Yearly Archives: 2005

The healing touch

By Zubeida Mustafa

Since October 8 when the killer earthquake hit Azad Kashmir and northern Pakistan, the media has been full of images related to the tragedy. They tell a bigger story than a thousand written or spoken words. There are two pictures which are striking for their extraordinary touch of humanism. They are symbolic of what the human touch means to a person — young or old, man, woman or child.

One picture which was published a few days after the earthquake shows an army officer holding up with great affection a rescued infant who smiles warmly at his benefactor. Another picture which appeared more recently shows Queen Rania of Jordan shaking hands with an earthquake survivor in a hospital. Both are smiling. That is the magic of the human touch.

Medical science has now conclusively proved that when people shake hands or hug each other — that is, when they establish physical contact — it makes them feel good. Our grandmothers have known for a long time, even before the obstetricians and paediatricians said it, that cuddling a baby is absolutely essential for his emotional, physical and mental development. Conversely, a child who was not held and hugged in infancy very often suffers from psychological/emotional problems.

And if someone is feeling unwell, under stress or down in the dumps, a hug can work wonders. Try it and see. The principal of a private nursing college in Karachi, the only PhD in nursing in Pakistan, once recalled that when she was under training, the trainee nurses were instructed to always touch their patients gently on the forehead when asking them how they were feeling. She regretted that this very important rule was not strictly observed any more.

Not surprising then that it was a woman from Jordan who came all the way to Pakistan to touch an injured woman and bring a smile to her face. Did you notice that all our leaders who visited the injured in hospitals or went to console the survivors and never missed a photo op with them, were hardly ever seen extending a hand to give someone a reassuring pat or hug a traumatized person or cuddle a child in a state of shock. There were pictures of bigwigs standing next to the hospital bed looking at the earthquake victim or talking to the doctor in attendance. Three pictures have now appeared which can be described as exceptions. They are of the president, the prime minister and the first lady with children being held by them. That is encouraging. But don’t forget that the adults need emotional support, too.

Remember Princess Diana’s visit to Lahore and how she held the cancer-stricken children close to her? These gestures endeared her to the public simply because her ways had a healing effect on the ill children and brought a smile to their faces.

Touch is such an important element in human interaction that Virginia Satir, an eminent social scientist, remarked, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”

Isn’t it time we loosened up a bit? We don’t like to touch a stranger to comfort him if he is in distress. When it comes to smiling, we don’t even do that often enough. And for a stranger we happen to be face to face with, we reserve our grimmest expression. Perhaps each of us is too private a person and is afraid of connecting with others we do not know. Or has it something to do with the stratified society we live in?

But kind words are very often not enough. As some health workers from the Red Cross who worked in New Orleans after Hurricane Rita recall how people trying to be brave would invariably say, “Fine, thank you. The family is fine, too,” when asked how they were. But then the health worker would reach out and pat them on the shoulder, they would break down. They were the ones who needed help. They were invited to come and talk about their problems which were many. A typical scene would be that of a health nurse putting her arm around a woman and leading her to a quiet spot where they talked as the nurse held the woman’s hand. “They need to talk. They need someone to lean on for a little bit,” observes one mental health worker. Let us also provide that supportive hand and the shoulder to lean on for the earthquake survivors.n

Source: Dawn

Debate on medium of instruction

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

A QUESTION we are still grappling with in Pakistan after 58 years is, what should be the language of instruction in our schools? Given all the scientific research that has gone into the language and literacy issues worldwide — but surprisingly not enough in Pakistan — one would have thought we would have found the answer by now. Unfortunately, we haven’t.

Those who have studied the psycholinguistic development of a child are very clear about their findings. They say that language and cognitive development are intimately related. According to them, a child learns best in his mother tongue because he is not doubly burdened with the task of acquiring literacy skills simultaneously with learning another language not his own. That is why very often the student taught in a non-mother tongue learns to read syllable by syllable with very little comprehension.
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An uncalled for controversy

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

A LANGUAGE controversy has been brewing in Sindh for the last five weeks. It would have assumed the shape of a full-blown crisis had the earthquake of October 8 and its aftermath not diverted public attention. But as life returns to normality, attention is once again focused on the language issue which can become quite explosive if not handled promptly and tactfully.

The venom being spewed out is reminiscent of the tumultuous days of July 1972 when Karachi went up in flames, curfew had to be imposed and people lost their lives. It may be recalled that the cause of provocation at that time was the Sindh (Teaching, Promotion and Use of Sindhi Language) Act, 1972, which the Sindh Assembly adopted on July 7, 1972. This prescribed measures for the teaching of Sindhi in accordance with Article 267 of the Constitution which provided that a provincial legislature could promote a provincial language without prejudice to Urdu, the national language.
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Miseducating the child

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

LAST week it was decided at a high level meeting in which both the president and the prime minister were present that the education sector would receive four per cent of the GDP in the fiscal year 2006-07. It has not been reported in the media what stirred the government to suddenly turn its attention to this very important sector of national life which has conventionally not been deemed worthy of our leaders’ attention and precious time.
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Age of tabloid television

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

HOW do people feel about the electronic media’s approach to the traumatic events that have shaken the country since October 8 when a massive earthquake struck northern Pakistan and Azad Kashmir? With nearly a dozen local news channels telecasting round the clock, there has been a surfeit of coverage of the happenings in the country in the last fortnight or so.

