RESPONSES TO LAST WEEK'S
Saima Saleem, the first blind person to get into Foreign Service talks to The News on Sunday
Saima Saleem is the first Pakistani blind woman to have got into Foreign Service. Securing 6th position in CSS exam and second position among women she made us see her beyond her disability. She got Quaid-e-Azam gold medal on her best academic performance. Saima also got first position in Punjab Public Service Commission exam and is currently a lecturer at Kinnaird College. She has won women achievement award and Madar-e-Millat Fatima Jinnah medal. A warm, friendly and jovial person, she is very open to sharing her thoughts and goals. She has a 'go for it' outlook on life - teaching by example to follow one's dreams. Here are excerpts of the interview.
The News on Sunday: What is the crowning achievement of your life so far?
Saima Saleem: I think getting into Foreign Service.
TNS: Was there any struggle behind it?
SS: Yes, you can say that. First I asked the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) to allow me to take the exam on computer because I was pretty sure that nobody knew Braille there. At that time the chairman refused that the FPSC could not possibly arrange exam on computer.
I knew that an ordinance was passed in 2005 to facilitate disabled candidates. The press release issued in this regard, said government will facilitate candidates with visual impairment and they will be allowed to take exams on computer. So I took up that point and the director of my school helped me out with it. They sent my application to the staff of the President and finally it reached the President, he approved it and ordered the establishment division to pursue the case. Then the establishment division ordered FPSC to conduct the exam.
After the exam I had to give psychological test and in the interview they asked me about my choice. Despite the fact that I was not allowed to opt for Foreign Service, I did, because I always wanted to go for it. I felt that the panel was not happy that I dared to tell them group of my choice.
There is an ordinance for disabled candidates which was passed in 2005 which allows them to compete for four occupational groups only, namely Audits and Accounts, Trade and Commerce, Information and Postal Group. They could not opt for any other group. In 2005 a physically handicapped male candidate cleared the exam, after that nobody did and I appeared in 2007. Before that visually impaired student or any handicapped student other than the one I have mentioned, was unable to clear CSS exam.
TNS: Then how were you able to get the group of your choice?
SS: I was well-prepared to defend my demand. In America in 1950 visually impaired persons were allowed to enter Foreign Service and Rami Rabby was the first one. He was sent on deputation to UK, then many other countries allowed their citizens to opt for whatever they wanted. Here, I am talking about potential not manual labour. If you don't have the potential, you can't stand anywhere.
I found the panel's reaction bizarre. They questioned me, "Are you not satisfied with the groups that have been allocated to you?" I said I am not satisfied at all because competitive exam means whatever position you get you should get the group accordingly. Finally, the panel sent a recommendation to Prime Minister and he approved mine as an exceptional case.
TNS: It means that a path has been created for those who want to opt for it in future.
SS: No, the restriction is still there and I am not happy with it. In my case the letter states the group has been allotted to me in relaxation of the rules 2007 because I appeared in 2007 so that is just an exception. It doesn't mean that they have changed the law.
TNS: Don't you think you are privileged in that case?
SS: Yes, that is what I am saying. I am privileged in many ways. There are children whose families don't support, they don't have good schools to go to, they don't even have financial resources to continue their education. Basically state is not providing you anything. When even a normal child isn't getting education how can you think of someone with disabilities being taken care of by the state.
TNS: Where do you see yourself after five years?
SS: Difficult question (smiles). I see myself representing Pakistan somewhere abroad, writing and perhaps learning many languages and doing my PhD.
TNS: What made you opt Foreign Service?
SS: In this particular group I am going to learn about the happenings in the world. I find it very interesting as it is in relation to politics and international scenario.
TNS: Do you like traveling?
SS: Not in particular. There is a misconception that you are traveling all the time if you are in Foreign Service while you are posted at some place for three to six years which is fine.
TNS: Was preparing for CSS tough?
SS: No, it wasn't. The only problem I had, was that the syllabus was extensive, so it was time consuming but not difficult at all.
TNS: Is it easy to get books in Braille?
