Friday, July 31, 2009

Rock the Qasbah!

Qasbah Colony is home to thousands of people who live below the poverty line. This volatile neighborhood now houses close to 10,000 IDP families from Swat and Buner. In July, The Citizens Archive of Pakistan conducted an initial survey of the neighborhood and identified 100 families were eager to send their children to summer school. 

The children ages 5 to 15 years had their education disrupted when violence erupted in the valley earlier this year. Many of these children are eager to return to school. However, since government schools in the city have been closed for their summer break, they have been deprived of this opportunity.

The Citizens Archive of Pakistan identified a Community School (Naunehal Academy) and spent 3 days with more than 300 children at the school, located in Qasbah Colony, on the 15th, 16th and 17th of July, 2009.

At a time when these children are disorientated about their country’s history, we felt it was essential to highlight some of the more positive aspects so that they may feel a sense of pride and accomplishments. 

I had never volunteered for any social or community service in my entire life and I felt a bit hesitant volunteering with the Internally Displaced children. However, I decided take this project on as an exciting task and got involved. It was a little difficult convincing my parents to let me go to Qasbah Colony, but they eventually agreed as they knew it was for a good cause.

Our IDP Project took place in a school called Naunehal Academy, within the Bright Education Society network, where the IDP kids between the ages 7-15 were gathered on the 2nd floor of the school. There they were distributed in different classrooms with 2-3 volunteers placed in each room, to work with a group of 25-30 children each.

Among many games on Day 2, I did two very exciting activities with the children. The first activity was called “Friendship Hands”. We placed a long strip of paper on the floor on two sides of the room and made the children (who came in batches) sit in the middle. Every child was given a bunch of crayons and drew an outline around their hands, coloring them in and writing their names within. The kids also drew different objects (mostly related to nature) rather than just writing their names. I remember using “Daer Kha” quite frequently since I witnessed some exceptional artwork.

Those who were bored after a while moved on to the second activity. Here, we taught the children how to make paper planes and they entered a plane-flying competition. Within no time, every kid in the room wanted to fly a plane of his or her own. They decorated their paper planes beautifully, calling them their ‘dream planes’. Sadly, one child also made a drawing showing a drone dropping missiles on a house.


Sameed Hussain

Brainstorming activities for the children at Naunehal Academy proved to be difficult as we were faced with a huge language barrier. We needed to think of games that required the least amount of talking – these games had to be very visual, educational and entertaining. After hours of coloring, drawing and translating (into English, Urdu and Pashto), we were finally ready.


The road that led up to Qasbah Colony can be best described as uninviting and chaotic: a mountain cut in half, vibrant ‘party’ flags adding color to the surroundings, and a school encircled by a cemetery. We had prepared for 150 children. Almost 300 showed up. While this was daunting, we were overjoyed as each adorable face showed up around the winding staircase inside the school.

Raana Kazmi

The day started with the one hour long journey to Qasbah. All the interns were squashed together in the van with Mariam playing the role of our “tour guide”.


We laid out a giant snakes-and-ladders game in the school, which was an instant hit amongst the children – each square contained bright images of Pakistan’s national flora and fauna, important monuments and facts about the four provinces. All information was trilingual – in Pashto, English and Urdu. By the end of the day, we had not only taught the children about the history and culture of Pakistan, but most of us knew how to ask, “What is your name?” in Pashto.


On the second day, we were far more organized and had more volunteers to help us. The  kids and their mothers were opening up to and we were familiar with them – they were now coming up to us, saying hello and posing cheekily for the camera.


On the third day, we included games like hopscotch and bowling. We partnered with Habib Bank Limited in order to hold an art competition. The art corner was the most popular on this day, as the kids had some fantastic supplies to use and they were all very eager to participate in the competition.


As the last activity of the day, we sat the children in a circle and sang national songs with them while Nadir played the guitar. All the kids lined up around the big hall to say goodbye to us and we celebrated the success of the IDP project by going out for lunch. :)


Tabinda Siddiqi

On Day 2, we reached Qasbah Colony really early. We unpacked all our supplies from the van and CAP car and took them up to the second floor of the school. We were more prepared than the day before, with more activities for the kids to keep them busy and we had a greater number of volunteers to help us. We were more mentally and physically prepared for the boisterous kids.


Naveed, Nadir, Rameez and I were assigned to the coloring room. We gave the children crayons and motivated them to draw. They were pretty shy at first but then began to enjoy themselves. We thought they might have been hesitant to join us, as we were strangers and did not speak their language – Pashto. We asked the children to draw Pakistan’s flag, their hands, their houses – whatever sprang to mind. Some of the drawings were amazing and some of the kids were so engrossed in their coloring that they did not want to go from the coloring room to other activities. Some children drew pictures of their homes in Buner. They were so happy if you praised their drawings and asked them questions about their artwork. It was sad how pieces of crayon could mean so much to them – some children did not want to return the crayons after their drawings were complete. They would grasp the crayons so tightly that you could feel the warmth of their hands when they eventually returned the colors to you.

