Muhammad Wali, 14, runs around D-Chowk on Constitution Avenue indifferent to the scorching heat, collecting garbage that ‘Azadi March’ protesters have strewn all over the sit-in area. He starts his day early in the morning; cleaning up the women and children’s area and then heads towards the men’s section, repeating this exercise thrice everyday.
Wali belongs to a small village in Bajaur Agency in the tribal areas. He travelled by bus to Mardan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, to start his journey towards the capital with other Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf supporters on August 12 to take part in the ‘Azadi March’. Wali and his older brother, Ehsan, have been in Islamabad for almost three weeks now—camping, eating and sleeping with other protesters. “I’m here because I love Pakistan and am quite certain that our leader will bring about a positive change in the country.”
Wali does not understand the intricacies of politics but both brothers left their family behind, hoping that the ‘Azadi March’ would bring an end to poverty and life would considerably improve for families like theirs that are living below the poverty line in Pakistan. Although Wali and Ehsan were never enrolled in a school since their parents could not afford it, he is hopeful that his younger siblings and other children in his village will get quality education once the promised ‘Naya Pakistan’ comes into being.
“I make Rs200 a day by collecting and selling garbage in my village in Bajaur and my family and I eat one meal a day. Over here, we’re getting food twice a day and I make Rs400 everyday by selling garbage to a dealer in G-8 Markaz.” Wali and his brother walk to G-8 Markaz from Parliament House every evening to sell what they collect the entire day. Even though making more money was not the primary reason for Wali’s arrival in Islamabad, he feels pleased about the fact that he will have some savings by the time he heads home.
Wali has had no contact with his family in Bajaur since the day he reached the capital. “I’m sure my mother is extremely worried about our safety and whereabouts. We don’t even have a TV at home.” I can borrow a mobile phone from someone here but my parents and siblings do not own a phone, he added.
Although Wali has started feeling homesick, one cannot help but notice the glow of hope and enthusiasm on his innocent face for a better tomorrow.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2014.