A wall associated with sex workers has been transformed by a group of young men into a “wall of kindness” where clothes and other items are placed for those who cannot afford the basics in life. Orange and green has now painted over a history of objectification and the flesh trade with optimism – giving the area near Shah CNG station in Phase-III, Hayatabad, a new image.
A group of four young men affiliated with Serve Mankind, a non-profit organisation, wished to reclaim wall and the fantastic four altered the bare and concrete structure into Deewar-e-Meherbani which translates to wall of kindness.
Over the past few years, sex workers would take to this particular stretch of pavement after nightfall; people with other professions and occupations slowly started leaving the area.
For local women, objectification on sale was also objectifying them at home – a situation with no agency for women on either side of the wall. According to locals, women from the neighbourhood would not be allowed to take the route along the wall; their families would rather the women be denied agency and stay confined to their homes than be mistaken as sex workers.
Imtiaz, a resident, said prior to becoming the wall of kindness, the area had a bad reputation.
“I did not allow women from my house, which is right behind the wall, to go outside, but now they can freely roam around the vicinity,” he said.
According to a local, requesting anonymity, the wall was also seen as a symbol of violence and terror.
“Last month, a sex worker was severely beaten by locals right in front of the wall,” he said. He added, many sex workers were also kidnapped from the area and never returned. Not much is known if the brightness of the wall has driven sex workers to darker, more unsafe locations.
Today no one but the wall draws attention. Not to mention the 20 hooks on the wall, which allow people to donate clothes, shoes and food for those who need help the most. According to Asad Ali Lodhi, one of the creative heads behind the idea, the initiative was inspired by the success of a wall in Mashad, Iran where an anonymous person installed hooks and hangers on a wall and urged people to donate items not in use by stating,
“If you don’t need it, leave it, if you need it, take it.” Lodhi said the wall was so impactful and beneficial for the community that it was emulated in other cities of Iran too.
Faheemullah, a labourer at a construction site in Hayatabad, told The Express Tribune he has six children and cannot afford to provide clothes for them. “Last evening, I came across the wall for the first time and saw girls’ clothes hanging there – imagine my joy when I was told I can take them home with me,” he smiled.
Agents of change
Lodhi said the first step was to make people aware about the altered wall’s existence.
“People needed to know there is a place which allows them to help others,” he said.
Initially he was not sure the wall would get any response, let alone a positive one. But people have been coming from all over the city to donate all sorts of items including food and shoes for the poor. “Within a week, over 400 deserving people had benefited from this service and are appreciating the effort,” he said.
“The next step should be to create more such walls in the city, particularly in Saddar, Warsak Road and Ring Road areas,” said Lodhi.
While whitewashing the wall, the fantastic four were stopped by security guards of Peshawar Development Authority (PDA).
According to Lodhi, the watchman told him the wall was PDA’s property and took away our painting materials.
However, Lodhi and his friends consulted a high-level official and asked for his permission. They discovered the wall was actually the property of Water and Sanitation System (WSSP). “We submitted a letter to WSSP and were glad to see they were cooperative – they agreed to assign the wall as a wall of kindness.”
Next the young men plan to arrange bookshelves in schools in rural areas where they will provide free books, uniforms to students.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2016.