From the adolescent who breaks driving rules with impunity, relying on daddy to bail him out, to the six-year-old who threatens his teacher with papa’s Kalashnikov when she asks to see his homework, the image of the unruly yet advantaged children of elites is not a positive one. But there is another side. Among some of the privileged youth, a concern for justice, empathy for those disadvantaged and a desire to give back is becoming increasingly prevalent. It is not that previous generations did not love Pakistan or did not care to contribute, but the focus was mostly on helping out deprived relatives. The new generation is concerned about reform and society at large.
The impetus for this civic concern is derived almost certainly from the success of the lawyers’ movement. As a result of advanced technological links, Pakistani students abroad and at home, inspired by the movement, were able to play a very decisive role in it, and perhaps for the first time, realise the strength of student power. In the aftermath of the floods, students have been at the forefront of many relief activities. Some are choosing to make full-time careers out of relief and rehabilitation efforts, including those who have studied at top universities abroad. The fact that they would return home, and not to some cushy corporate job but to build the lives of others and mobilise civil society on issues that matter, is a marked change from previous generations; kudos to the new brand of understanding parents.
Others studying and working abroad are regularly using holidays to help with flood relief and build bridges with youth from diverse parts of the country. “We want to tell them we are with you,” Mohammad Ammar, vice president of NUPSA (National Union of Pakistani Students and Alumni) and a second-year student at Imperial College, told me. Touring flood-affected districts on trucks in the middle of a summer Ramazan is what it took to show solidarity, but such is the beauty of youth that even this was considered fun. “Sometimes we couldn’t understand how the truck kept moving as we were sure the driver was asleep,” he joked.
Sara Aslam, president of the group and a recent graduate from King’s College, collected funds for flood victims at traffic lights in Islamabad. “I didn’t tell my mother about it till after,” British-born and raised Sara said, “but we raised 700,000 rupees virtually from begging.”
“Even the children of some feudal lords really helped us, providing security and free storage for our relief goods at godowns,” Ammar added, “but the motivation and selflessness of those students who have much less than us is what really impressed me.” Raising as much as £50,000 from a single London fund-raiser and £28,500 from tube collections with the help of another group called, ‘All For Pakistan Team’, is not all that NUPSA is doing; it is also trying hard to reach out to students all over Pakistan in an effort to encourage joint research papers among Pakistani students based abroad and at home, sharing facilities and ideas, promoting discussions and networking and post-graduation opportunities. To this end, their teams have visited 22 university campuses in 13 cities. “We must get to know those whom we call our fellow citizens and claim to represent abroad as Pakistanis,” Ammar noted.
Partnering with various other student bodies to mobilise for flood relief, and reinventing student activism from its troublesome and often militant image, to a force of hope and positive change, is no small task. But having met some of the students behind this effort, I am confident that they have the energy and drive to pull it off. What pleased me most was the fact that despite attending some of the most prestigious universities, these students did not have a sense of entitlement and wanted to work towards a Pakistan where those not-so-privileged were also given similar opportunities to prosper.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 18th, 2010.