the line of duty
Fo in Lahore
Epitome of hope
The Community Advance Programme gives quality education to children from less fortunate backgrounds
By Jazib Zahir
Driving from Lahore to Kasur, you may spot the sign board for a community known as Youhanabad. Set up in the 1960s by missionaries, it is one of the few sites where you spot regal churches standing shoulder to shoulder with grand mosques. Like many other communities on the outskirts of Lahore, Youhanabad can best be described as an urban slum, with potholes on the roads and stray children roaming the streets. But like many other communities, it too boasts some devoted visionaries who are endeavouring to make a difference.
Dean Kalim is a particularly articulate and worldly man. He has traveled far and wide and accumulated key insights into how to make the world a better place, and made plenty of resourceful friends along the way. Deep in the heart of Youhanabad, he is the nerve center that holds together a network of schools under the banner of the Community Advance Programme. This enterprise includes several schools in the nearby communities for the children of brick labourers. But within Youhanabad itself, it includes two fully furnished schools that cater to hundreds of students who are in no position to afford fees. The distinctive blue and white board have thus come to epitomise hope in a land where paying for school is just not an option for about 70 percentage of the population.
It takes just a few moments of walking around the schools to judge how seriously the administrators take their mission. The courtyards are spacious and the rooms are as lustrous as any you would find in the private schools of suburban Lahore. About thirty tiny chairs and tables adorn each classroom. The staff has managed to create a highly visual atmosphere conducive to the growth of young children. The walls are lined with photos that preach lessons of ethics and morality. Notice boards carry glossy photographs celebrating the achievements of students and teachers alike.
So how did Dean Kalim manage to set all this up? He owes much of the initial financing to a foreign NGO Starfish that actively seeks out opportunities to set up schools in backward communities around the world. He is proud of the fact that they have chosen to endorse the Community Advance Programme, given that they only fund very select causes that they feel will do justice to their investment. He has not sought out funding from individuals in the country since he feels such a culture does not exist here and will not allow him to set up a sustainable enterprise.
Key to the success of this enterprise is the faculty that comprises over 70 teachers that have chosen to devote their lives to teaching in this community. They include people trained as journalists and social workers and all are united by the belief that teaching in such a school is one of the best ways to spend their lives. They excitedly chatter about the summer session they have organised for the students to keep them off the streets where they may fall prey to all kinds of vices. They share stories of how every September, they literally go door to door to convince people in the community to enroll their children in the school.
While the Community Advance Programme has been around for 15 years, it is only recently that it became a full-time preoccupation for Dean Kaleem. He has long taught Urdu at FC College while dabbling in this service on the side. A few years ago, he realised that he would not be able to nurture his organisation without devoting himself to it full-time. As such, he made the decision to settle in Youhanabad where he says his “heart belongs”.
It’s always easy to rest on your laurels but the Community Advance Programme has ambitious plans. The school has recently secured funding from the Association for Development of Pakistan, a private sector volunteer-driven effort to divert funding to the most deserving social causes across the country.
Dean Kalim plans to use this investment to set up two state of the art computer laboratories in the school. He realises that computer literacy is a key skill in the modern age and given that there is no other place in Youhanabad to acquire such learning, there is a void that desperately needs to be fulfilled. Dean Kaleem also dreams of adding a mobile library to the infrastructure of the school so that the love of books can permeate the community.
It’s a challenge to sustain such an enterprise in the face of limited resources but like other social crusaders, Dean Kaleem and his team exude the kind of optimism that belongs to those who have felled many hurdles. In one of the most heterogenous communities around Lahore, the Community Advance Programme unites children from all backgrounds in an environment where they learn the importance of education and in the words of Dean Kaleem that they are “Pakistani first, not Muslim or Christian.”
By Anam Javed
We have all heard the new drawing room conversation. It goes like this: for a second, there is a shift from the usual political hogwash to muse, oh, so sadly, about how numb we have all become. Numb and hardened to the vulgarity of Sheila’s dance moves and the constant killings. Well, it’s mostly about the latter. A sad tale of how the death tolls are just that – one-dimensional figures. Such insensitivity!
