Reconnecting with Nature

 

By Zubeida Mustafa

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESGeorge Monbiot, one of my favourite columnists in the Guardian (London), wrote this week about a campaign to “rewild” Britain of which he is one of the pioneers. His column was headlined “Let’s make Britain wild again and find ourselves in nature”. This according to him can heal not only the living world but much that is missing in our own lives.

I realised the importance of connecting with nature when we paid a visit to the Niagara Falls on Thursday (16 July). Let me make it clear at the start that I must have visited the falls umpteen of times since 1992 when I first visited Canada. But the last time I had gone there was fourteen years ago when I had my 60th birthday photograph taken against the backdrop of the gushing waters of this natural wonder of the world. Continue reading “Reconnecting with Nature”

Changing mindsets

By Zubeida Mustafa

TALKING about prisons, the chief justice of Sindh said last Saturday that more than retribution and deterrence the main purpose of imprisonment should be reform and rehabilitation. In Pakistan, where the prison system is by no means in ideal shape — Karachi jail has 6,000 prisoners when its capacity is for under 2,000 — the need to address the moral correction dimension is conspicuously inadequate.

To step into this unsavoury situation with the idea of bringing about reform is in itself an act of courage. Saleem Aziz Khan, the founder of the Society for Advancement of Health, Education and Environment (SAHEE), has nevertheless decided to meet the challenge. Along with Azhar Jamil, he launched the four-step Criminon Programme in the Karachi jail in 2007. The two now want to expand the project as they feel they are making an impact.

Having borrowed the concepts from internationally recognised and tried projects, Azhar defends the project as being “a secular programme that teaches common-sense values”. Continue reading “Changing mindsets”

Inspired by music

By Zubeida Mustafa

HASAN is a special child. He is autistic. Music inspires him and had it not been for his love of classical music which he shares with his grandfather, his mind would have continued to be caged. ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) prevents Hasan from connecting normally with the world around him because his communication skills have been impaired.

The magical effect of music on children has now been scientifically documented. Preschool teachers testify that sound — including language, poetry and music — positively helps a child’s mental and emotional development. Continue reading “Inspired by music”

Facing challenges in bringing peace to Karachi

By Zubeida Mustafa

I will not be over stating if I say the challenges to a peacemaker in Karachi are phenomenal and nearly insurmountable. I have been asked to speak on how you as teachers can help your students to cope with stress and trauma that has become the norm for Karachi’s youth. If you want to promote peace and the cause of children you must be familiar with some basic facts yourself, even though the information is for you to enhance your understanding of the dynamics of the Karachi situation. Thus you can become the model that your students so badly need to help them cope with the dilemmas violence creates in their minds. It will also equip you with the knowledge you need to answer your students’ questions which will be inevitable if you follow the approach suggested by experts.

There are numerous factors that have reduced the state of law and order of this megalopolis to what it is today. If you look at the number of people who are killed – and that does not include natural deaths or road accidents – you will be stunned by the humungous loss of life. Continue reading “Facing challenges in bringing peace to Karachi”

Breaking the cycle

By Zubeida Mustafa

PSYCHIATRISTS in Pakistan have been crying themselves hoarse about the rise of mental illness in the country. Ever since militants and religious extremists have unleashed their terror on the hapless population, the incidence of anxiety and depression has been on the rise. But these disorders are stigmatised and are not publicly discussed.

There is much talk about poor governance, corruption and even the falling level of tolerance in society but no one wants to mention the impact of these problems on the mental health of the people and how the latter’s attitudes and mindsets reinforce the conditions that gave birth to the problems in the first place.

  In an article in the New Internationalist Magazine, Samah Jabr, a psychiatrist and psychotherapist in Jerusalem, pointed out that worse than the 2,133 deaths, 11,000 injuries and the destruction of countless homes caused by Israel’s brutal attacks on Gaza in July-August 2014 was the psychosocial damage inflicted by the war. She said, “the destruction of life at a physical and material level is also the destruction of a way of life, the destruction of a point of view: physical warfare brings with it psychological warfare”. She warned that violence will “beget an unending spiral of victimhood and revenge, of polarisation … [and] of further trans-generational trauma”.

