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LAHORE: With an aim to promote unity through compassion and empathy where violence threatens to divide, The Grief Directory’s first annual conference titled ‘An Initiative for the Victims and Survivors of Political Violence in Pakistan’, in collaboration with the Centre for Public Policy and Governance at Forman Christian College University began here on Monday.

The Grief Directory (TGD) is a platform that aspires to match the needs of grieving families, particularly those affected by terrorism, with professionals, organisations and individuals who are willing and able to provide support. The initiative was started by Dr Fatima Ali Haider following the killing of her husband, Dr Ali Haider, and her 11-year old son Murtaza Ali Haider in February 2013, along with her friend Dr Narmeen Altaf Hamid.

TGD understands that terrorism is a far bigger problem than could be anticipated. Accessible and systematic support systems could not be provided by working individually, but simultaneous efforts are required to build institutional mechanisms of support. With this conference, TGD hopes to bring in an international perspective to learn from similar efforts in other parts of the world as well as bring together individuals who are working locally to address the problem and brainstorm meaningful solutions through workshops, research and policy dialogue.

The conference has invited Prof Marie Breen Smyth, a distinguished visiting professor at the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, US and founder editor of Critical Studies on Terrorism journal, to conduct a three-day course for mental health professionals, rescue teams and social activists, titled ‘Working with Sufferers, Victims and Survivors of Terrorism of Political Violence in Pakistan’.

This will be followed by daylong workshop for researchers, academics and students, also conducted by Prof Marie, to identify and discuss the methods and challenges in conducting research on the effects of political violence, including ethical and methodological issues.

A policy dialogue will be held on the final day of the conference, titled ‘Envisioning a Compassionate Society: Responding to Sufferers & Survivors of Political Violence in Pakistan’. It has been designed to focus on the condition of those affected by violent extremism by bringing together state representatives, researchers and professionals to explore how Pakistan might embark on identifying and meeting the needs of those who have suffered.

Sharing her views about the conference, Prof Marie said that it is an opportunity for people who are “committed and determined” to provide good care and support for those who have suffered from violence.

Talking about her experience and what she expects from the programme, she said: “We are very excited because lots of good ideas are coming up about how we can move this project forward so we can arrive at a position where Pakistan is a more compassionate society and those who have suffered most can actively get the help and support they need.”

Dr Fatima and Dr Narmeen felt that the main idea of the conference could be conveyed with two simple quotes: ‘Don’t complain, organise’, and ‘Hope is not a feeling, it is a practice’.

The conference is dedicated to Dr Ali Haider and Dr Faisal Manzoor -- both graduates of King Edward Medical College and victims of sectarian violence.

Published in Dawn January 24th, 2017