A musician, father and a humanitarian, 46-year-old Todd Shea is perhaps one of the few Americans who found Pakistan less dangerous than New York City.
Shea visited Pakistan for the first time in 2005 to assist in the relief work for the earthquakes but decided to stay back after he found his true calling in the country. His main reason for staying back, says Shea, is to help provide every Pakistani child the same facilities that his 22-year-old son, Justin, enjoyed in the United States.
“I am not a rich man but I have not come across a single child in Pakistan who enjoys the same privileges that my son did while growing up,” said Shea at the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (SZABIST) on Wednesday.
Shea was visiting the institute as part of his three-day trip to Karachi to raise funds for his campaign for the flood-affected people. According to the statistics issued by the National Disaster management Authority on Wednesday, more than 700,000 people have been affected in Balochistan by the flash floods. Students were excited to listen to the musician-cum-humanitarian speak and play his guitar at the intimate gathering, but they also wanted to help out by running a fund-raising campaign across the campuses. The faculty members pledged to donate on day’s pay to Shea’s welfare organisation, Comprehensive Disaster Response Services (CDRS). The SZABIST board of trustees’ secretary, Dr Suleman Shaikh, said that students should be sensitised to the challenges faced by the country.
After Dr Shaikh, the students asked Shea to “take over” the stage, to which the witty musician quipped, “I do not wish to take over anything, including the stage. I’m here only as a well-wisher and a friend.” Currently residing in Chikar, a mountainous region near the Line of Control in Kashmir, Shea described his time in Pakistan as “Seven cherished years with a zabardast and khoobsurat nation”.
Along with starting his Kashmir-based welfare organisation, he also launched a musical and cultural collaboration with Pakistani and American musicians, Sonic Peacemakers.
With reference to his “fellow goras”, Shea was of the opinion that they were ignorant about Pakistan and had been brainwashed to see only the negative side. “I was more frightened while I was in New York City as compared to my stay in Pakistan,” he said.
According to him, the overstretched cold war between the United Stated and the Russia finally culminated in Afghanistan. Since then the former has imposed decisions on Pakistan, which in Shea’s view, were “counter-productive” and “short-sighted”.
But being in Pakistan and interacting with people was what made Shea decide to embark on a “better use of life”. “I only had my acoustic guitar, a laptop, few books and $200 in the bank. But I could give my time, energy and expertise.”
When he decided to concentrate his relief efforts in a poor and remote village of Kashmir, only few kilometres away from the Indian border, he was discouraged by his compatriots for jeopardising his life by living among ‘terrorists’. “But all I saw were a group of most beautiful people, farms and fields,” he said with a broad grin. “I just wish I could bring every kid of my son’s age to Pakistan so that they could know what the country is really like.”
Published in The Express Tribune, October 4th, 2012.