We share the short story of a math teacher who had his first professional experience in Pakistan where he had enthusiastically migrated to work. M.E. Ünal wrote about the experiences of that Turkish education volunteer who had to leave Pakistan after working there for about 10 years. Gleaning from the narrations of that Maths teacher, Ünal explained how motivatedly that teacher had worked and how he continued working despite the serious illness of his newborn daughter.
I was a mathematics teacher in Pakistan, like other education volunteers spread all over the world. My only capital includes my textbook, my pencil, and my notebook. I was also among the lovesick who set out to sow the seeds of love wherever the sun rises and sets. My only goal has been to create an atmosphere of love in this world. In the 90’s, an educational mobilization drive originated from Anatolia to spread all over the world. The valiant young men and women of Anatolia, as lovesick for upholding these values, set out for very different geographies with different complexions, languages, and cultures and took wings like turtledoves to countries of which locations they even could not locate on the map. It was the time to join those expeditions that would inspire love and tolerance to humanity and fight ignorance. “That path was long, had many milestones and had no easy passages. For its sake, one had to be determined to wade through the seas of pus and blood.” I had to be one of the passengers on this ship of sublime service for universal peace.
In 2010, I graduated from the university with a good degree and received my diploma. Now it was the time to board this ship of education from Giresun port in Turkey, weigh anchor and sail away. I was only 24 years old and had a long life before me to fulfil my dreams, but I had to move on without delay. I heard teachers from Turkey were sought to teach in Pakistan with a volunteer spirit. I knew Pakistan was a “friendly and brotherly” country, and I was just glad that the opportunity had arrived at my doorstep. I had to participate in this legion of knowledge by first persuading and taking the blessings of my parents, whom I loved more than I loved my own self. May Allah be pleased with them forever; they hardened their hearts and accepted this desire of their one-and-only child.
Khairpur Mirs: My first place of duty
I arrived in Pakistan on a very hot August day. PakTurk Schools were striving for years to educate a generation full of love and knowledge in Pakistan. To that end, the Schools were awarding scholarships to hundreds of Pakistani students, aiming to shield them against the blaze of ignorance and bring them forth as beneficial individuals for humanity. My first stop was Islamabad. The city struck me with its original atmosphere and distinctive people. They wore ‘shalwar kameez’ and – in Islamabad’s twin city Rawalpindi – used motorcycle rickshaws as taxis to ply the streets. In those days, an orientation program was held by the head office of the PakTurk Schools. Shortly after that program, my next destination in Pakistan was announced.
Khairpur Mirs was where I was to teach mathematics for the first time abroad. The school there was opened in 2002 and had around 500 students then. While I was overwhelmed with the excitement of starting teaching in that city, the Pakistani friends I first met did not praise Khairpur, saying it was a city of scarcity. They said it was one of the poorest regions in Pakistan and that I would have difficulty adjusting. Those negative words could not prevent me from going there. I arrived in Khairpur Mir, my land of emigration that reportedly was not frequented by any foreigner, one afternoon. I was a teacher; there I was going to teach Maths and sow the seeds of love. I can never forget the excitement of my first lesson in class, but I still cannot remember what I said or told amidst excitement.
I was compelled to send my wife and daughter to Turkey
Near the deserts of Sindh and Balochistan, this city had a scorching heat climbing up to 50-55 degrees. Delicious dates were grown in this place where electricity was available for a few hours a day. I tasted the fresh (green) dates here for the first time in my life. People were very friendly, affectionate and kind. While I was a teacher in Khairpur Mirs, I also married my wife. Of course, it was not an easy place for a woman from Turkey. At first, she had serious psychological problems and she shed tears for days. She could not find anyone to speak to because she did not speak English or Urdu. During her pregnancy in her second year, she experienced great hardships. I had to send my wife to Turkey due to insufficient healthcare opportunities in Khairpur Mirs. I went to Turkey close to the time of the birth. Our first daughter, Zeynep, was born in Turkey, but when she was only 40 days old, we returned to Khairpur Mirs to reach there on time for our classes.
