‘Aaghaz’: Mission to ‘educate to advance’ for a better life

Over the past more than 10 years, thousands of poor Muslim children have benefited from Aaghaz, many of whom have now got well-placed jobs and are now supporting the education of other poor Muslim children. It’s like completing a circle.

By Kashif-ul-Huda, TwoCircles.net,

On May 5, 2015 Mazhar Farooqui, a journalist working in Dubai, sent a simple, two-line message to a 70-member WhatsApp group called ‘Aaghaz Foundation’.

It read: “Aaghaz is looking to raise Rs 10,300 to pay the fees of four Muslim children whose father is a painter in Aligarh and lives in a garage with his family.”

Mazhar Farooqui
Mazhar Farooqui

Just two minutes later, Zabi Khan, a business professional, who is also based in Dubai, replied: “Mazhar bhai, the fees is on me. Please let me know how to transfer the money. Thanks.”

Within 24 hours, the money was transferred to the bank account of the needy. Another success story of Aaghaz Foundation, which has been helping connect donors with students who drop out of schools because of their inability to pay fees.

What made this success story – which took all of two minutes – possible is the dedication of hundreds of supporters and volunteers for over 10 years under the leadership of Mazhar Farooqui, born and brought up in Lucknow. After finishing B Com from Lucknow University, Farooqui enrolled for a Diploma in Journalism and started working for a local English magazine at a meagre salary. He worked his way up through The Pioneer, Hindustan Times, The Times of India, and is now the Editor at XPRESS, Gulf News in UAE.

Mazhar Farooqui is an investigative journalist with lots of international awards to his credit. His news stories have helped unearth lots of scams, raise help for destitute, and championed the cause of the common men and women in the UAE. A career spanning 24 years with so many impact stories and awards that will make any journalist look back at his body of work with satisfaction.

But Farooqui is not satisfied with just his personal achievements. When I met him in Dubai recently, he told me that growing up in Lucknow, he saw poverty near his home and children dropping out of schools because their parents were unable to pay school fees or they thought that the children are better off learning skills and earning money.

It bothered him for a long time and finally one day in October 2004, a group of his friends met and decided to do something to plug the school drop-out rate among Muslims. Soon, the Sachar Committee report in 2006 informed that as high as 25% of Muslim children in the age group of 6-14 years either have never enrolled in schools or drop out for various reasons.

At the end of the meeting, Farooqui and his friends had collected Rs 2,000, enough to pay the fees of a class-topper Grade VIII student on the verge of dropping out because of family’s financial situation.

“That’s how Aaghaz was born. A few friends, Rs 2,000 and just one needy student,” recalled Farooqui, years later. Ten years later, more than 4,000 students have benefitted directly from Aaghaz’s work. Currently, there are more than 300 students whose fees are paid monthly by the Aaghaz Foundation.

A letter from a student requesting Aaghaz Foundation to help her study further.

Each of the cases that comes to Aaghaz is verified by a team of volunteers and then only details are sent out to Aaghaz donors. “It has never taken us more than two hours to get the funds raised,” Farooqui told me.

The immediate impact of Aaghaz’s work is what attracts donors like Zabi Khan. “I try to help some less-fortunate brethren of our community to acquire the power of education and knowledge so that they can grow up to be responsible members of the society,” Khan told me when I asked him what prompted him to respond to Farooqui’s call on May 5.

Other than 70 on the WhatsApp group, there are about 800 people on Aaghaz mailing list, however, not all of them have become donors yet.

Aaghaz core team includes Tariq Khan, Mohammad Idrees, A Alvi, Qamar Hussain Sufiyan, Parvez Agha and Omar Pirzada. Aaghaz is a zero-expense organization, which means it doesn’t have any paid staff and all office expenses are borne by Aaghaz volunteers. Moreover, 100% of all the money that comes to Aaghaz is spent on supporting students.

“Over the past more than 10 years, thousands of poor Muslim children have benefited from Aaghaz, many of whom have now got well-placed jobs and are now supporting the education of other poor Muslim children. It’s like completing a circle. Nothing could be more heartening and gratifying,” Farooqui told TwoCircles.net.

But it has not always been easy; Farooqui has seen many ups and downs, including a nasty episode in 2008 when some of Aaghaz Foundation members set up a rival organization with similar sounding name and used Aaghaz’s website and email address for the new organization. It took few months to resolve the issue.

When I asked Farooqi about the most challenging part of the 10 years journey of Aaghaz, he had something else in mind. “The most challenging work for Aaghaz is convincing Muslim parents, who would rather have their children assist them in work than go to school. But alhamdolillah, things are changing and how! Now the community is beginning to realise the importance of education. We have had children of beggars and vegetable vendors pursuing higher education.”

Lucknow Guidance and Coaching Centre run by Aaghaz Foundation

In addition to the its flagship scholarship program, Aaghaz also runs a Lucknow Guidance and Coaching Centre (LGCC), where classes are held to prepare students for various competitive exams for employment. As success stories pour in with Aaghaz beneficiaries doing well in their exams, including a girl winning a gold medal in Lucknow University, or landing good employment opportunities, I can’t help but think about the cases of discrimination against Muslims in employment.

“Discrimination against Muslims in jobs is nothing new,” acknowledged Farooqui. “Look at their percentage in the Indian armed forces. It is an appalling three per cent. At 10.18 %, their representation in Central Government entities is nothing to write home about either. Some companies have an unwritten code of not hiring Muslims but denying them jobs and saying it in writing, now that is something new and disturbing.”

“India has had a long history of diversity and pluralism and while bias on the basis of religion does hurt, it’s nothing to be disheartened about. The world is changing and fast. In the profit-driven economy of today, the majority of companies don’t care which caste, creed or colour you belong as long as you are able to deliver results,” argued Farooqui.

Perhaps this is the belief that drives Farooqui that education will provide the way out of discrimination. And possibly, that explains the Aaghaz motto: ‘Padhao, Aagey Badhao’ (Educate, to advance).

“Every act of discrimination should prompt Muslims to study with even more vigour. If you are good at what you do, sooner or later somebody will seek you out. As they say, mud chokes no eel.”



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