Saad Ashfaq

The two days were an eye-opener for me – not only were these children exceptionally smart, but they were like solar-powered batteries. They were not tired as long as the sun was shining and remained eager to learn. The younger children were mostly cautious and reserved; however, as their ages progressed so did their boldness and confidence.  The children proved that there is abundant hope for these people. They learned unpredictably fast, their mothers’ cheering them on. If there is anyone who can move on and rebuild their lives after the devastation they have seen, it is these men, women and children.

Two days with these families was enough to convince us- there is hope.

Hiba Mahamadi 

Qasbah Colony: The IDP Project

Pashto and English phrases

How far does your paper plane go? 

Photos by Ali Rez

Photos by Nadir Siddiqui

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

'The stories that form the fabric of our nation's history'

As a child when my parents would go out for a party they would always leave me with my grandmother. I still vividly remember that for hours I would sit beside my Dadi’s dressing table helping her sort out and organize her jewelry. Each gem carried some significance and a story. For example, she wore her emerald necklace with a pastel-green sleeveless silk sari to the Governor’s Winter Ball in Bombay in 1944. This was the first time she met and danced with Mr. Jinnah and she remembered him being a very charming man.

While painting my Dadi’s nails, she would transport me back in time through her stories - stories of a Karachi and a Bombay I had no idea even existed, tales of balls, tennis matches at the Bombay Club, Muslim League rallies, cabaret dances at Metropole Hotel, and derbies at the Karachi Race Course and casino nights at Beach Luxury. My favorite story was that of her migration to Karachi from Bombay. It had all the ingredients of a good story: danger, thrill, drama, romance and a happy ending.

Sadly, Dadi died in 2004, before any of her stories could be recorded. But I am happy about the work CAP is doing of collecting, recording and archiving the stories of so many grandparents whose stories form the fabric of our nation’s history and the collective narrative. It is essential to preserve these stories for our future generations in order to safeguard our collective identity.

When I walked into the CAP office last summer I didn’t know what I was getting myself into; I just wanted to join because all my friends were working there. But once I joined the office there was no looking back. Working at CAP has been a highly enriching learning experience. The way I view senior citizens now is very different. Today, when I meet a senior citizen I can’t help but think of the wonderful treasure trove of stories this person might be. Through CAP I have learned to appreciate and value the experiences of the generations before us. It is through the stories of these senior citizens that I have learned something about my history and identity. Through their stories I have learned an alternative national narrative of my country, a narrative that is not taught by the Pakistan Studies books in our schools. 

Before CAP, I did not know that during the Pakistan Movement, Islam was not a major issue or that the slogan ‘Pakistan ka matlab kya, la illaha illalah’ was not even coined at that time and that it only came into usage after the 1980s. From Meeno Marker’s recollection of Quetta in the 1940s to Kaneez Wajid Khan’s memories of APWA and Mr. Jinnah’s garden parties in Delhi, from Zohra Fazal’s experiences at an art school in Bombay and tea plantations in East Pakistan to Sabiha Hasan’s descriptions of early days of journalism in Pakistan and the State Bank - from each and every one of the interviewees I learned something vital and significant about our history.

Working at CAP has been a truly memorable experience. I was able to work with some great people, made some wonderful friends and met some truly dynamic and memorable personalities. CAP also gave me a fresh perspective on how I view old people. Now I seem to find men and women over-eighty very intriguing!

The photo above features Rameez's grandmother, Atiya Bano, at Merryland Casino

Rameezuddin Ahmed

This photo of Rameez was taken during CAP's work with IDP children in Qasbah Colony. Photo by Nadir Siddiqui

Friday, July 3, 2009

A day in the life of an intern

As part of their research into the Bohri community - their presence and history in Karachi - for the Oral History Project, the CAP interns paid a visit to the Al Jamea Tus Saifiyah. Many thanks to ex-intern Shabbir Terai for organising the visit. 

All photos by Nadir Siddiqui

As part of the Oral History Project at the Citizens' Archive of Pakistan, all of the interns went to visit Al Jamea Tus Saifiyah. The experience reminded me of a school field trip - fun and educational. The teachers who gave us the tour were very friendly. We were taken to an ornately-decorated mosque and a large air-conditioned hall with a beautiful water structure where all the students read the Quran. Overall, it was an amazing place and a great outing.

