Bringing about change: To Lyari with love

Published September 22, 2013
Check out the footwork of this young Pakistani.
Check out the footwork of this young Pakistani.

The football match was over, but the excitement still remained. The road where the children had played their match (the actual playground has been encroached on) was still full of stragglers basking in the afterglow of their victory. It was late at night, but that’s the time such matches are held, so that the locals can attend after finishing their daily work.

This is Lyari after all, and the love for football lies at its heart. On August 7, terrorists struck at that heart. A bomb exploded that day, killing eight of the boys who were playing for their neighbourhood teams.

Soon, television cameras converged on the scene and, as is usual, social media erupted with outrage. And, as is also usual in a land where tragedies take place so regularly, the media moved on, and the impotent outrage diminished. At least, it did for most of us.

Just half an hour after the blast, Aiman Rizwan posted a video on Facebook, asking a simple question: “Are we, once again, going to blame the authorities, or going to do something ourselves for a change?”

He went on to ask people to collect unused toys and books for the surviving children “and to complain later.” The huge number of comments, likes and shares on the post showed that what Rizwan wrote, appealed to many people. And guess what? The response wasn’t limited to computer clicks. A large number of people responded; some provided books and toys, while some offered monetary help, even from abroad, which was later given to the survivors.

Heading the outreach programme of Azme Alishan (AEA) in Karachi since March 23, 2010, an initiative to bring social change through “resolute actions”, Rizwan says that people are too “focused on the mistakes to look for solutions”. He adds that their team tried getting politicians on board for this project, “but didn’t get a good response, so we let it be”.

They then chalked out a plan to initiate projects to send out a strong message to extremists and those stoking ethnic strife between communities. As Rizwan puts it, “Our people need to realise that violence is not the only thing that defines Pakistan. There is so much more to it.”

The AEA team also arranged a football match at Cheel Chowk in Lyari on August 30. In collaboration with the Karachi Electric Supply Company (KESC), the team arranged a match between young footballers representing the KESC and AEA.

“The street was overcrowded,” recalls Rizwan with a smile. Two of the young surviving footballers were also invited to the match. One of them had lost an eye in the blast; the other survived with leg injuries, and was brought in a wheelchair. “Both came in shalwar kameez but we asked them to put on the t-shirts of rival teams, and they were given celebrity treatment,” adds Rizwan.

Speaking of celebrities, a well-known football champion from Lyari, Nawaz Baloch, was also invited to look over the proceedings of the match. That night, the KESC won and the AEA went back winning a lot of hearts, from an area considered unsafe and dangerous.

“You don’t need a thousand people to start something, just a few determined ones are enough,” says Rizwan.

That’s a sentiment that Pakistan Youth Alliance’s Ali Abbas Zaidi would agree with. He and his team have been working in various parts of Karachi, including Lyari, Korangi and Orangi for many years.

The PYA, which was formed in 2007, is also focusing on parts of the metropolis considered as ‘No-Go’ areas and plans to start a Rickshaw Art and graffiti training workshop from October this year. Over a hundred auto rickshaws will be utilised for the purpose of sending out messages of peace to people across the city. Zaidi explains that their message is simple and straight forward. “Don’t let others exploit your art or voice, or use it to bolster another’s propaganda or ideology,” Zaidi adds.

The focus of their latest project, Aman Ke Rang, is going to be on three things: subtle messages denouncing extremism, promoting peace building and getting rid of ethnic warfare.

So far, the PYA has trained around 550 students and reached out to Korangi, Orangi and Lyari. With almost four projects completed in every area, the most surprising part of the visit was the interaction which the team had with the students. “Some said ‘I’m scared of Baloch people’, some said ‘I can’t imagine an Urdu speaking person as my brother’ and what not,” recalls Zaidi, “but it is good, we needed people to vent out”.

He said that out of these three places, he found that while Korangi and Orangi are relatively more divided on sectarian and ethnic lines, Lyari is one of the most progressive in terms of accepting other communities and cultures. “There is greater openness to song and dance, and towards having fun in Lyari,” says Zaidi.

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