For the foreign television channels — mainly the CNN, BBC, Sky and Fox — the earthquake was big news just as the tsunami, hurricanes Rita and Katrina were. The earthquake was the main story for a few days and then these channels moved on to other happenings since the world doesn’t stand still for any one.
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Will it affect the dialogue?

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

WHEN the natural elements strike they show no respect for man-made borders. The earthquake which devastated Muzaffarabad and other adjoining areas of Kashmir on October 8 similarly made no distinction in wreaking havoc on the region. If there were casualties and devastation in Azad Kashmir, the Indian-held valley also suffered.

For the time being this calamity swept the news of the India-Pakistan dialogue off the front pages of newspapers and from the television screens. Understandably so. The magnitude of this disaster focused the stunned public’s attention and the government’s efforts on the urgency of the relief and rescue operations.
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The two magic words

By Zubeida Mustafa

President Pervez Musharraf and his colleagues in the government are perpetually worried about Pakistan’s image. They want to project a “soft image” of the country (including that of themselves) and are unhappy that the foreign media is lashing out at Pakistan and harping on all its negative qualities to give the country a bad name.

The president says that many of the social evils that have made life so brutal in the country exist in other societies too. But Pakistan is singled out as though it were the only place where horrendous crimes, such as rape, are committed.

One sympathizes with the president for the bad publicity Pakistan traditionally gets. But the problem is that he will have to work hard to really understand what projecting a soft image entails. You cannot show a country as something which it is not. After all, you cannot manufacture plus points which do not exist at all. Neither can you gloss over all its minus points. That would be downright deceit and everyone would see through it.

Hence the image game involves striking a delicate balance. It calls for a strategy emphasizing all the positive aspects of Pakistan and its people and playing down the weaknesses the country suffers from. This does not mean that we have to deny all that is wrong in our society. No don’t try to sweep the muck under the carpet and pretend all is fine. An explanation of why the problems still exist and an assurance that we are making an effort to set things right would carry more conviction.

Thus image building is a continuous process. A perpetual quest for the beautiful aspects of our life and culture will produce results. They need to be highlighted again and again so that a soft image emerges. If the country has ramshackle government schools and hospitals that teach nothing and provide no health care, and there are high brow private schools and elitist hospitals that charge a fortune to teach something and treat the patients, there are also institutions which don’t charge anything and yet teach a lot and cure patients with state of the art technology for free.

If the latter are highlighted, the image that will emerge will be of a caring society. More importantly, the key role played in this process is that of the people who represent Pakistan outside the country. They don’t necessarily have to be the diplomats, though that is basically their job for which they are posted in foreign capitals. Others are also the projectors of the country’s image. They may be the cricket team, a squash champion, an activist attending a conference abroad or may be just an ordinary Pakistani tourist –– haven’t you always been asked when abroad, “Where do you come from?”

It is not just the beautiful tourist spots and the heartwarming cultural activities that give Pakistan its image. It is the friendly and hospitable people who give the country a soft image. A foreigner who has never been here and has not formed any impressions about the country will obviously remember his first experience at the diplomatic mission where he goes to get a visa. It is essentially a window to Pakistan.

Unfortunately, not everyone has something good to say in this regard. Take the case of a woman born of Pakistani parents in what was then West Pakistan. She is now married to a Bangladeshi and has the nationality of that country. She has been visiting her family in Karachi at least twice a year. But our mission in Dhaka even refused to entertain her visa application when she went there last.

Similarly, a media team in the UK who wanted to produce a film giving a positive image of Pakistan did not get its visa in time to come and do its work per schedule.

And then the president of the country goes to the US and gives an interview to an American newspaper in which he says things about women that are really unwarranted. There is a furore. And the country’s image is defiled. The president loses his cool when questioned at a meeting in New York. He denies what the newspaper had printed, and thus complicates matters. Now the newspaper retaliates and calls him a “liar” editorially. Two simple words, that work like magic, would have undone the damage to the image of Pakistan. “I’m sorry,” is all that was needed to set things right.

Source: Dawn

When disaster struck

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

WHAT lessons did Saturday’s earthquake in the north of the country carry for us? In the initial shocking days there was not much to learn and much more to mourn. There were moments of hope as well when the efforts of the rescue teams were rewarded and a survivor was pulled out — like the smiling infant whose picture was splashed across newspapers all over the country.
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Price of mental disorientation

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

OCTOBER 2 was observed as mental health day (instead of October 10 on account of Ramazan). As in previous years, the Pakistan Association for Mental Health (PAMH) used the occasion to create awareness about an important area of human health.

This year it decided not to hold a free camp as has been the past practice because it is running a free clinic round the year. The Association instead decided to focus exclusively on creating awareness and informed advocacy to remove the stigma that marks mental illness.
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Sensitizing big business

By Zubeida Mustafa
Source: Dawn

LAST week it appeared that the focus in Pakistan was on the population issue. First, the prime minister inaugurated the “population summit” in Islamabad where he highlighted the link between the demographic growth rate and the economy.

Two days later came the “corporate summit” in Karachi organized by the Human Resource Development Network (HRDN), a non-profit organization that, to use its own words, brings together key stakeholders in the development process for forging partnerships. The Karachi moot was designed to draw in the corporate sector into the population welfare net.

The idea is appealing, considering the fact that in the capitalist world of today which glorifies the market, the private sector is seen to be the dominant engine of growth, as once pointed out by the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan. Corporations control the national resources and it is time big business assumed its social responsibility as well.
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