Also read: Psychiatrists concerned about plight of IDPs

This is precisely what is happening in Pakistan. Most upsetting is the psychological warfare taking place and the ground has been softened for it by the ineptitude and corruption of successive governments. The destruction of our education system, moral Continue reading “Breaking the cycle”

Assistive technology

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN a recent interview, Prof Stephen Hawking, the famous astrophysicist, said that the full development of artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. He added that technology would eventually become self-aware and supersede humanity, as it developed faster than biological evolution.

Prof Hawking who can be termed a rare miracle personifying courage, spirit and natural intelligence, is a beneficiary of modern communication technology. He suffers from motor neuron disease and according to the doctors’ prognosis should have died 50 years ago. He has not only defied those predictions but has led a productive life contributing to his field. Continue reading “Assistive technology”

How Young Pakistanis Help Themselves

By Nudrat Kamal

The challenges that Pakistan’s young people face today are significant and pervasive, and can be addressed only through sweeping systemic changes. Notwithstanding these challenges, many young people are defying great odds to become conscientious and engaged members of society. They are innovative in devising activities for themselves.

Karachi, a city of 18 million, is often plagued by violence and crime. Yet these young people have found effective platforms—self-created or provided by sponsors—for tiatives to tackle their numerous problems.

First Response Initiative of Pakistan (FRIP)

The idea of FRIP was born in 2010 at the scene of a bomb blast. Dr. Jahanzeb Effendi—then a medical student—was a horrified witness to the devastation and human suffering that followed. What shook him more was the amateurish response of rescue workers, security forces and volunteers to the emergency. They had no idea how to give assistance to the injured. Effendi, who was 23 at the time, decided to get trained as a first responder so that he could help people in such situations.He mobilized his fellow students and established an organization dedicated to training people in basic life-saving techniques in emergencies. FRIP conducts first response training for medical students and young doctors, who then in turn teach the techniques to personnel from various security agencies. FRIP has specifically tailored its comprehensive training course to indigenous trauma needs. The group also organizes free-of-charge awareness campaigns.“The average Pakistani knows absolutely nothing about first aid and some of the practices adopted actually hurt the trauma victim,” said Dr. Nadir Haider, who joined FRIP as a medical student.Today, FRIP has a membership of about 100 medical students and doctors, all trained first responders. Effendi is satisfied with FRIP’s progress and explained how 30 youth from the low-income area of Moach Goth who were also trained are now responsible for helping victims of trauma in their violence-riddled neighborhood.

Funding is still a challenge. Haider insisted that “life-saving knowledge should be available to everyone free of charge.” Hence these young men and women are volunteering their services without any compensation and the equipment they use has been donated by Indus Hospital.

Haider describes youth as the phase of life in which a person has the energy and the passion to help the community. “The future of health care in Pakistan is entirely dependent on young doctors and the choices they make,” he said.

The Karachi Walla

Karachi’s charming culture has been under threat for years. Violence and instability are its biggest enemies. Elders reminisce about the city’s glorious past of which the younger generation has little awareness. Yet young Karachiites have not given up on the city. Farooq Soomro was 29 when he took it on himself to unearth the city’s hidden gems five years ago. He would conduct walking tours around the city’s many scenic locations.

Soomro launched this adventure when he realized he didn’t really know the city where he was born. He looked to the Internet to explore it but was disappointed by the lack of information to satisfy his quest. Knowing about The Delhi Walla, a website that has helped many Indians discover the incredible city of Delhi, Soomro wanted something similar for Karachi. Deciding to take matters into his own hands, Soomro began putting up photos of the places in the city that he discovered during his many excursions.

When his blog The Karachi Walla took off, he met many other Karachiites like him who wished to know their city better. By popular demand, Soomro began organizing walking tours around the city. “Initially my clients were mainly tourists,” he explained. “But now a lot of Karachi youngsters have shown a keen interest in finding out more about their city.”

Soomro takes people to see lesser-known places in Karachi, such as the community houses of the Goan Christians, Sikh gurdwaras and Masonic lodges. He credits social networks and online platforms such as Instagram and Flickr for reigniting an interest in Karachi, especially in the city’s young people.

Soomro believes that the youth view Karachi from a fresh perspective. “While older people long for the city of yore, we [young people] are pragmatic and see the city in a new light, embracing its decaying beauty unconditionally,” he said.

Nritaal

Progress in the creative and performing arts in Pakistan is hindered by creeping religious fundamentalism. Nevertheless, there are artistic young people who chase their dreams. For 20-year-old Suhaee Abro, dance is a passion that she refuses to give up. Having practiced classical dance since the age of 7 with renowned dancer Sheema Kermani, Abro believes that dance is her destiny, despite the fact that dancing professionally is frowned upon by conservative elements in society.

