From the tender age of eight to ten years, these children, seeing anger and violence all around, think violence is the only way to survive. On grounds of gang allegiance, language, ethnicity or religion, what they do best is fight!
From the rolling mountain ranges of Swat to the narrow crevices of Lyari, youth in Pakistan is at risk everywhere. Lack of resources and opportunities coupled with problems like extremism and ethnic clashes, exposes the young people in the country to a wide range of problems. As a consequence, they often become disillusioned, indulge in drug usage and even resort to criminal activities in certain instances.
In one such neighbourhood, the infamous Lyari, a man born and bred there, understanding the sensibilities of his people, started an initiative for conflict-resolution among youth and children, especially boys. Small activities at school like sharing lunch boxes and writing welcoming messages in each other’s languages to build empathy has helped change the mindset of many a youth in Pakistan through his efforts.
“The biggest problem is that we don’t engage our youth or provide them with platforms to express themselves. The failure to teach them to deal with basic things like conflict at a young age, manifests itself in full-blown violence once they grow up,” states Nadeem Ghazi, President of Peace Education Welfare Organisation (PEWO), an organisation working actively towards promoting peace and tolerance within the youth of Pakistan for the past seven years.
Ghazi spearheaded his project with a single school in the area when he witnessed problems like rampant bullying, abusing and intolerance within his students. Seated in his tiny office, tucked away in a narrow lane in Kharadar, Karachi, he candidly admits that he had nothing but resources like Google at his disposal at the time.
It was during this online research that Ghazi stumbled across Peaceful Schools International - a Canadian organisation that supported schools with similar objectives across the globe. With support from PSI, Ghazi soon expanded his operation and emulated similar practices across various schools in Karachi. The organization also partnered with various schools in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), including the one where teen-activist Malala Yousafzai studied.
“Young people in areas like Swat are more vocal, and more aggressive in comparison to the youth of Karachi. It takes a lot more time for children in Karachi to open up and express themselves,” explained Ghazi. He elaborated that while the nature of the problems facing children in K-P were different from those that plague the youth in Karachi, the solution was similar-engagement and harnessing their energy for positive change. Ghazi hopes to venture into the troubled province of Balochistan in the near future as well.
Sports for peace
Along with interactive activities, counselling and social work, PEWO has recently launched “DOSTI”- an initiative that uses sports to promote peace in conflict-ridden areas of Karachi. The two-year project, conducted in partnership with The British Council is currently in its sixth month and engages over 2,000 children.
“When children get on to the field, they forget everything and devote all their energy to the game. It transforms them into passionate, confident individuals who are united for a cause,” says one of the principals of a school in Lyari, involved in the project.
The project also encourages young girls to participate actively in sports, which is an anomaly in these conflict-struck areas. To counter resistance from parents, the sports matches have been absorbed into the school curriculum.
Fighting against odds
However, Ghazi admits that security in these areas still remains a challenge.
“There are days when we announce matches but something bad happens. And children from Lyari cannot go to Kharadar or vice versa without showing their identity cards,” he says, explaining how areas transform into war-zones overnight.
But that has not dampened Ghazi’s spirits who plans to expand this initiative to other parts of Pakistan as well.
Along with PEWO, several other organisations like the Pakistan Youth Alliance, Right to Play and Insan Foundation are also working towards behavioral reforms and promoting peace amongst youth using theatre, arts and sports.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2013.