor to work with donors who give from $12 a month to educate a child to a quarter of a million in a single check. The trust and confidence of donors in TCF during the unfortunate calamities such as the earthquake and floods in Pakistan was not simply by the Pakistani-American donors but also the mainstream donors, foundations and corporations who made significant contributions in difficult times.
The highlight of TCF-USA’s remarkable journey has been the growth of its chapters. From a few to now over 30 chapters has been possible because of the tireless and selfless dedication of hundreds of volunteers led by remarkable leaders in states across the USA. Many have built, endowed and support over a dozen schools since TCF-USA was incorporated in 2002. Each chapter has its unique strengths and is like a family, and now we have 30 families all linked in a momentous clasping of hands as they pledge to tear down the web of illiteracy.
A learning which I deeply value is the professionalism and the dedication of every staff member I have worked with in Pakistan. It has been a long distance email and phone communication at all hours of the night because of the different time zones which grew into strong bonds and deep respect for the high work ethic. The bonds with the staff in our Houston office transcends those of being colleagues into comradeship. How easily we laugh despite our deadline-driven lives speaks to the quality of leadership of our founders, board and management staff.
Last year, after nine years of working for TCF-USA, it was the for the very first time I had the opportunity to visit a TCF school. It was the Aziza Noorani Campus that the TCF-USA team was driven to. We drove through a narrow road lined by garbage and I was reliving the very description I had read in hundreds of school proposals over the years. The doors of the school opened and suddenly we were in this clean oasis, a playground with the shiny scrubbed faces of children in clean uniforms with the same joyful faces I had been downloading for years. We were meeting some of the 10,000 strong all-women teachers who work for TCF and the principal. We watched quietly from outside the sunny and airy classrooms decorated with artwork by the young artists as the children interacted with their teacher. It was a moment when all the hard work and deadline driven days I had spent as the first and only employee for years turned into tears of joy literally. Thank you TCF for the unforgettable journey and letting me be a part of you.