SS: I don't get books in Braille. Though classics are available but not contemporary text. I have membership of a library that is in UK. Its National Library for the Blind (NLB). I use scanner with a software called 'Open Book Reader'. I have to turn pages which is a tedious process and sit there for hours if the book is a lengthy one and scan it. Once you are through, you can read it in any format. You can make a file. This software does imaging of the taken pictures and then converts it into text. It's a tiring process. There is another software JAWS (Job Access With Speech) that is used for speech, hence you can listen to the text.
TNS: Does your computer have a special keyboard?
SS: No, it's the same as everybody uses. There are special keyboards for the visually impaired but I haven't used that. It's a matter of practice; the more you practice the greater the typing speed. I have good speed as I have taken a lot of papers. Typing assignments for masters helped me a lot here.
The FPSC was concerned as to how I was going to finish the papers in three hours. I took my exam in the secrecy cell. The staff there would take my paper on flash drive and get the print out which would be 20 to 22 pages. The staff questioned me if I was really typing so many pages (laughs).
I remember taking political science paper. Psychologists sat with me -- three of them while I was checking my paper. All the settings of microsoft were disabled because they thought Microsoft Word was going to do my paper (laughs).For God's sake I can't see but they would disable the settings daily (laughs). So I would increase the listening speed while checking my paper. I am used to listening to fast speed. It has become a habit. The psychologists were really surprised, they said, "we couldn't get a single word and you were checking the paper. How did you do that?"
TNS: When did you lose your sight?
SS: I can't tell you exactly but I was about thirteen fourteen year old when I felt that now I can't recognise colours at all. It just happened very gradually.
TNS: I learnt your sight was affected after typhoid.
SS: That happened when I was almost a year old. It is RP (Retinitis Pigmentosa), an eye disease that affects a person's vision. When you have RP you slowly and gradually lose your sight. It kept on happening, medicines or anything couldn't work.
TNS: Still, in your mind you have recognition of things which you saw once?
SS: Obviously, I have association with colours and everything because I have seen everything.
TNS: Isn't it difficult? If I put myself in that situation I won't know how to accept that change.
SS: The situation is difficult when something happens all of a sudden, not when you know that this is about to happen. When its happening gradually you automatically develop acceptance. If something like that happens all of a sudden then obviously its a traumatic experience.
TNS: What do you want government to do for physically challenged people?
SS: If you take visually impaired people the only thing that you can do for them is to provide them good education. One of my favourite quotes is: "Obstacles are not there to keep you out, they are there to ensure that only the people who want it bad enough can get in".
TNS: You had your schooling from Aziz Jehan Begum Trust. Can you tell us about it?
SS: An NGO established this school for girls and boys till class 10. It is the only English medium school in Pakistan for visually impaired students. The Trust is working very well. They have introduced orientation, mobility and computer skills. All the students are required to learn to work on computer. They are offered computer science as a subject in Matric and are taught this subject after class five. This Trust is doing tremendous service, I would say.
TNS: Would life be easier if you weren't blind?
SS: Hmm, (laughs) can't say really. It would have been the same I think because people around me have their own set of problems. No one is satisfied. It's just that I have to face more problems because of the general perception of people and lack of awareness and lack of facilitation, otherwise I think I am the same.
TNS: Do your parents treat you differently compared to other siblings?
SS: (Smiles) I get extra favours.
TNS: Who do you take inspiration from?
SS: I like certain traits in different people, I don't like personalities. So you can admire one thing in one individual and another trait in another one. In Masters they taught us T.S Eliot and I decided to read his autobiography in summers. After reading it I started hating him as a person (laughs). See, no one is perfect.
TNS: Do you have any message or word of advice to the readers?
SS: Just to develop positive attitude towards life because everyone has his or her own set of problems. So this is what we need as a nation. Pakistan won't be able to come out of the current crisis until all of us start contributing to whatever we can. We always wait for others to do something. We need to do something ourselves. We have to always question ourselves first before questioning others. When I look at my own life there were times when I felt like giving up everything. A number of times I felt that's enough, I cannot do more than that because people treat you very badly. If I would have give up nobody would have been able to do anything for me. People do something for you when you yourself feel that something should be done for you.
