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Dreams from Balochistan: A garbage picker from Quetta makes a movie, tells his tale

Published: June 28, 2015
http://tribune.com.pk/story/910980/dreams-from-balochistan-a-garbage-picker-from-quetta-makes-a-movie-tells-his-tale/
Budding filmmaker Ali Ahmed (left) dreams of one day making a film that will be shown in a cinema, while young Ashraf Khan (right) has overcome poverty, an acid injury and drug addiction to produce a documentary on the plight of garbage pickers. PHOTOS COURTESY: ALI AHMED (LEFT) AND ASHRAF KHAN (RIGHT)

Budding filmmaker Ali Ahmed (left) dreams of one day making a film that will be shown in a cinema, while young Ashraf Khan (right) has overcome poverty, an acid injury and drug addiction to produce a documentary on the plight of garbage pickers. PHOTOS COURTESY: ALI AHMED (LEFT) AND ASHRAF KHAN (RIGHT)

KARACHI: A part of his face may still be scarred but this strapping young 18-year-old man from Quetta has eyes full of dreams, and some of these dreams have begun to come true.

Life changed for Ashraf Khan since people from Institute for Development Studies and Practices (IDSP)-Pakistan stumbled upon him. The teenager has learnt lessons beyond his years. By the age of 15, he had already experienced poverty, an acid injury, garbage picking as a profession, and drug addiction as an escape.

Read: Balochistan unrest: FC nails six alleged insurgents in separate raids

“It was Ramazan and I was seven years old,” recalled Ashraf. “We put slabs of wood on the wall as makeshift cupboards and one of them carried a bottle of acid. I was sleeping on the floor. It was dark. My mother came to pick something and dropped the acid on me by mistake.”

His handsome features, once ravaged by acid burns, have now begun to emerge again, thanks to the treatment for which IDSP and Indus Hospital have helped him. Ashraf became a garbage picker around the same time he had the accident. With nine siblings and a father too old and sick to work, child labour was inevitable, that too the worst kind as a scavenger of waste.

“I would earn Rs200 to Rs300 a day, and would spend it mostly on my treatment,” he said. “I used to get two injections a day. My face used to bleed and I would smell of and ooze pus. People could not sit with me and have food.”

Finding a guiding hand from IDSP, he was brought to Karachi some two and a half years ago when he was operated on at Indus Hospital. “I cannot express how happy I was. My Ammi could not believe it when my brother sent her my picture. I had a face once again.” Ashraf has never been to school and talks in Urdu with difficulty, but has already produced a documentary film on the plight of garbage pickers and it has been well-received.

Read: Balochistan govt announces general amnesty for militants who lay down their arms

Budding filmmaker Ali Ahmed (left) dreams of one day making a film that will be shown in a cinema, while young Ashraf Khan (right) has overcome poverty, an acid injury and drug addiction to produce a documentary on the plight of garbage pickers.

PHOTOS COURTESY: ALI AHMED (LEFT) AND ASHRAF KHAN (RIGHT)

Ashraf is one of the 30 students who exhibited their short films and documentaries at the Pak-American Cultural Center under the IDSP Film Festival, 2015. Sensitive subjects, such as target killing, violence, human rights, living in conflict zones, sectarian violence and social marginalisation were tackled deftly in these films. “All the funding to make these films was provided by IDSP,” said Asma Zafar, IDSP’s institutional support manager, who is a mentor to many young people from Balochistan.

Read: In session: Balochistan Assembly debates power shortage

Ashraf admitted the idea to make a film came to his heart. “I want more and more people to see it so that people understand what garbage pickers go through,” he said about his production and directorial debut in which he dabbled with a little bit of acting too.

Today, Ashraf has started reading and writing, and he guides other young garbage pickers in Karachi. “Only a garbage picker can understand the problem of another one,” he said, sharing his dream of setting up a centre for garbage pickers. “When young people do not get mentors and guidance, they can get lost. If I had not gotten guidance, I would be just another druggy lost on the streets and life would have left me behind.”

Pursuing his passion: Two goats for a film

Another budding filmmaker, Ali Ahmed, 23, is ready to pay any price to pursue his passion for film making. “I had to sell two of my goats to make the film and come to Karachi for the screening,” he said. “My family thinks all films are vulgar like the Bollywood ones. I want to make films that remove their misconception.”