What the dolled up women and the suited booted men don’t realise is that psychologists came up with a very simple term for this phenomenon ages ago. It’s called desensitization nature’s way of protecting your sanity in the face of continuous stimuli, perhaps. Without it, we’d all have lost our minds. Recall your high school biology: A constant stream of nerve impulses results in spasms! The one-dimensional figure is the better deal, no?
The humane side in me protests. What if this figure, God forbid, hits near home one day?
So I tested myself. I picked up the newspaper lying on the coffee table in front of me. By chance, it was the city news. I flipped through the pages, glancing only at the bold headlines. Words and phrases flashed quickly before my eyes: missing, barred, lawlessness, education crisis, protests, kills wife… My eyes didn’t linger at all. I had no desire to know the stories behind these words. Negative connotations, all of them. They had the potential to be raining bullets for someone else, but my mind had designed a protective sheath for itself their true meanings don’t reach me anymore. I turned the page, and came to the movie posters. The centre was graced by Bol. Enough said. I came to the first page now: rifts, illegal detention, fraud.
Exactly three articles, though, were exceptions, detailing some appointments made or oaths taken. Reading through them made me feel no different. There was no relief that this was not a story of the end of a life, only numb acceptance.
You can’t say that I didn’t try. I tried to feel something, anything. With that in mind, I forced my eyes to slowly take in the words written about the killed woman. Her name, the name of her four children, her age, her profession… But I couldn’t conjure an image of her in my mind, and thus felt nothing except a passing remorse. Cold and clinical.
No wonder that newscasters seem to be so detached from what they are saying. It’s not insensitivity, it’s necessary.
All in all, there was nothing, nothing which made me stop and smile. Ah, well, who am I kidding, it’s a newspaper after all!
The experiment though has made my case stronger. In this bombardment of negativity, only a few things can break through the armour we have collectively developed. One was what happened with Sarfaraz. I recall my brother practically (or ruthlessly) asking my visibly upset mother: So now you’ll cry at every death? He had to eat his words when he saw the video.
The second thing which easily pierces through it is some good news. And there was none of that.
I’m overwhelmed by a sense of failure. Ten years ago, I had hopes in the common man. I observed the rotting system and absolved the toiling him of all blame. Five years later, I was so sick of the corruption that I couldn’t separate the common man, or anything else for that matter, from it. My hopes of heroically changing it all crashed and were soon forgotten. Only my subconscious reminded me of my failure…
Around that time, with a great literary zeal, I started on Urdu fiction. A few short stories, and a naïve me pondered over the writer’s obsession with courtesans. Were they so engrained in our society that no story was complete without one? Why were women treated as mere objects?
Eventually, the questions and the books took a backseat in my mind and house. And now, one month ago, I heard of the storyline of Bol. And I didn’t care. Because I knew that it would just raise more issues. I had searched for the solution five years ago, and had given up.
Because the way I see it, issues rarely get resolved. In fact, experience calls for a more sweeping statement – issues never get resolved. That’s what I see in newspapers all the time. And I, personally, am sick of these issues. They feed the conversation in drawing rooms, and are what the guests in talk shows bicker (very uncouthly) about. And now a depressing movie too!
I know that the job of the different kinds of media is just bringing about awareness and highlighting problems. That is the first step. But there’s no point in a toddler taking the first step if he isn’t going to follow up on it. We aren’t bothering to do so. No one is looking for solutions, because they are too busy cursing the country for being in such a messed up position. And the constant issues just help convince us that it’s more messed up than we had previously thought. This never-ending cycle leads nowhere.
*Cycling with Critical Mass today at 5:00pm. Location: Zakir Tikka Restaurant, Sarwar Road, Lahore Cantt.
*Dialogue on Theory of permanent revolution and its relevance for Pakistan today from 12:00pm-3:00pm at Labour Party Lahore office: 25A Davis Road. Speaker: Farooq Sulehria, a prominent Marxist writer.
With an eye on fun
Can the new portal “Eye on Lahore” show a new direction to the youth
By Aleesha Hamid
‘Eye on Lahore’ is the first youth portal to be introduced in Pakistan. Created in January 2011, by Shahnawaz Zali, a student of Aitchison College, this website aims to build a student community, bringing all schools together on one platform and connecting them through a single link. The ultimate objective of the portal is to “enhance young people’s participation in public life and to contribute to their active citizenship”.
