Going Back to Karachi: Focus on the Children

Posted on June 23, 2010
Filed Under >Hira Qureshi, Economy & Development, Society
24 Comments
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Hira Qureshi

My first impression when we drove out of Quaid-e-Azam international airport was that Karachi has really changed!

No question that Mayor Mustafa Kamal has done a phenomenal job. Huge billboards were always there, but now you get to see a lot more from bridges to parks, and much better roads to fast-food chains that I never thought could exist in Pakistan. I had been seeing pictures of different projects that were under construction and even those that had been completed, but it was hard to believe until I actually saw them.

But here I was back to Karachi after years. And ‘My Karachi’ was nowhere to be found.

Believe it or not, people do try to stop at a red light now, (of course there are exceptions and excuses) and you would also see some people with paper bags and their old fashioned baskets instead of those black plastic shopping bags that were all over the streets of Karachi (and I highly respect them for trying on their part to solve environmental issues).

But before I could believe Karachi had changed for good, I heard someone knock on my window. I rolled down the window and there it was! The stark reality.

I had found the Karachi I thought I would see and just when I was about to believe that the Karachi I saw years ago had changed to a much better place, I was struck by the reality that everything hasn’t changed. The girl that knocked on my window was probably around eight or nine years old and was asking me if I wanted to buy roses. The first thing that came to my mind was about all different social service projects that were targeting child labor and homelessness. “So they weren’t a success?”

As you drive around you would see kids working in restaurants, fixing cars, selling toys, flowers, candies and God knows what. And yet they still get yelled at by people who don’t want them to clean their windshields, or even knock on their windows, just because for them it’s too hot to pull down the window and let the cool air out (they probably think it’s snowing for those kids out on the streets).

Can’t they see the pain in their eyes? These children are trying to make a living. If we can’t help them, we have no right to scream at them either. It was very disturbing to see these children walking around, (usually bare foot) and trying to survive in a city that I heard had totally changed and on top of that they have to take these “Jhirkiyan.”

It is obvious that the socio-economic gap has increased. On one hand, it seems as if all that exists in Karachi are the impoverished. On the other hand, the number of people eating out has greatly increased, but of course if a kid comes by all they get is an “attitude.” I also noticed that unlike before when you saw a bunch of tables right outside restaurants, most people would prefer to eat inside the restaurants. Pollution is probably a factor, but these kids also play a role. People don’t want to be bothered by these children, while they’re enjoying their food.

This wasn’t the Karachi I wanted to see. But before I lost all hope, I did find out that people like Shahzad Roy, were attempting to help these children attain a better living standard. I’m not exactly sure if it’s a hundred percent success, but at least some people are trying. Of course it’s nearly impossible for these few to end child labor and homelessness, but even if it’s a drop in the bucket, why not?  It makes a huge difference in someone’s life. I strongly believe that Pakistanis living abroad can make a difference too. We always have excuses like, “we can’t do anything, I don’t trust this organization, We can never end these problems, and Pakistan will always remain the same,” but is that really true? There are opportunities out there if you really plan on doing something productive.

Other than that, there are still things that can bring a smile to your face. The cats still walk around the tables (that’s only if you decide to eat outside) as they did before and make you feel like you’re ‘home.’ I was actually glad to see them because that was one thing that I missed about eating out and seeing a cat come by and stare at me for food.  Just a side note, If you like chocolate, the “Kulfi wala” does have chocolate dip now. I definitely enjoyed that as well.

By the time I left, I came to the conclusion that although Karachi had changed, there are still disturbing realities that are sugar coated and portrayed as if they don’t even exist.  But I’m hopeful that although many societal problems still exist, there are people who are working to overcome these problems and we can play our role as well. Let’s be optimistic and say that sooner or later these issues will be resolved and we will have a Pakistan where all kids will be in school instead of being on the streets trying to make enough that will last them for a day or two.

We can make it happen!

24 responses to “Going Back to Karachi: Focus on the Children”

  1. Soomro says:

    The rant was not meant to discourage expats (I myself being one once) from contributing (which we desperately need) but to bring the focus to the action part.. Peace out..

