THE BLOG
07/09/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Pakistani Youth Pitch-In To Help Refugees

"I really wouldn't give the government any money for the displaced people from the north....you just don't know where it goes" says Muneeba a young social worker as she shrugs her shoulders in doubt. This is perhaps the overwhelming sentiment of youths towards the Pakistani government. In the absence of adequate support for the internally displaced people from the government, young Pakistanis have taken the immediate initiative to join hands with civil society to help the displaced and homeless people as much as they possibly can.

The three main urban cities of Pakistan, namely Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, are heavily populated with over 176 million people, of which more than 50 percent youths. I got the chance to speak to young people in the three main cities about the kind of work they are doing for the millions who have been displaced because of the Taliban extremists. They seem to be focused, organized and very very committed to helping the victims.

Aischa Gul is 26 year old girl who runs a successful parlour in the capital. She is a soft spoken pathaan but an active social worker, "with the influx of people from Swat I decided to raise money for the displaced -- and at first I got my clients together, but then through meeting people I met so many others who were doing similar work and so I decided to join hands with them so that our work wasn't overlapping." Aischa has had numerous meetings after hours at her own parlour, to come up with an effective strategy to cater to the needs of the internally displaced persons (IDPs). They work on three tiers: collaboration with NGOs, on the ground research at camps, and communication with people who have access to displaced people in remote areas.

Young volunteers have gone to the camps on-site and have directly asked the IDPS what their needs are. They have also done their own research to discover that, due to shortage of space in the camps, a lot of the displaced families have found random places to reside and are largely neglected by the government in terms of food distribution and access to basic facilities. "From research we found out that food items, summer wear (cotton, lawns) and basic utensils with stoves are in dire need," so Aischa and her volunteer friends have prepared bags and packages divided into food, health and fun packages (that include coloring books, writing pads, pencils, coloring pencils, text books, cloth, sewing kits, weaving boards (and/or frames), sewing machines. This is an alternative to giving direct cash to the idps.

In Karachi the most populous city of Pakistan, also the city known for being the center of business and trade as well as ethnic strife has gone through a lot of controversy concerning the idps. However the youth of Karachi are keeping politics on the back burner and are just pulling up their sleeves and diving straight into the chaos. Dr Awab Alvi a dentist by profession and prolific blogger is constantly in touch with youngsters who he says are passionately driven to help the victims of the Taliban, "the youth is united and they really want to help and they feel the need to help these people out of their situation." So far, truck loads of necessary goods have been transported by Pakistan Youth Alliance (PYA) branch in karachi -- but this has cost them and they are now finding economic ways of reaching out to the areas that are farthest away from the metropolis. The only thing they are wary about however is the questionable attitude of government officials. "The centers of the world food program are with each district council that are very spread out -- which means that the affected people hardly get access to the goods," says Dr. Alvi. Moreover he mentions that the nazims responsible for the distribution of food normally give it to the people of their own area due to which many are left hungry and scavenging for food.

Abeer Hamid and Khuban Omer two youngsters working for idps are in Lahore. A rich culture, food, art festivals, theater, business and agriculture nearby make Lahore a prosperous city. It is also known to be a 'soft target' for extremists because of its relative stability in terms of security. Lahoris are at times singled out for having extravagant lifestyles due to which they are blamed for ignoring the needy and neglected. But since the Swat crisis the youth seems anything but apathetic. Khuban a young girl of 26 years is married in to an industrialist family and is a typical target for such accusations, but her actions are contrary to stereotype. She encourages affluent people by making a statement that they can relate to "1 Gucci bag equals two truck loads of goods for idps"

She has been actively involved in helping idps and travels to camps in Mardan to distribute goods. Abeer Hamid a 23 year old boy member of Students Actions Committee (SAC) talks about how they have galvanized at least 30 youngsters in collaboration with the NGO Concerned Citizens of Pakistan (CCP) to raise funds for the idps, "we have up to now raised 0.4 million rupees by organizing concerts in collaboration with Jalal and Satti (J&S) (a very popular and known event management firm)...but we wont be giving idps the money -- instead were going to buy the goods that they need and distribute it to them." I ask him how he manages to work full time as well as take out time for voluntary social work. He says its tough to juggle both at the same time and that the volunteers are only limited to their regular jobs and voluntary work these days, but adds with resolute " this is our country and if we don't do anything... then who will?"

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