Catch the spirit

Published August 21, 2010

It is an overwhelming feeling when people unite for a cause. When in an instant, strangers no longer remain strangers.

In the last 10 days, I’ve seen Pakistan come together in ways never seen before. The Pakistani youth has risen and literally stepped out on the streets to help their countrymen affected by the flood.  It is exhilarating to think about not what they are doing as volunteers but what they will become.

With as many as 20 million people affected, roadside relief camps have sprouted up by the dozen in Karachi. Students have taken to the streets, donation boxes in tow, physically stopping cars, requesting people to contribute.

Each day brings a relentless and constant chain of support. Where the monetary contributors stop, there is a group of people ready to take over by running to crowded bazaars everyday to buy food supplies, clean drinking water and medicines. From there yet another massive portion of the population is stepping in to pack those supplies and load them into trucks to deliver them to the affected areas.

As Pakistani authorities failed to provide the necessary leadership needed and with no proper coordination in the relief efforts, the civilian population of Pakistan has taken it upon themselves to do what they can in the face of this crisis; in the process, developing a conscientious society that we’re all proud to belong to.

The spirit of volunteerism is a crucial aspect of patriotism, something I realised as I helped Faith Foundation and Help in a Box sort and pack through piles of clothes and endless bags of dry food items. Pakistanis have chosen to treat it as a responsibility rather than a choice. After working long hours, during a fast, rain or shine, volunteers are contributing their time and resources. It is a sacrifice of insurmountable proportions. And their only reply to that it is: who will do it, if I don’t?

Various non-profit organisations are asking for help to sort and pack supplies by advertising on blogs and social websites such as Facebook; making it possible for any and everyone to join in the relief work.

Albeit, their number small and their reach limited, Pakistanis are displaying an extraordinary passion that has easily transcended the government, the bureaucracy and any protocol.

While we’ve slept during bad governance and political disarray, this awakening has been a tremendously gratifying experience and it only reinforces my belief that the spirit of volunteerism will take this country further.

I have realized that schools taking their students to visit SOS villages and Dar-ul-Sakoon can not merely be disregarded as field trips anymore. It is a serious effort in ingraining the values of voluntary work and its impact on our children. The very children who are rising up and reaching out now.

This national catastrophe has given Pakistanis a platform on which to come forward and define their identities. It is also a time for those who are mourning to channel their grief into a productive national effort.

No doubt the death of 1,600 people is an enormous tragedy but perhaps the only greater tragedy is how we can only come together during drastic times.

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