KARACHI: Two law students from Manchester decided to do something different when they came back home this summer.
Twenty-five-year old Mohammad Jibran Nasir and his friend Amar Abbasi felt that while the floods were wreaking havoc across the country, there did not seem to be an obvious channel to help those affected by the disaster.
“When the earthquake came everybody had a channel, they all knew they could go the PAF base and donate there,” said Jibran. “But this time around there did not seem to be anything out there.”
Since the two young men felt that their efforts were the first step to reach the flood-affected families in Khyber-Pakthunkhwa and other areas, they decided ‘Pehla Qaddam’ would be an apt name.
Despite the target killings, riots and storms, the group managed to raise around Rs250,000 in five days. “We set a target of Rs100,000 in seven days but Mash’Allah we managed to make so much in just five days!” said the optimistic Jibran.
On the first day of work, MPA Raza Haider was killed and they collected a mere Rs1,700 much to their chagrin. However, conditions in the city did not stop the two co-founders of Pehla Qadam from taking their little organisation forward. They got in touch with volunteers through friends, siblings and of course, Facebook. Volunteers surfaced and participation was confirmed over the phone.
“We told the volunteers to just collect donations in their neighbourhoods,” Jibran told The Express Tribune, adding that the group was stressing on monetary donations.
“If somebody has contacts or is a factory owner, it makes sense for them to buy the goods,” he said. “But we don’t want people to go to Agha’s and buy flour because we know we can get it cheaper from elsewhere.”
In fact, Pehla Qadam has struck a good deal with the Imtiaz Supermarket chain, which has promised to sell the items on the group’s list (adapted from the National Disaster Management Authority’s list) at a subsidised rate.
Moreover, the Royal Rodale has donated a room, which is serving as the main collection point for the group.
Initially the plan was to collect supplies for a week and then send them off since both Jibran and Amar have to head back to Manchester. “But our friends were so eager that we have decided to leave things to them and keep the process going for another week.”
The hotel too has agreed to let them keep the room for another seven days.
Collection carries on from 12 pm to 12 am and is manned by 15- to 25-year-olds who spend their hours waiting and packing donated goods.
“Most of our donations come from student pocket money and what they can get from their parents.” They have not yet received any corporate donations but three companies have pledged goods.
“Believe me, we got a lot of stuff,” said 18-year-old Hamza, a volunteer with Pehla Qadam.
At the end of every day, the collection box is opened and the money is counted in front of all volunteers.
“We then send out a message through Facebook telling them the day’s earnings,” explained Jibran, adding that they plan to scan and upload all receipts of items bought, to maintain perfect transparency.
They plan to use up all the monetary donations and buy goods rather than send the cash because, “there is always a credibility issue”.
Since Pehla Qadam is not a registered entity, the group decided to affiliate itself with the Rotaract Club. The same organisation will help the group transport the goods to the affected areas.
Twenty-seven-year old Ammara Gul Agha’s efforts to help the flood victims are definitely unique.
Using her t-shirt company, Gullak, the young graphics designer decided to ask people to donate shirts. “Not everyone can afford to donate money, so I thought why not change something that is available into something functional,” she said.
The idea is to collect old clothes, mostly t-shirts, and at the same time, get together a team of designers and textile students. When the group has enough raw material, it will sit down and stitch the cloth into things that the flood victims might need, such as hammocks, sleeping bags and blankets.
So far, the group has the Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture on board, where a teacher, Ghazala Pirzada, is taking donations. Ammara plans to get in touch with all art institutions in the city, including the Karachi School of Arts and the Karachi University’s relevant departments.
One of the group’s collection points is Cafe Headlion in Clifton and another is at the School of Leadership.
Most people feel that mass text messaging is a nuisance but this time around, it is playing an important part in relief work for the people of Balochistan and Sindh.“I messaged about 200 people about my relief camp and ask them to spread the word,” says Morial Shah, a college student who is collecting goods. “People gathered within hours to help.”
Texting worked miracles for Aayla Magsi as well. “Mobile texts and Facebook were the key flows of information,” she says. Whether it was cash, water or dry food, everything was encouraged. “We have collected Rs70,000 so far.”
Along with cash, she has collected flour, rice, lentils, dry milk and medical supplies including oral-rehydration salts (ORS) and bandages. Meanwhile, Morial is concentrating on packaged foods - milk, water, biscuits and chips.
“There are three buses that will reach Kambar-Shahdadkot (which is on the border of Sindh and Balochistan). After collecting more items from there, they will be sent off to Sibi and Jhal Magsi districts,” she describes.
People from the districts contacted Aayla’s father, who is in the government, for help as those areas are inundated. So it is more of a family effort. The goods are being received at home.
Morial’s effort is also a family collaboration; her aunt is the chairperson of the National Commission for Human Development (NCHD). On a day’s notice, she, along with a tiny NCHD staff, set up a relief camp outside Agha’s - which was a roaring success.
They managed to collect Rs60,000 in cash, 23 large and two small cartons of bottled water and a couple of cheques with substantial amounts of money.
The second camp at the Forum Mall was unfortunately swept away by the rain. But that did not stop Morial. She picked up the donation box and stood at the mall’s gate. “After the security guard was assured that I was taking the relief goods myself, even he donated Rs10,” she says.
They will continue fundraising until Thursday and then will send trucks to Khairpur, Shikarpur and its surrounding areas. Morial and the NCHD team are even trying to set up a mobile van outside the DHA Sunday Bazaar for more donations.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 8th, 2010.
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