Waiting for messiah
By Ayesha Khalid
I always wanted to have a time machine so that we can have a trip to the past, to see life of our ancestors. I always wondered how they survived without all the facilities the modern day man enjoys. Just imagine a life with no refrigerator, no TV, no internet, no micro wave oven, nothing at all. So I wanted to feel the essence of those days. Many of you may have thought about it but my desires were so strong that God fulfilled them by giving, not only me, but the whole Pakistan an organisation which made us realise the conditions and circumstances in which our forefathers survived. Yes! I am talking about 'Wapda'.
Please don't misunderstand me. I am not of those who are against this organisation, in fact I am really thankful to Wapda which has arranged our trips to dark ages, away from all the innovations and discoveries, so that we can learn how to survive without all these gadgets. It is Wapda which has made the 21st Century Pakistan so independent and self-reliant that now the nation can lead life quite similar to the primitive man, without using these electronic devices. So hats off to Wapda!
Wait a minute! Why is Wapda so inequitable? Why is it not providing its own high ranking employees the same opportunity to experience the 'Stone Age' period which is being enjoyed by the other ordinary citizens? My advice to Wapda is that they should stop this discrimination and provide equal opportunities of enjoyment to its pitiful officials.
Everyone desires alteration in his life, same was the case with me that's why I desired to go in the 'Dark Era' but now I am fed-up with this change because the life which we are living now is very dull, monotonous, unexciting and boring.
Electricity failure breaks the focus in every field of life whether it is studies, office work or simple social activities. Every thing is tranquil, silent and hushed up. Due to this still photograph of life, the little efforts which were being made for the progress of the country have also slowed down. Annoyance level among people is rising with every passing day because loadshedding is creating barriers and hindrances in their way.
Now I have realised why it is said, 'think before you speak'. Now I am regretting on such a silly craving because as an outcome, not only I but the whole state has to spend three more years in this darkness. This is what the government says but all of us are quite familiar with the promises made by governments in Pakistan. When they declare a 5 year plan the public has an idea that it would take at least 25 years to complete. Our President, Pervaiz Musharraf is the best example here. He came for 90 days which have been stretched like a rubber band and not coming to an end even after five years.
I think our approaching generation will also fall prey to electricity crisis if things go on as they are. Then may be someone from them also make a wish to some genie to take them to a world full of lights and the genie by his magical powers fulfil his aspirations because it appears that now its not in the hands of the authorities in Pakistan to deal with this crisis. A couple of days back I was watching an interview of one of our very smart and intelligent ministers who said that we have enough resources to produce electricity but lack financial capital, so now the public should pray to Allah that we get excessive quantity of rain so that we may bring into being adequate electricity. It means that they are asking for floods after getting the glut of rain which would result in the destruction of mankind and crops and the government will again request to the public to pray for the crops. Prayers, prayers, prayers.. Alas! That's the fate of Pakistan, always been run on prayers.
If Pakistan need our prayers then why don't we pray for honest, sincere, skillful and competent people who can manage the state, always keeping the national interest first and who try to make Pakistan a progressive country. If people of Pakistan try to get rid of this crisis then we can overcome this dilemma in a period of less than three years, all we need is proper planning and skilful, capable and honest administration.
Living Lahore, call for entries
The city is a layered and rich site of our shared humanity and locale. It is not only a material, spatial city it is also the city of the imagination, myth and lore. It is above all a social settlement of millions who constitute its past and present inhabitants.
Lahore Sudhar has planned to organise an exhibition exploring, expressing, defining, constructing and inventing the many and one, Lahore.The exhibit will include photographs, audio recordings and verses about the city. The exhibition will be displayed in a park (preferably Lawrence Gardens and other selected venues around the city).
All acts of documentation are an intervention and engagement.The purpose of the exhibition is to create urban knowledge and initiate a dialogue about the living city and its future. We hope to benefit from the great facility of digital image and sound to have a wide and intense participation in this endeavor. A panel of professional designers and artists will select and arrange the final exhibition in collaboration with the contributors. A blog of the exhibition process and final selections will be available on the web. To create a comprehensive and focused collection Lahore Sudhar has invited interested individuals to send them their response before 15th August 2008 to Lahore Chitrkar, 41 B 3, Gulberg III, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, Ph: 5758897 so that they can finalise the entry categories among individuals or groups as well as specifications for the submission format etc.
