George Mason University freshman government and international politics major Abdullah bin Khurram, an international student from Pakistan, has spent the last three years managing a small non-governmental organization in his homeland. Devoted to making education accessible to all, the Mashal Foundation established a small schoolhouse in the village of Ghiyala, outside of the city of Faisalabad in northeastern Pakistan. Mashal means “shining light” in Urdu, one of the official languages of Pakistan.

Bin Khurram founded the Mashal Foundation in 2008 with three friends who recognized the need for education in rural areas that are most vulnerable to illiteracy, poverty and crime.

“The Mashal Foundation is an NGO based on [the] idea that education is for everybody,” bin Khurram said.

The Ghiyala school is the first one to be established there and the only one under the purview of the Mashal Foundation. The school teaches children in English through grade three, is co-educational and provides essential items to students, as well as things like uniforms. The school is sustained entirely through donations and is staffed by teachers who make $17 per month, but who are compensated in other ways such as through gifts of home appliances or products.

In Ghiyala, families would ordinarily be working on their farms and tilling their fields. Since this is the first school in the village, parents donated their free time to build the schoolhouse where their children would be learning.

The endeavor has not been without its challenges, as the Mashal School is highly dependent on parents and their cooperation in making sure the school continues to exist. Parental advocacy is essential because by families allowing their children to go to school they are losing important workers.
“You have to fight against the opportunity cost of the children attending the school, which is them producing income from the [family’s] fields,” bin Khurram said.

In addition to challenges faced by navigating traditional dynamics, funding is ever a problem. Since Mashal receives no government support, it relies on individual donations. However, the Mashal school is working toward self-sustainability in order to reach its goal of education for all.

“We are working toward a self-sustainability cycle so that, once we have funds, we will build a sewing unit for the mothers to work where they will produce clothes which will be sold in the local markets,” bin Khurram said. “The revenues will be divided amongst their salaries and the school administration.”

Since the founding of the Mashal School, students have learned essential life skills such as etiquette, proper dress, good character attributes and civic duties of a good citizen like completing projects that propose solutions to village problems.

“If you visit our school, you can tell the difference between a child who is educated in our school and one who is not educated,” bin Khurram said.

The Mashal Foundation appreciates any assistance from members of the Mason community. The foundation can be reached through its website,, and Facebook page. It has also posted a video to YouTube called “Mashal Foundation Video.” Students can also contribute by donating or scanning worksheets from their younger siblings’ schools and sending them to The Mashal Foundation maintains a presence at certain events on campus and everyone is encouraged to stop by their table.