Eye on Lahore (EOL) serves as a platform where students all over Lahore can interact with each other via blogs, reviews, polls etc. It offers online internships and counselling for university admissions, both services tapping into a huge demand in the youth community.
Understanding the youth mindset, the creator of this portal is careful not to make it sound too serious. He realizes that young people are attracted to fun and entertainment and so the website ensures that anyone visiting the site finds something of interest.
Even the intriguing name was chosen to trigger the curiosity of casual web-surfers. There are play and movie reviews as well as information on events taking place in the city such as parties, events and charity drives. The website also organises online competitions in various fields like photography, filmmaking, art and music. It promotes underground artists and provides a platform for them to showcase their talent.
It appears that the strategy has been successful as the site has received more than 12,000 hits in six months and the number is growing. According to Zali, it is receiving hits from even outside of Pakistan. This has encouraged him to expand the scope of the portal. Collaboration is already underway with three other youth organisations namely, Next Generation Pakistan, Independent Living Foundation and Moral Majority which works for women’s rights. At the end of August a magazine is going to be launched and an ‘Eye on Islamabad’ is in the pipeline! There are also going to be inter-school competitions to increase interaction among students.
Although Zali does, rather modestly, state that this is his way of giving back to society, he is quite unapologetic about the fact that Eye on Lahore is a business venture. Still a student himself, he is already a successful businessman. EOL has attracted support from several sponsors and his team members are given incentives which may not be monetary but still attractive enough to interest them. “If people work, they have a right to party,” he says, and it appears his team agrees. He has a talented editorial team and representatives from schools all over Lahore.
Those who are familiar with the story of how Facebook started will remember how Mark Zuckerburg, a student himself, recognised the need for a social network. The Eye on Lahore too is an inspired initiative. It fills a vacuum in the student community which is there because of limited opportunities for youth to engage in positive and constructive activities. In recent years, because of the security situation, sports competitions, concerts and public events have been either cancelled or held on a very limited scale.
This adds to the frustration and boredom of young people who need outlets for their energy. Public spaces for entertainment are few and far between. Parents are happiest when they can keep their children safely in the confines of their homes, but they then complain that they are spending too much time on the computer. The EOL may be an acceptable compromise.
It has the potential to grow into something extremely useful for the youth of the city as it can provide a vent for their frustrations, opinions and feelings and if managed properly, their collective energy can be channelized into positive endeavors, their immense talent can get a platform to be recognised and this can be a sort of training to make them into useful and proactive citizens. As the website itself proclaims, the “Eye On Lahore can show Pakistan the power of Youth.”
traffic wardens combat all odds
By Saim Ejaz
It is said that the colour blue has a calming effect on a person. The reason why the sky is blue according to a research is because nature favours light shades of blue for its positive effects on human mind. But, was it the focus of the authorities when they selected this colour for the uniform of the traffic police in Lahore?
Whether or not the general populace finds it soothing, those in blue uniform do not find their environment relaxing. It is hard for any of us, in our air conditioned vehicles, to realise the extent of the hardship the men in blue have to face. Clearly, an hour’s observation of the traffic at the Bhaati Chowk with Warden Usman opened up a whole new world to me. The world of these men!
Most of these men are well-educated and intelligible to a certain extent. Usman has a Masters degree in Political Science which further goes to show the state of unemployment in Pakistan. He woefully states, “Running around this chowk with a Masters degree in hand is not very satisfying.”
Interestingly, he didn’t speak against the police department but pointed out the ills in the society as a whole particularly focusing on the general lack of awareness regarding traffic rules and norms. Frustration in the eyes was hidden under his shades but comprehensible in his voice and manner of speech. “A nation which does not have the patience to stop for two minutes on a traffic signal, can never progress.” he stated.
Wearing a full-sleeved shirt and starched uniform in the hot and humid month of July cannot be a favourable prospect for anyone. Even watching them is a torture. Rolling up their sleeves is not an option. Whilst wondering how they survive, I glance at his leather boots and sweat trickling down my bare feet in slippers. I question his attire which he shoots away confidently as part of his training. It is remarkable when one deeply analyses their commitment to the job. Our country is a great producer of cotton. Can’t the authorities provide cotton uniform to its police?