  2. Hira Qureshi says:

    Thanks for the encouragement. I was surprised that some people would think this is just another way of showing off from the “elite class” and that overseas Pakistanis only “talk” about these issues….. which is definitely not true. I have seen the real conditions these kids live in. I know all of them aren’t “professional beggars”…. I know some of them wanted to go to school but were forced to work instead. I have seen them go around “begging” people for clean drinking water.
    Even if I can’t change the lives of all of them, I’m willing to take the chance!

    Watan Aziz says:

    Hira Qureshi,

    This is the first blog on this site that I have read which has what I call the “cry of the soul”.

    Some of us go clinical and loose the compassion and the empathy. You have both the compassion and empathy for the weak, the less privileged.

    And let me add, it is the simplicity of the “rant” that makes this the cry of the soul so powerful. All those complicated charts, tables, statistics are easy sell-out for the educated of the Pakistan. It gives them “justification of their theft” by declaring, it is a illiteracy or a population planning or a long term solution.

  3. Watan Aziz says:

    Hira Qureshi,

    This is the first blog on this site that I have read which has what I call the “cry of the soul”.

    Some of us go clinical and loose the compassion and the empathy. You have both the compassion and empathy for the weak, the less privileged.

    And let me add, it is the simplicity of the “rant” that makes this the cry of the soul so powerful. All those complicated charts, tables, statistics are easy sell-out for the educated of the Pakistan. It gives them “justification of their theft” by declaring, it is a illiteracy or a population planning or a long term solution.

    And therefore nothing needs to be done today.

    And if you please, Pakistan is lucky to have the expats who “rant”. They generally able to contribute to the discussion because they are have a different perspective on the same problems.

    And but for these expats, Pakistan would be facing whole different set of problems. It is because of the expats, because they care, they talk with everyone they can and help explain the nature of the problems Pakistan is facing. This is priceless and endless. Pakistan could not have ever bought this scale of personal representation that the expats bring. (And if I may, some expats “sell” Pakistan for the best price too; but that is another story.)

    There is much more of the expats contributions, but that too is another story.

    So, Pakistanis be so lucky, to hear the rants of expats for there are those who simply wish Pakistan away.

  4. Hira Qureshi says:

    what a fantastic reply :)
    Finally I get a comment that focuses on the REAL issue instead of being criticized for living in a superficial world.
    Totally agree with you. These were the excuses I was trying to hint at.

    Watan Aziz says:
    June 24th, 2010 8:17 am

    Fascinating.

    We now have the proof that the educated of Pakistan are not the problem.

    Do we?

    The other day, someone calculated exactly how much Shazia Masih’s parents “earned” from her death. Not sure if that was inflation adjusted.

    And today we know how much a “beggar family” can earn. Presumably, if the beggar family can work longer hours, (why limit to 6 to 8 hrs?) they could conceivably double that income. We also do not know if this too is inflation adjusted. Per chance they may even have a “foreign bank account”?

  5. Hira Qureshi says:

    I know there are some “professional beggars” but you can’t just assume that all of them are. Secondly, I didn’t say we should be giving money to every single beggar that asks for it. We should investigate if they are really in need or not. Find out where they live, and based on their living conditions decide whether or not they deserve the help. And believe me, there are many that aren’t “professional beggars.”

    I may be in my so called “superficial world” but at least I’m trying to do something for them. I know every major city has problems, but is child labor really that big of an issue in every major city? and even if it is do I care about every major city in the world? I certainly DON’T :)

    Arsalan Zamir says:

    dont be deceived by these professional beggars. i went to tariq road late one night long time ago and saw a line of beggars sitting on footpath eating chicken tikka in front of tusso, yes they deserve to eat chicken tikka too but everyday? that too by doing nothing and getting paid for it? what about saving some money for tomorrow? what happened to the cries “bhai 2 din se bhooka hon”?

    apart from this i think the author is living in a superficial world. all major cities of the world have problems. only a tiny number of countries can boast cleanliness, proper health care and literacy. lets not forget that these changes take time. nothing happens in the blink of an eye. change is coming and we have to wait for it.

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