Driving away dark clouds
By: Kamila Hyat
One of the greatest issues we face today is that of the despondency that has descended all around us like a thick shroud. It appears to drown out hope and keep people moored to the idea that little lies on offer for them in a country that day by day seems to be falling apart.
We all know why we feel this way. The militant threat, the energy crisis, the lack of any marked effort by the government to move in a forward direction and the general sense of confusion all around us contribute to this feeling. But it is quite true when people say that optimism can come only when we believe in the future; when we try to do something to generate it. About this there is no doubt.
The question, of course, is how this optimism, this sense of hope, this forwarding of opportunity is to be laid out in a society where so much has gone wrong and so much has changed – for the worse – within a few decades. In the 1950s, Pakistan was rated on world scales as a country with vast potential for rapid development and growth. Today, the same scales have slipped down rapidly to near zero point, with reports describing our nation as a state that has failed.
Certainly, the state has failed its citizens on many counts. We see desperate poverty everywhere. And much too often, it goes unnoticed. We do not think of the hunger people live with or the extent of their deprivation. But the stories we hear from time to time are chilling. There are small children everywhere in our country who go without a proper meal through the day. Just this fact holds up efforts to help them progress in life.
A wonderful programme run for the children of Wapda employees has brought forward some remarkable boys who swim with speed and skill. This ability could, indeed should, bring for them scholarships and possibly an entry into a better life. But simply the fact that they are unable to obtain the food they need to sustain health holds them back. They are also handicapped, no doubt, by the lack of access to facilities and to competitions held away from home.
It is sad that no one has paid much notice to this problem. In many countries, sport has become a means to lift people out of the misery in which they live as a result of economic hardship and allow them to move on in life. Football programmes in Brazil are an example. Similar ones have been experimented with in India, in sports including hockey, archery, and various track and field events.
But first of all, we need interest in rescuing our people from the fate they face. They have demonstrated over the years they have talent, resilience and an enormous desire to succeed. But as in the case of those very young swimmers who lack sneakers to cover feet or warm clothing to help them through the winter, no one has bothered to pick up on what could be achieved through such means. Similar hope could, of course, also be created through music, art and other means.
There are examples where this has happened. Children from schools set up by charitable foundations in Gilgit-Baltistan, Chitral and other areas have entered the best institutes of learning in our country. Similarly, at least one trust school for girls in Lahore offers a remarkable programme for the most deprived children, giving these girls from shanty settlements access to books, learning, knowledge in the wider sense of the word, sport and a great deal more. The outcome is reflected in their attitudes to life and in the desire they express to make it into the future as doctors, surgeons, pilots or teachers – a profession still badly neglected in our nation.
The issue, however, is that individual efforts can only achieve limited results. This is not to suggest that trusts, groups or citizens on their own should not make an effort to help others. Indeed, this is essential in so many ways. Millions of people in our country survive because of the small philanthropy of others; they benefit from employers who educate their children, from coaches who offer food and support and from institutions that distribute money or medicines where they are most required. We see such goodwill most of all in times of calamity, but it is visible around the year too if we care to look beyond the basic outline of an often ugly and cruel society.
Microcredit schemes run by giant organisations have also made a difference in specific sports around the country. But these are just spots. They do not form the mass that lies neglected all around. The dots need to be connected; the small individual efforts and those by developmental organisations linked.
Realistically speaking, this is possible only if the government steps in. But we have no evidence that it is willing or capable of doing so. The commitment to people that we need simply does not appear to exist, and then there are so many problems to tackle it is hard to know where to begin. Despite this, it is crucial that people be put first; that their suffering be brought into the limelight; that we hear more often of the children who go to bed without a meal and whose parents are unable to buy the books they need for school.
The media should be playing a crucial role in this. The sad reality is it does not do so. The efforts to help, to support, to nurture go without applause. As a result, perhaps there is less incentive to emulate them; less pressure too on the government to take up matters from the point where people on their own can no longer go on.
As citizens, we should be working both to highlight the attempts that are being made to help others and to push the government into doing more. All this must go together. Only then can hope be created and a brighter blue mixed into a landscape that today seems too often to be made up of dark clouds. But people who talk of blowing these away must also recognise that they cannot succeed unless a larger force joins with them.
Yes, we need hope. But to ignite it, to light up the flames, many kinds of initiatives need to be started. They must aim at rescuing people from the sense of silent acceptance they currently live with. Everywhere we need to see more individuals and groups rising up to demand what is right and finding a way to create a more balanced society.
The task is not an easy one. But to undertake it, we do need to believe our country can one day become a better place. It may look at times that it will take a miracle to make this happen. But miracles have been created all around the world in various fears of life at the individual and collective levels they can bring massive changes.
We need to find a way to make such a miracle happen so that the kind of lives people lead can be altered and the shimmer of dreams remains held up before them.
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor
Published in “The News”