Read: Water for all: Gwadar desalination plant ready after probe

Ahmed’s father wants him to go to Dubai instead to make some money but he insisted on pursuing his passion for filmmaking. “I have started a small production concern in Quetta and I dream that one day I will make a film that will be showed in a cinema.”

His 20-minute-long film, called ‘Dhutuk’ meaning doll in Brahwi, comments on the devastating effects of terrorism on families. “I want to show that when one person dies in an act of terrorism, an entire family dies with him or her.” After coming to IDSP, Ali feels he has found his calling and knows what to work towards.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 28th, 2015.

Success stories: From Balochistan to Karachi: Sewing lives back together

Zarmina and Bakhtawar display the dresses they have made. PHOTO: FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI/EXPRESS

Whenever a well-dressed woman appears on television, Sohrab Khan Marri calls out loudly to his daughters Uzma and Sanam. “Look. This is the latest design. You can make something like this for your clients,” he says.

A year ago, the environment in this house in Quetta was very different. While Marri and his wife are educated people and allowed their girls to get an education, working outside the home was taboo for women in their family. All that changed after the two sisters stepped out of their comfort zone and travelled to Karachi to attend a six month-long fashion design course, introduced by Institute for Development Studies and Practices (IDSP) to help empower young women from Balochistan. “Before the course, I did not know I had a purpose in life. Now life is so exciting! I have realized I have the power to be a role model for the women of my area. I now teach women at Darul Aman Quetta the same skills I learnt. I also try and build their confidence,” says Uzma. “All of the 20 girls who were chosen for the first batch are from Balochistan. We extend help to anyone who we feel is marginalised and is from vulnerable segments of society,” explains Asma Zafar, Manager Institutional Support at IDSP. Zafar is in charge of these projects, and shares that the second batch of girls will soon start the course. The young women come from communities across Balochistan but they have one thing in common: life has not been easy on them. Their problems are mostly an overlap of poverty, insecurity and violence. “There have been cases on Saryaab Road area in Quetta where acid was thrown on women simply because they ventured out of their homes to work,” says Zafar. According to her, if these women step out of their homes to work, the Pashtoon rikshaw drivers will not take a Baloch woman as a passenger, and vice versa, as they do not want to get involved with the responsibility of helping a woman from another community commute to work. “The girls come to us with social conditioning and ethnic bias at times. But the same girls who initially do not want to talk to each other have, by the end, become best friends,” says Zafar, explaining how the project also serves as a peace-building initiative. Zarina and Bakhtawar speak to each other in Dari when asked if Karachi has been the safe haven they hoped it would be. They are from the Shia Hazara community and migrated to Karachi from Quetta more than 15 years ago, in search of a more secure and comfortable life. But while Karachi has given them a lot, it has also taken away a significant amount. Zarina’s 32-year-old brother, along with two others, was shot earlier this year at Karachi’s Maskan Chowrangi just because he belonged to the Hazara community. “An FIR was lodged but there was no follow-up. My brother has left behind five children, a young wife and our parents,” says Zarina. A resident of Manghopir area, there are 18 family members in Zarina’s house. The ISDP provides these girls with the basic materials they need for the course, like fabric. The profit is shared on a 50-50 basis between the girls and IDSP. In addition the girls are paid separately for the hard work they put in. To help girls like herself, Zarina is teaching 10 girls in her neighbourhood. “I charge them Rs200 each and earn about Rs2000 a month from that too. Recently, a supporter of the organization internationally exhibited the clothes designed by these girls and sold them. “We are taught everything, right from sketching, drafting, cutting and stitching,” says Zarina. What is most interesting is how these girls, in this women-friendly space, learn each other’s traditional stitches specific to the culture of each community. Zarina, for instance, displays very fine embroidery done in the Qibtimaar stitch, typical to the Hazara community. The course includes more than just fashion design. The girls are taught basic skills like oral hygiene and self-grooming techniques. “The first girl from a family comes to us with a lot of difficulty. But once they start earning, the male family members also come on board. The entire family transforms. But this is done one girl at a time,” says Zafar. Uzma adds, “I think we have succeeded in opening a small door to opportunity for the other girls of my family.” Published in The Express Tribune, September 12th, 2014.