To promote the performing arts—notably dance, music, theater and poetry—Abro, along with her artist father Khuda Bux Abro and musician friend Ahsan Bari, co-founded Nritaal. This music and dance group, which consists of young and aspiring artists, was named by combining the words “nrit” (dance or theater) and “taal” (rhythm). It reflects the group’s idea of combining different art forms in new and innovative ways. The group puts together dance performances accompanied by live music.

Abro says that the best part about young dancers and musicians is their ability to bring freshness into traditional dance forms. “Young people inject creative ideas into this genre,” she said. “There are many young people like me who like to present the old art forms in a new style.” Abro believes there is a lot of passion and potential for dance as it provides an avenue for the expression of youthful talent and creativity, giving a sense of fulfilment to the performers. But she laments the dearth of opportunities. “There are only a few places that support or teach dance and music and their charges are generally high,” she said.

 

Lyari Youth Cafe

Nestled among the narrow, winding streets of Lyari, an area of Karachi with 1 million people and a history of drugs, crime and gang violence, is a safe haven for the youth. Known as the Lyari Youth Cafe, the two-story building (with a third under construction) is a meeting spot for young people. The venue holds regular film screenings and organizes plays as well as art and music contests to foster creativity and talent. Bakhtawar Imtiaz, a 17-year-old Lyari resident who is doing her A Levels (high school) in the social sciences, is one of several young volunteers at the cafe. “Every evening we hold one session or another to engage and entertain the youth. Sometimes they are just discussions about the goings-on in the city and around the world,” she said.

According to Bakhtawar, the opening of the cafe has significantly changed Lyari. “Before the cafe, young boys would loiter around the neighborhood tea shops and waste their time,” she explained. “And the girls would be confined to their homes.” The youth craved for a place of their own. Now 50 or 60 girls and boys show up in the evenings for the cafe sessions. Charging a modest membership fee of Rs 60 (60 cents) a month, the cafe serves free tea and coffee to visitors. Cafe volunteers tweet about their upcoming events to inform interested members.

To augment the education of the youth, the cafe arranges free tutoring for children of the neighborhood. Zohaib Panhwar, 20, who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration, is a volunteer teacher there. “The biggest challenge Lyari children face is the inaccessibility of education,” he said. Young boys do not want to study because they believe they will never find a job if they do. Girls become dropouts on the insistence of their families.

Earlier this year, the cafe organized a screening of documentaries made by 25 teenagers of Lyari. Titled “Stories of Lyari,” the event showed 10-minute films depicting stories of courage, resilience and ambition—the way the residents of Lyari really see their neighborhood. Bakhtawar, who is passionate about photography and moviemaking, was among those whose films were screened. She recalls the hardships faced by aspiring moviemakers. “There were gunshots and bomb blasts two streets away,” she remembered, “but we went ahead and made our films anyway.”

Source: Truthdig

No ray of hope

By Zubeida Mustafa

IN a society where mental illness carries a stigma and is shrouded in superstitious beliefs, the Pakistan Association for Mental Health (PAMH) has done a creditable job of spreading some public awareness about disorders of the mind.

However, that is not enough. Even if a person’s problem is diagnosed, then what? Treatment is expensive. Psychiatrists are few in number in proportion to the sufferers.
There is little government support for this branch of healthcare as is evident from the Sindh government’s indifference towards its responsibility of drawing up the Mental Health Act to replace the Ordinance of 2001 and frame rules to implement it. Continue reading “No ray of hope”

Six ways to ward off morbid thoughts

By Zubeida Mustafa

Here are some tips which have helped me ward off the blues – at least in times like these when the going is tough.

  1. Resort to the “Kitchen Table Wisdom” strategy. Actually this should be a part of people’s life on a continuing basis and not just when they are upset. In a nutshell, it requires family and friends to share their stories – mainly their experiences of the day on a daily basis. Continue reading “Six ways to ward off morbid thoughts”

Manufacturing happiness

By Zubeida Mustafa

THE grass is always greener on the other side, so it is said. Crises also assume a more horrific image when viewed from a distance, especially when the media is there to beat the drums. But when you get closer to the scene of action in both situations you find that things are not always what they appear to be. Continue reading “Manufacturing happiness”