Tabinda Siddiqi


When I found out we would visit a university this Friday, it seemed like just another mundane trip to an educational institution. As soon as I reached Al Jamea Tus Saifiyah I was thrilled to see how good the environment was. The university’s architecture was very well planned and aesthetically-pleasing. I was very interested in the room with seven Zawaiyas(angles/corners). Six Zawaiyas contained books related to Islam, Bohri traditions and other subjects. All six Zawaiyas reflected a specific period of time and were in a chronological order starting from Zawia-e-Akhwan-ul-Safa to Zawia-e-Al-Hind showing different phases of the Bohri community and how their religion spread throughout the world. The seventh corner in the room housed the Quran.

Talal Khan


Al Jamea Tus Saifiyah is located in K.D.A Officer’s Housing Society. This is a branch of the main campus located in Surat, India, which is the main hub of religious education for Bohris. The institution was built around  1962. Education is free for Bohri students as the university is primarily funded by Syedna Mohammad Burhanuddin.  At the moment students from eighteen different countries are studying there. 

Saad Ashfaq


As we walked in, we were greeted by the sight of bearded men in flowing white robes reciting Quranic verses under their breath as they paced in the wide spaces with their gazes lowered. At this time in Pakistan’s history, such an image is particularly resonant. However, as we quickly learned, the university was the furthest thing from our contemporary conception of an Islamic seminary. The students and teachers did not bear the remotest resemblance to the stereotypical angry fanatic. The institution is truly international, with students from eighteen different countries residing in their especially landscaped, beautifully-designed dormitories. The languages of instruction are Arabic and English, for religious and secular learning respectively, and the subjects taught range from Islamic jurisprudence to psychology and litigation. The institute practically buzzes with the hum of learning.

Hira Azmat


The inside of Al Jamea-tus-Saifiyah came as a complete surprise. It does not boast a fancy location, but a tour of the University is all it takes to change your perspective. 'Tradition-meets-modernity': this, according to our guide, was the idea behind the construction and establishment of the institution. 

Fully carpeted dorm rooms, an ornate fountain stationed right in the centre of the building,a  cricket pitch, football field, basket ball court, 25-meter swimming pool with crystal clear water, centrally air conditioned buildings, a gold-plated set of doors, soft green grass, unrealistically clean, organised, peaceful and quiet... it is far from the idea that most people will have of the institution as a centre for religious education.

The visit to Jamea-tus-Saifiyah felt like a visit to a foreign country: one unaffected by problems of poverty, pollution, discord and enmity. 

Hiba Mahamadi


The best place by far was the Jamia Hifz ul Quran. Built primarily as a religious sanctuary where students could read and memorize the Quran, it was truly a treat for the eyes, mind and spirit. There was a beautiful pond of sparkling water surrounding a carpeted island lined with pebbles. The walls were decorated with soothing blue and green patterns. There were cushions and pillows near every Rehal (Wooden Quran-holder), so students could sit comfortably and read the Holy Book. It was the prettiest, most serene place I had ever visited.

Raana Kazmi


When I was told that we were going to a Bohra community's university called Al Jamea Tus Saifiyah as a CAP intern, I felt really excited as it provided me with an opportunity to learn more about the Bohra view on religion, culture and lifestyle. The institution was inaugurated by the-then President General Zia ul Haq in 1984 and is fully funded and sponsored by their spiritual leader who currently is the 52nd Dai or “Syedna” (the most learned amongst them). One really appealing thing to me was the canteen set up for the staff and the University students. It is called the “Mawaid” (eating place). Around 5-7 people shared each Dastarkhwan, with a tray full of food in the middle. The cafeteria is very neat and clean and the food is offered two times a day free of cost. We toured the university for three hours but didn't feel like leaving it.

Sameed Hussain


Bohras are a very close-knit community.  Prior to my visit, I did not realize how a community could function without integrating with other ethnic groups.  My view and biased thoughts towards close-knit communities changed within an hour, after visiting Al Jamea Tus Saifiyah. The University caters to the Bohra community, providing them with everything ranging from free education to a bed to sleep on during the night.

The university has a very diverse student body with Bohras from America, England, Australia and many other countries.  The school is surrounded by Bohra families houses, eliminating the need for tall walls which results in students feeling more free.  The students are thus more amenable to abiding by the rules they must follow in order to remain at the University.  

All buildings within the school face the Qiblah. The institution also houses a small garden which contains all the fruits mentioned in the Quran.  This particular garden really took me by surprise.  During my childhood I have visited many religious places for Ziarat and have not witnessed such a garden.  The garden had fruits such as olives, figs, dates and pomegranates.  Overall, my experience at the University took me by surprise because I would have never imagined being infatuated by a place targeting only one community.              

Fatima Naqvi

When BBC Radio came to visit...

Our interns recently found themselves on the other side of the microphone as BBC Radio came to interview them. They discussed the changing political, social and cultural face of Pakistan.