On a dry Karachi winter morning, Mahgul Fatima, a mother of three, drops her children to school.
Then, instead of driving back home to watch television in her leisure time, she wraps a shawl tightly around herself, and drives down to the Raast Welfare Society School in a rundown part of Qayyumabad.
Fatima teaches two classes of spoken English a week as a volunteer.
“The women of Pakistan from affluent backgrounds are an incredibly productive workforce who can contribute so much to the community by taking out a little from their ‘me time’. Giving back to our community is not a favour, it’s a duty,” says Fatima, a home-based caterer and painter who also informally goes to homes of her maids and teaches small groups of women.
“As we celebrate the impact of volunteers on our world, let us remember the many places they are needed: in war zones and classrooms, in hospitals and homes – wherever struggling people seek a helping hand,” said the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a message to mark the International Volunteer Day, celebrated every year on December 5th.
Volunteers, however, come in all ages. There is a growing awareness in Pakistan amongst the better off youth that giving back to the country is an answer to some of its chronic issues.
“When you live in a society as unequal as ours, it becomes a moral responsibility to contribute, voluntarily, to its well-being. We have to pay back,” says Ali Khan who, while he was doing his A levels, put in 40 hours of community service at Darul Sukoon, home for the physically and mentally handicapped.
“It’s a brilliant idea to put the youth to volunteer work. Once people are older and caught up in work and family responsibility, they cannot volunteer as much,” says 17 year old A Level student Iqra Moazzam, who volunteered at Tabeer School in Shirin Jinnah Colony.
The experience with underprivileged children made Moazzam “realise how different their and my lives are. It has taught me to be thankful and develop friendships across the board. I am no longer in my cocoon.”
The same sentiment resonates in the words of Dr Manzoor Hussain, Assistant Professor of Urology who works at Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplant (SIUT). SIUT’s volunteer programme engages students from affluent backgrounds.
“Children from affluent backgrounds often don’t know real life. Our programme helps them understand the problems of the less fortunate,” says Dr Hussain.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 5th, 2012.
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