Hostel at the oldest teacher training college remains closed for another year and its admission time, so many potential candidates may fail to avail the opportunity
By Saadia Salahuddin
The University of Education, Lower Mall campus, originally Central Training College, has undergone renovation recently. Established in 1880, it was the first teacher training college in Punjab. Shining new floors, freshly painted walls of the building and frail false ceiling of its library give a new look to the old building. Will it attract more students to this univeristy? Probably not.
The enrolment in the university has gone down, not because of the level of education being imparted here. That is certainly good. It is because of the closure of the university hostel in September 2006.
That was a time when it rained hard for three days and roofs of two or three rooms started leaking. The students were warned that the roof would fall if they did not leave and the hostel was vacated quickly. Since then it is lying locked with no one there but how could the hostel be left out when renovation work is being done at the campus.
To keep the hostel in running condition is in the interest of the University of Education because it will attract more students to it. In its absence the number of students has fallen significantly. It has been learnt that there were 400 students in B.Ed till 2004-2005. Now there are only 150-175 students in B.Ed programme, in M.A Urdu there are 13 students only while there are 50 seats, even M.A English seats were not filled in 2007, both in morning and evening, primarily because those who come from outside Lahore need a place to stay and there are more girls than boys in the teacher training programmes. According to a rough estimate its 80-20 ratio.
The young women and men who come to study in this university are mostly from humble backgrounds. Many girls who come to study here are those whose families would only allow them to enter the teaching profession. In such a situation, closing the hostel which is meant for girls basically, is a set back to the university and the aspiring students from other cities and towns of Punjab where there are no such institutions.
In a letter to the vice chancellor dated June 4, 2006, titled 'Collapsed position of college and hostel building' the director of the campus called for immediate repair of the damaged parts of the university and the hostel but it seems the hostel has become history.
Why is it important to bring to notice this particular neglect on the part of the university adminstration, is that admissions for another session is due and again many potential candidates will be discouraged from studying here owing to the missing hostel facility. See today's newspapers, you may find ads placed by the University of Education, inviting applications for admissions.
If you just walk in the UE campus which connects with Central Model School Lower Mall, once UE's laboratory school, you will find not only the abandoned hostel, there are two guards' room next to it. They are also lying abandoned, as if uninhabited for years. Move a little further and you will be surprised to find a swimming pool and gymnasium, over a centrury old, all abandoned.
Every time I see a part of educational institution lying abandoned it pains me. Firstly, because there are few institutions where students from humble backgrounds can afford to study. Secondly, it scares me and reminds me of how a purpose-built school in Lahore was first vacated, then abandoned and then something commercial was constructed on that land in a very short span of time. I am talking about the M.C Girls Primary School, Sikandria Colony, Bund Road which gave way to a bus adda in January 2004 and the story was published by The News on Sunday on Jan 11, 2004. Here I am not trying to say that somebody is going to occupy the land. It is to bring to the notice of those who care for our educational institutions so that they may be of help in putting things in order.
Another thing that is not understandable is that at least 15 seats of teachers are lying vacant in this university in various departments. There should be replacement when a teacher retires or is transferred. Remuneration of teachers' bills in time is another issue. It sometimes takes three years.
If you had seen the old ceiling of the University library and what has taken its place now, you would be shocked. A University of Education's notification No. UE/AD/2006/1182 dated August 31, 2006 gave the names of Saleema Hashmi, Nayyer Ali Dada and Director of the campus to monitor the renovation of the main building of UE, Lower Mall campus. A committee was also formed to monitor the construction but they were not given any specifications so they could not make out what they were supposed to monitor.
This school can boast of excellent practices in the past. "In 1956, in a seminar arranged here, headmasters, headmistresses and inspectors of schools were specially invited and requested to submit their proposals regarding educational management and curriculum development at primary and secondary school levels," writes Muhammad Akram Bhatti in an article published on the school in Amozish's issue of Jan 1, 2000. Headteachers in our times face a host of problems because they are not involved in educational management.
The Registrar of the University of Education Saeed Akhter when called to comment on the closed hostel, said the hostel needs repair which is good lot of work and he will look into it. Asked about teachers' seats lying vacant, he said the univeristy will advertise the posts that have been created and it keeps doing that whenever the need arises.
There is need to develop separate storm water system or clean the existing sewerage and drainage system of solid waste and silt
By Zaheer Ahmed
Where monsoon brings pleasure and provides respite from humid weather there it adds to the miseries of the people, especially of those who live in low lying areas.
