Long ago on one very cold day in Beijing, China, we were issued a warning of heavy snowfall. My father told our Chinese housekeeper that she better head home before the roads get blocked.
In response, she pointed towards an unprepared dinner and then stared quizzically at my father as if to inquire, “who is going to cook dinner, you?”
I do not recall what arrangements she made that night, but given that she was with us another two years, it is safe to assume that she made it home just fine.
At the time, I was not old enough to comprehend the significance of this gesture. However, now I understand that when given the choice, this person put work over safety. And it wasn’t a one-off either.
It has been over two decades since we returned to Pakistan, and I have yet to see here a level of dedication to work that is as infectious as it is widespread.
A culture of responsibility
This culture needs to be instilled at a very young age. Here, the distinction between studying hard and the work ethic is almost never made. We do not realise its importance until much later in life when the work piles up and there are not enough people to take care of it.
The solution? Create odd jobs for children that help them appreciate the value of hard work first-hand.
Also read: Affluent yet unemployed
This suggestion might sound a little too simplistic knowing that we are part of an economy that struggles to provide work for adults. Finding odd jobs for young people is probably not on anybody’s priority list.
It is a global reality that the impoverished are the most hard working people and they have a stellar work ethic. It could be because the alternative means starvation and destitution.
Unfortunately, when we talk about ’odd jobs’, we are not including the estimated 10 million underage child labourers who have no choice but to work full-time, and for them, even education is a luxury.
Article 11 (Employment of Children Act 1991) of the Constitution of Pakistan strictly prohibits child labour — where a child is anyone who has not yet completed 14 years of life.
These young people did not choose their situation and perhaps don’t even fully understand the burden they carry. It is a much larger discussion on how education can be made available to them, for example, through evening classes.
All paid jobs should preferably be taken up by people who really need the money, so it is probably best to put those aside for the moment. However, there are ways of making odd jobs count for children and students. They could be compensated in the form of school credit hours or scholarships, or perhaps, parents could chip in some cash to encourage them.
I want to say here that the criminal elements of our society have no age limit, no work hours and no closing time. They get started much earlier in life and have no retirement age. Perhaps the crime rate in our society is closely linked with the fact that we fail to share the value of hard work with our children in an effective manner.
The first step is to let go of this fallacy that it is indecent to do chores for other people for meagre money.
If we are teaching our children to look down upon those who are working hard, then we really need to stop for a moment and think about the kind of people we are building out of them.
There is another problem; the lack of odd jobs. Fast food joints do not hire part-time employees — and why should they when full-time labour is cheaper to train and retain? Moreover, the environment, even in the most posh locality in the city, is not safe enough to leave your child unsupervised. Constant supervision is going to be required; and that requires reform.
But it is safe to say that there is a lot of long-term benefit in creating a premium on a small scale socio-economic reform. According to an economic survey, our economy is back on the rise. This means more liquidity and more tasks to be distributed.
Another medium of work for children that goes widely ignored is what you and I are doing right now. I’m writing this article on a computer, you are reading it on an electronic device. If this is where a child’s focus lies, then perhaps they would be more open to different tasks coming to them through it.
There are Bloggers, YouTubers and Viners around the world who start as young as 13 years and do well enough to make a decent living out of it, simply because they have schedules and accountability for their work. Consistency is the key.
With successful online shops such as Markhor (hand crafted shoes) and Mont5 (leather goods), E-commerce and digital content is where the market is shifting. It makes sense to learn about the profitable side of the internet as much of our time is already being spent on it.
Pakistan has a unique culture. People from the lower economic bracket are hired as housekeepers, cooks and maids, the wealthier the family, the higher the number of servants. While many people are earning a living through this, children in affluent homes grow up thinking that there are things that fall under the category of 'this is not my job'.
I once worked with a group in Islamabad who launched a program called 'Inspire Pakistan'. They trained students from public schools to take responsibility for their environments and guided teachers on how to strengthen and further build upon their lessons.
These children went back and cleaned their schools on their own, even the toilets. They did not wait for someone else to do what they could easily do themselves. When I last checked, Inspire Pakistan had reached out to 10,000 students all over Pakistan in just a few years.
That means the message was shared with 10,000 families, through those children, who were willing to take responsibility. This concept is a brilliant and important one; it needs to be shared with every child no matter where he is.
I feel that we would greatly benefit as a country by creating an environment that allows children to grow up understanding, appreciating, and actually indulging in hard work. We will in turn create a generation of leaders who take responsibility for bringing positive change, whether at work or home.