Before all the sympathies are directed towards the fellow men and women in blue, it must be noted that there are certain structural inefficiencies as well as partial negligence on the part of the wardens themselves. A few of them have been reported to be neglectful at times when there is a lot of rush. At the Azadi Chowk I was surprised at the absence of policemen. Not a single traffic signal was functional and to my utter disbelief the vehicles were still managing to find their way. Even though a couple of minutes later I spotted a warden on roadsides, fining motorists upon violations, it was hard for me to digest watching him impose a fine while the rush transpired into havoc a few feet away. Upon questioning, the warden shifted the blame on others who had taken the day off.
Bribery is one of the chief predicaments present in the institutions of Pakistan. Traffic police has been plagued with this problem for decades. With the revamped system the refinement led to lessening of these instances. These wardens themselves claim to be vigilant and discourage it. Additionally, the motorists have confirmed the traffic wardens’ will to combat it. This change is mostly attributed to the educational qualification, the salary and other incentives as well as the training they receive.
Unfortunately, one of the more indirect complaints against the wardens is their inability to fine all those who are a phone call away from their chiefs or heads. Principles of impartiality are then compromised when the first lesson of justice taught to them is: Justice must be imparted even if the heavens fall. A subjective approach in this regard hands them the benefit of doubt.
With no proper resources to attain a glass of water and without even a shade to sit under for a breather, these officers work for eight hours continuously which sometimes extends to twelve or more on account of a national holiday or VIPs. More importantly, in a country where darkness looms and hopelessness reigns, these wardens have combated all odds standing in the heat of Lahore at a junction as demanding as the Bhaati Chowk. In the end, it seems that the colour blue holds no meaning for a dedicated and resilient officer.
The play highlighted inefficiencies in the system that kept people glued to their seats
On a Monday evening when movies such as Harry Potter are in the theatres for a limited time, one has to re-arrange the schedule accordingly. Before the thought of watching the seventh part struck my mind, I stumbled upon a gate pass to Behrupia – A Musical. When name such as Dario Fo is attached to the play one decides to watch an old classic without any second doubts in mind. And so on July 25, 2011, the play, an adaptation of Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist was staged as a presentation by two universities BNU and NIMS.
The play kicked off with a heroic entry by the protagonist of the play, Behrupia along with Sipahi number 1 and Sipahi number 2. The entry may have been a memorable one on the Delhi Belly’s background score but what lead after that was not a depiction of this Urdu classic. To start off the familiarity of the actors with their blockings was a rarity apart from the Behrupiya himself.
It seemed as if the focal point of the play was just the Behrupiya with his rapid changing characters from a thief to a judge to a policeman. It was a well noted observation that the entire cast was sincere to their characters with all of them adapting to the local accent. When you expect to see a play staged by one of the leading universities of Pakistan, flaws such as actors being too loud and unclear shouldn’t have occurred. With such amateurish flaws at university level, one tends to question the direction of the play.
Before the heat at Alhamra got to this full-house crowd at Hall 2, the word musical just seemed a formality. When musicals such as Moulin Rouge, Avanti and Chicago set a certain bar of excellence then attempts in the form of Behrupiya may be tagged as brave but certainly not the greatest of performances. Whether it was the Punjabi beats or Pashto musical score, nothing met the neutral crowd’s expectation.
A student named Shahrukh Shahid summed the play in the words ‘average’. Though there was one Feroz Kamal who thought it was a great effort.
Despite the several flaws in the play, one cannot disagree with the message that this play conveyed to the people. It has very much been the case in the circuit to concentrate on the quantity of plays by new production houses than working on its quality, a message which many notable critics such as Omair Rana stand by.
Moreover, the imagery drawn on how the police in the status-quo handle a criminal case was very deep. This dark humour on the inefficiencies in current systems was the only factor that kept people stick to their seats despite the unconditioned hall. Overall, it wasn’t a bad farce that deeply questioned the credibility of the law-enforcing agencies today. Despite keeping the message pretty discrete, one could relate it to the status-quo.
The cast consisted of Shah Fahd, Zain Afzal, Ali Ahmed Khan, Saad Khalid, Fahd Nur, Natalia Malik and Umair Basit. Though, the evident and most appreciated ones were Shah Fahd and Zain Afzal. To sum it up it was one such play where the script might be first-class but the execution didn’t live up to the goodwill of Nobel laureate Dario Fo.