Rain is a boon but it is regarded a bane as poor drainage and sewerage system of Lahore city is not accommodating rain water, causing a lot of problems for the residents of low lying areas as well as pedestrians and motorists.
Lahore is a densely populated city, most of its old development schemes were executed without keeping taking into account the future needs of the people.
Most of the people in low lying areas are poor and cannot afford to make arrangements on their own to prevent storm water from entering their houses.
Those residing in railway land between Badami Bagh and river Ravi along the track are the most affected. All the houses here are submerged in two or three feet water and there is no room to even stand when it rains. They have to spend day and night at high level ground.
Once upon a time, when Lahore was not much developed and there were a lot of open places like Doongi ground Samanabad, Liberty market pond and Main Outfall Sant Nagar, they functioned like ponds to accommodate storm water.
There are 73 points in Lahore city where water accumulates after rain and the staff of Water and Sanitation Agency (Wasa) has to drain out water manually or through dewatering pumps which is not a permanent solution. Wasa has set up emergency centres during the monsoon season in all parts of the city to drain out rainy water.
The Lahore city has 3600 kilometers sewerage lines from 6 inch diameter to 72 inch diameter and 212 kilometer open drains through which 400 million gallon sewage water is being discharged into the river Ravi on daily basis. The sewerage system in walled city and its surrounding areas was laid down in 1936. The people in most of the areas complain that obsolete sewerage system is not meeting the requirement of sewage and rain water disposal and it needs to be replaced or it should be de-silted.
Apart from sewerage system, almost all the main open drains in the city are littered with solid waste and silt and Wasa is not paying heed towards its cleanliness due to which rain water accumulates.
What should be done to improve the system? What should be its permanent solution?
A high ranking Wasa officer tells TNS that the sewerage system of Lahore is not poor and it functions effectively in normal days and creates problems only in monsoon season as this system does not have the capacity to accommodate storm water. Rain water takes three to four hours to drain out but people have their own reservations on Wasa that its staff is doing nothing to ensure smooth flow of rainy water and they want quick disposal of water after rains. The city's sewerage system is only for sewage of houses and not for storm water. For this purpose huge money is required to set up separate storm water system.
Blaming the Solid Waste Management (SWM) department, he says the SWM is also responsible for blockage of sewerage lines as it does not lift solid waste properly and during rain it swept away and went to manholes causing the lines to choke.
"The Lahore city topographically is like a bowl and is below the river bed, so the storm water itself cannot flow towards river and we have to take special measures to dispose it of through various machinery and channels of sewerage system. The city towards Ravi has dyke called Bund road which was developed to stop river water. It is also a hurdle in disposal of sewerage water directly into river, so our 92 disposal stations including 12 big stations and 80 small stations are discharging sewage water of the whole city into the river," he adds.
General Manager Nespak, Jameel Bajwa tells TNS there is no such mechanism to dispose of storm water directly into river Ravi and Wasa has to drain it out through various channels of sewerage system that causes flood like situation in low lying areas of the city. The drains of Sattu Katla, Mian Mir, Chota Ravi and Bara Ravi etc were built in the city for storm water but apathy led to disposal of sewerage water in them which choked the drains. Drains system should be separated from sewerage system and drains should be cleaned from solid waste and silt so that it can be used only for rain water.
About separate storm water system, he said that his department has estimated that Rs 45 billion is required for additional storm water system in some parts of the city. However, setting up storm water system in the city is not feasible as most of the roads and streets do not have space for dual system.
He said that there should be by-laws on construction of buildings and roads so that maximum open spaces could be earmarked for healthy environment. While designing sewerage system of any locality we see to it that the water accumulated in that area is drained out in one hour.
He lamented that Wasa has not spent money on sewerage system as much as it should have, the reason why Lahore's sewerage system is not meeting the requirements of the city.
The conclusion of this issue is that separate storm water system should be developed and if it is not feasible, then existing sewerage and drainage system should be cleaned from solid waste and silt.
2. Raja Sahib
4. Service Shoes Mela
5. Metro Shoes
6. Chen One
7. Ehsan Chappal
8. Saleem Fabrics
9. Stylo Shoes
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