They stomped the streets bearing trash bags, brooms, paint and good intentions.
In sheer number, they might not have been impressive but they came out to fix what was broken with smiles — and lots of enthusiasm.
The idea was to nurse back to normality streets and neighbourhoods which were burnt down during Friday’s violent protests against an anti-Islam movie which caused widespread anger across the Muslim world.
They repainted walls, picked up trash and cleaned the streets — simultaneously in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.
Around 100 students, young professionals and members of civil society gathered in front of the Serena Hotel to take part in “Project Cleanup for Peace” — a one-time initiative taken to fix as much as they could.
The project was initiated through an Islamabad resident’s social media efforts. Brainchild of Faran Rafi, the cleanup project kicked off in the three major cities at 10 am and continued till 1 pm.
Participants swept parts of Khayaban-e-Suharwardi in front of the Serena Hotel and the adjacent green belt with brooms. They picked up trash and other items damaged during the protests.
Talking to The Express Tribune, Rafi said: “I’m surprised that so many people have turned up for the event. I didn’t even expect there would be an event when I first tweeted about the clean up.”
On Friday, protesters had set fire to a duty room in front of the hotel, which belonged to the DSP of the Islamabad Traffic Police. Project Cleanup participants removed the ash, soot and debris from the room and painted the walls of the rooms and a nearby police check post which was also damaged.
Islamabad Police Inspector General Bani-Amin Khan also visited the area and appreciated the efforts. “We are very encouraged that civil society has come out today on its own to help the police,” Khan said.
“You have proved that Islam doesn’t promote or provoke violence,” Rafi said, thanking the crowd after a candlelight vigil.
Only 40 people out of the 4,000, who pledged to join the initiative on Facebook, turned up for Project Cleanup.
But the number of volunteers did not matter. Youngsters, mostly students, with their brooms swept the streets and dumped trash in garbage bins. The project started off from the heavily-damaged banks and went on to clean the restaurants.
“Even if five people are cleaning up, it’s enough for the country,” said Alishba Siddiqi.
Maria Qureshi had brought her two children to be part of the campaign. In a green cricket jersey, six-year-old Rania said dusting with a broom taller than her: “If I can clean up, so can other children.”
“We wanted to tell the people that the manner in which the protests were held were wrong — we are equally hurt by the film (Innocence of Muslims) but instead of violent protests we decided to clean up the streets,” said 21-year-old Ali Ayyaz.
In Lahore, he said, since all the major rallies were taken out on The Mall, there was a need to clean up the area. “We focused on cleaning Davis Road which leads up to the Press Club – areas which were targeted during the protests,” he said.
Although there was a lower turnout than expected, nonetheless 50 people showed up during the three hours of cleaning.
As the day ended, 21-year-old Yawar Aziz hoped that the initiative will force people to rethink their actions.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 24th, 2012.