As I sit on the plane, on my way to Pakistan, I’m excited as always. Duke is always a wonderful experience, but I miss my family who lives in Pakistan, and so I always look forward to the warmth and comfort of my home during the holidays. This time, though, I take with me not only the expectation of proper food and family hugs, but also of hope. Hope for a potentially better and healthier future for an entire community of people. The Kenan Institute was gracious enough to fund my vision of an education-based, civic engagement model to implement in a slum region in Pakistan, and although I know I will face a number of problems, I am optimistic that I can help make some sort of difference. The aim of the project is to make possible and current hypertensive and diabetic patients aware of the multiple ways in which they can reduce the onset and symptoms of these diseases. There’s a lot left that needs to be sorted out though, and I’m a little nervous about all the meetings that remain to be planned out. A few things are clear though. This project means a lot to me and I will try my best to ensure it has a successful outcome.
I grew up in one of Pakistan’s largest metropolitan cities, Lahore, but even though it was among the most developed cities, poverty was still very evidently present everywhere I went. Large areas of land were devoted to large slums, a number of people fell asleep at night under bridges or on the soft padding of the green belt, and there was entire army of beggars pleading for money on the streets. Poor parents would rather have their children work in wealthy people’s homes as maids to earn a nominal wage rather than send them to school. Starvation was common and poor health meant death at a young age was more or less inevitable. For a lot of people, this constant display of poverty desensitized them as they went about their daily work, but for me, it didn’t sit well. I couldn’t and still do not understand why I am in this place of privilege and comfort just because of ‘accident of birth,’ while people don’t know where their next meal is coming from. It was this privilege, I realized earlier on, that meant I was in a position of responsibility to help those who needed support. Throughout high school, I was affiliated with a non-profit organization called Next Generation Pakistan, which aimed to bridge the gap between different classes of society via education. More importantly, however, it served as a platform for the youth to work towards causes they wanted to promote, and gradually bring a change. I think my passion to help different communities arose from there, because the more I pursued multiple problems, the more I realized how much work is to be done, and how even a lifetime would not be enough to make a mere dent.
The particular community I want to work with for this project belongs to a small slum in the outskirts of Lahore, called Gohawa. I’ve spent the last four years teaching at a school built on charity money (trust school) in a region, where children of the Gohawa area studied. I care deeply for these students, and every time I have walked into a classroom, I have gotten nothing but love and respect. Interaction with students in the area also translates into interaction with their family members, and they have always welcomed me like one of their own. A lot of them suffer from poor health and disease, and many of these can be avoided very easily if they were more aware of the nature of the diseases they are plagued by. Belonging to a family of doctors, I was always taught that prevention is better than cure, and I believe that prevention through awareness can go a long way in helping reduce poor health in the neighborhood, and thus allow for a healthy population capable of 100% productivity.
I realize the next few weeks within the motherland are going to be quite difficult and strenuous, and the planning, followed by the implementation of the planning will be a challenge, but it is a challenge I welcome with open arms. I hope for a day where every single individual has access to their basic rights, and although I know we are far from that place, I won’t stop trying. Disillusionment is the enemy of progress, and even if its one step at a time, every effort is worth it. Let’s change tomorrow, let’s begin today!