When we got there, our little baby’s health problems intensified. Despite all our research, when I could not find a proper medical facility in Khairpur, I took my little baby and my wife back to Turkey. We had to leave our daughter Zeynep to her grandmother and return because her treatment took a little longer and my wife was a teacher too. Zeynep’s treatment in Turkey lasted for 6 months. When she got better, she came to Pakistan with my mother. When she returned, our only baby Zeynep had forgotten about us her parents; she called me ‘uncle’ and her mother ‘aunt’. She had a hard time getting used to us again, and her speech was delayed. The little soul was unaware of anything. Tests and ordeals on the path of service to humanity have always been the spice of the efforts undertaken … We said, “This too shall pass!” in full resignation to Allah Almighty’s grace and protection and continued to teach to the flowers of love.
We came to make hearts, not to fight
I did not know how quickly those four years had passed. My only goal was to explain to my students through mathematics how to become auspicious persons and to make them upright like a right angle. They were meant to become the representatives of tolerance who were to bear the torch of love with positive sciences and good morals all over the world. We sent hundreds of students from PakTurk Schools to the International Science Olympiads. PakTurk students, who were actively working for this throughout 21 years, returned to Pakistan with more than 250 medals of distinction and high-achievement. That was a record in Pakistan; no private school in the country could ever win so many medals in the international arena.
I was a math teacher; I had to work harder and motivate my students lovingly to encourage them for winning new medals.
It was mid-2014. I had heard from some of my friends in Turkey: Some influential people with destructive mindsets started threatening devotees of education who were engaged in educational activities in 170 countries worldwide with proscribing them and their institutions on charges of terrorism by means of “one prosecutor and two police officers” simply because of their envy towards such selfless activities. In the light of many unrests in different parts of the world, I knew what terrorism really was. The purpose of terrorism has also been nothing but killing and destruction. However, the volunteers of education have chosen to live their lives to let others live and to become the representatives of peace and harmony worldwide. In the words of 13th century Turkish Sufi and folk poet Yunus Emre, they said:
“We did not come for a fight,
Our task is bent on love,
Each heart is a home of the Friend,
We came for making hearts”
and sowed the seeds of love worldwide.
From one angle to another, I rushed among classes
The pressure and unlawful practices against the Hizmet Movement, which set out for the sublime mission of education, were also reported in the Pakistani media from time to time. Having focused on my tasks along with my heartfelt friends and spending time with my students, I continued planning and said to myself, “We still have a long way to go and there are still many more medals to be won.” On a July day in 2016, a ghastly scenario was staged in Turkey with a strange military mobilization, which they bizarrely called a “coup”. Unfortunately, the powers to be used the media to convince the public that there really was a coup. Educational institutions founded by the Hizmet Movement in Turkey were closed overnight, and their employees were arrested. An unavoidable witch hunt began.
Next, the powers that be trained their sights on the migrants of education and the hubs of education that worked as islands of peace abroad. It was the beginning of November 2016. Our Pakistani visas had expired after two years. Although we had filed our requests for extension three months before the dates of expiry, we had not received any response from the authorities. I was still a math teacher who fondly taught Maths to kids. We had received an invitation for a Maths Olympiad in Thailand in February 2017. I had to prepare my students properly and receive medals no different than in the previous years.
Disloyalty would not befit the nation of Iqbal
An official letter that reached the head office of our schools stated that our visas had not been extended and that demanded our departure from Pakistan no later than three days. Everyone was petrified with shock; where else and how on earth would we able to go? Turkey was not promising in terms of life and legal security. Such a practice happened for the first time in the history of Pakistan: PakTurk teachers, who – for 21 years – did nothing but educate the youth of Pakistan, were being deported. On the next day, our Pakistani parents, protested the decision. Of course, disloyalty would not befit the people of this beautiful country. These teachers, who were lovesick for education and who only aimed for educating their children with love against ignorance, had to be supported. Some parents and local teachers moved the courts to receive stay orders against the decision. Across the country, everyone talked about the Turkish teachers and media outlets broadcast programs. The commentators vouched for the teachers and said these teachers who even did not have any bad habit like smoking were the guides of good conduct for the youth in Pakistan.
