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Pupils appeal through verse

Bradford primaries stage poetry recital to raise funds for Kashmiri earthquake victims. Elaine Williams reports

One by one they stood up before the hundreds gathered, their voices rising in sweet but plaintive chant: a moving act of remembrance by Bradford primary pupils for the tens of thousands lost in the Kashmiri earthquake, including many members of their families.

Pupils from seven primary schools from the impoverished east side of Bradford gathered last Sunday with more than 600 family members at the Karmand community centre. They were there to recite naats (Islamic verses) and raise funds in aid of the earthquake appeal.

Amjid Khan, the home-school liaison officer for Thornbury primary, a school of 700 pupils, 90 per cent of them Kashmiri Muslims, brought 10 children.

They had been practising naats all week during their lunchtime fast for Ramadan to contribute to the event.

He said: "They are desperate to do something. They are so concerned for the children out there."

Thornbury pupils have set up a fundraising committee and parents have been coming into school to donate hundreds of pounds. Angus King, their headteacher, is already out in Kashmir with Ian Hodgson, head of nearby Byron primary, on a pre-arranged trip to meet potential partner schools and look at good practice. However, because of the tragedy their mission has become a quest to garner information about survivors for families back home.

The Karmand community event was initiated by Tazeem Sawaiz, the area's extended schools project manager, a scheme which promotes community involvement and out-of-hours childcare services in clusters of schools. She has lost 10 members of her family in the earthquake. She said: "Everyone has pulled together, even though there's not a lot of money around here."

Even so, she estimates that the Karmand event, coupled with schools'

fundraising, will bring in more than pound;10,000.

Sikander Mahmood, chair of the Karmand centre, said: "This is the biggest test our Pakistani community in Bradford has faced. We have all lost family and the response has been unprecedented. I know men who have just packed up and gone out there to help in any way."

Mr Mahmood is a union shop steward at Bradford First, the local bus company, where 22 drivers have left for Kashmir to help.

He said the response had created a great sense of unity in the city. "We have had help from Hindus, Sikhs, Christians. We feel very supported," he said.

A steering committee which was set up last Monday for the Karmand event now plans to meet long-term. He said: "We are talking of adopting families, a school, a hospital, over there."

Mr Mahmood also believes such initiatives will benefit local children culturally. He said: "It gives our children a tremendous sense of their heritage," he said. "Many of them are fourth, fifth generation and have never been to Kashmir, so through it they will also learn about their roots."

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Andrew Motion 22

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