Does it now rest on the shoulders of the dead?

 

Does it now rest on the shoulders of the dead?

January 16, 2013

This photo shows Bara tribesmen, social activists carrying casket of a deceased during a sit-in outside Governor House in Peshawar. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD IQBAL/THE EXPRESS TRIBUNE

When the living stop speaking up, the dead lead protests in Pakistan.

Two days ago, the Hazaras laid to rest the 87 bodies of their loved ones, while some 25 still waited to be identified in mortuaries across hospitals in Quetta. The dead watched and waited, anticipating a change, some sanity and a semblance of justice, as did the Hazaras and the whole nation. For that, they were made to wait for four days, while their loved ones could not even grieve as they were meant to because they were too invested in the hope that this sacrifice would result in a safer future for the community.

The Hazaras were laid to rest, as were some of their demands which the government dealt with deftly, diplomatically and well -politically.

Two days later, some 5,000 tribesmen are protesting outside the governor house in Peshawer, against the killing of the 18 people whose mutilated bodies were recovered from the Bara area of Khyber Agency on January 15.

What does this have in common with the Hazara protest?

Yes, the dead bodies.

Peaceful but not inactive, they sit with the caskets housing the bullet-riddled bodies of their family members, chanting slogans and asking for the army to leave. According to the tribesmen of Bara, these were ordinary citizens, not militants, killed by security agencies before they even got a chance to advocate their innocence.

What new levels of desperation are the people of this country reaching that no other form of protest seems to work anymore?

What extreme measures does a family have to go to in order to get people to notice their plight?

This, I assure you, is not done with ease. Family members of those whom we are calling “dead bodies” were changing the shrouds of those bleeding bodies of slain Hazaras sometimes more than once a day, carrying slabs of ice to avoid decomposition.

Too gory, these details?

Imagine having to live through that! Imagine a mother deciding that her son’s burial needs to wait. Imagine a son delaying giving a shoulder to his father’s funeral.

Too emotional, these details – I agree. And why relive them in these already morbid times, we may think.

Now that the almost-ex-Prime Minister has handed over the ‘lollipop’ to the Hazaras, the media attention is safely focused on theLong March.

The Hazaras are old news and the tribesmen in Peshawar sitting-in with those caskets are peripheral small news – really.

I mean, just look at what they are competing against. Tahirul Quadri’s blood-boiling use of rhetoric and promises, coupled with his interesting get-up. Peaceful protests hardly stand a chance when juxtaposed against the Long March that ironically threatens to destroy the very concept Quadri is repeatedly talking about – Jamhuriyat (democracy).

The Pied Piper pipes away. The awaam follows in throngs.

But let’s not blame the media only. The media gives you, pre-dominantly, what the awaam wants to read, see and hear.

A crowd that is accusedly a million strong gets attention like nothing else does – attention of a nation that has extremely short attention spans and no concept of following up on a cause.

The Hazara and Balochistan issue woke us up from our apathetic slumber for a bit. Once the dead were buried, we are focused on more glamorous issues.

The Shahzeb Khan issue is yester news. The tribesmen are in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). We are desensitised to KP happenings in any case.

We are an emotional lot. All we have for free in this country starved of food, clothing and shelter (along with power and gas) is emotions. The good side of this is that if and when we wake up to a legitimate cause, we can make real change and ruffle just the right feathers.

But we lose that passion way too soon and get distracted way too easily. Sustained focus on causes challenges the status quo, else headlines come and go.

The political circus of this country shall continue, and will continue to get its share of attention. However, it is up to the people and the media to keep alive other issues that matter – like health, education, food-security and safety for the people of this country.

I pray that the Hazaras did not keep their loved ones waiting to reach their final destination in vain.

I also pray that no one, again, has to reach that level of frantic desperation that the only way they can draw attention to their cause is the coffins of their dead.

Too idealistic a hope, perhaps.

Read more by Farahnaz here or follow her on Twitter @FarahnazZahidi

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/15666/does-it-now-rest-on-the-shoulders-of-the-dead-2/