A bunch of Hizmet volunteers had made the news in Pakistan and worldwide. They even did not have a house of their own to seek shelter within three days. Some teachers who had returned to Turkey earlier had been immediately arrested on arrival in Istanbul and had been sent behind bars. Meanwhile, the stranded teachers in Pakistan also did not have visas to travel another country than Turkey. That was a time when all causes seemed to cease existing. Much prayed assistance arrived when the UNHCR intervened and stated they would issue ‘asylum seeker certificates’ to the affected teachers. On the next day, the Turkish teachers of the PakTurk Schools across Pakistan applied for and received those asylum seeker certificates. In the days that followed, heartening news started to arrive from different courts in the country one after another: The courts issued stay orders against the government’s decision. However, the dark souls did not have any intention to stop and rest. They wished to intimidate and expel the people who worked as volunteers of education against ignorance and illiteracy.
We have always been aware of the tough ordeals of the path
Since the advent of Adam (alayhissalaam), the struggle between the good and the evil has continued in this immaculately created world. I was a Maths teacher and I had to side with good people in this struggle. Yet, I could no longer attend the classes at my school and teach Maths to my students. My book and pen, which were my capital, were confined to my house and, in a sense, fell into captivity. I could no longer take care of my them. I was profusely praying to Allah Almighty so that the PakTurk Schools would not be taken away from us.
We had started to feel the financial crunch from November 2016 and onwards, and our limited savings depleted on each day. We were aware of the ordeals on this path, but the ordeals were by no means easy. The Turkish teachers had sold their automobiles and many of their household items; they were using only one room in their residences. None of our colleagues complained about their condition. Just during those days, we learned my wife was expecting. I and my wife were not even elated by the news of our second child. Those days were full of ordeals and sorrow for us. Turkish embassies and consulates all over the world also took a stand against us. They were not processing any of our official applications anymore, they also curtailed our basic citizenship rights. A few of our friends’ passports were immediately cancelled when they visited the embassy. Two of our friends could not even get ID cards for their new born babies. That was because the Turkish consulates and embassies were ordered to shut their doors against these teachers all over the world.
As the passports our friends’ children were set to expire soon, we were waiting desperately. Circumstances were getting worse every day for the migrants of education. In that process, my wife also started suffering from psychological traumas in addition to the effects of her pregnancy. Our four-year-old daughter, Zeynep, was also very impressed by the events, and she did not speak as much as before. The issue of our expected baby child was also included in the mathematics of life, and it stood before us as a big problem waiting to be solved. We had the UNHCR asylum seeker certificates, but we did not know if it would work as a solution. Even an innocent baby in its mother’s womb got its share of oppression.
Goodbye Pakistan! I leave with a broken heart
During those long and seemingly endless nights, I and my wife sat down to think and find solutions. From then on, we had to leave for another place where we would be able to teach Maths and sow the seeds of love; but where? We started shortlisting the countries which admitted Turkish nationals visa-free. At least, we had to find a place which was to issue an identity card and a passport for our expected baby. Similar to all other migrants of education elsewhere in the world, I too was experiencing the helplessness of being deprived of my own homeland. When I and my pregnant wife learnt that countries like Ukraine and some Latin American countries provided such facilities and issued new-born babies with citizenship and passports, we became elated no different than ‘a traveller who found his loss in a vast desert’. How sad, we had many dreams about Pakistan and the children who were the future of the world. We were to educate them with love and tolerance, and save them from the grasp of evil. Like migratory birds wandering between East and West, we were trying to find a love nest for our stateless baby in the womb. Our only wish from our Lord was that He should gap long distances and bring us back with our students. On a Tuesday night in February, with three suitcases in which we had filled our whole world, we beseeched Allah’s grace and favour and hit the endless roads of the foreign land called ‘the world’. I did not know how many days and nights we would go. One thing I knew well was that I was not a terrorist, but a migrant of education who fondly taught Mathematics. My biggest witnesses to this were my students I educated in Pakistan for years and my friends who served in 170 countries worldwide.
“Goodbye Pakistan! Goodbye my dear students with whom I had been together with seven years! Goodbye my self-sacrificing friends who migrated worldwide for the sake of education!” I am leaving as heartbroken.
I am a Maths teacher; my only capital is my books and pens. Wherever I go, I will be the representative of peace and harmony like all participants of Hizmet. I will work like an apostle of love to leave a much liveable world to the children.