Jeremy Higgs is a man who shatters many stereotypes about Pakistan. At the age of 23, he packed his bags from Australia after graduation and moved to Pakistan to work on social projects for a few months. Several years later, Jeremy is still in Pakistan and has co-founded a social enterprise that provides affordable, renewable sources of energy to rural communities in Pakistan. While many young Pakistanis seek to settle abroad, particularly in the West for better employment and economic opportunities, Jeremy provides a fascinating counter story to what Pakistan has to offer to a young man from Sydney fresh out of university.
“Living in Pakistan really pushed me to think about what I want to do with my life,” shares Jeremy. “While most of us focus on the problems and challenges that come with living in Pakistan, we fail to look at the flip side, which is that we can really make an impact and contribute to making things better.” Jeremy originally moved to Pakistan to work on social projects for AIESEC, the world’s largest youth-run organisation, which he joined at his university in Australia. AIESEC facilitates youth leadership activities as well as international internships and volunteer experiences. After working for a few months at AIESEC in Pakistan, Jeremy successfully ran for elections and became president of AIESEC’s Pakistan chapter. This was the beginning of a love affair with Pakistan that continues to this day.
After completing his term as president of AEISEC’s Pakistan chapter, Jeremy joined an NGO, which helped people with disabilities get access to employment opportunities. In the meanwhile, he continued to make new friends in Pakistan. “The people here have been very warm and open, I’ve made some great Pakistani friends,” shares Jeremy. “Beyond my circle of friends, I sometimes run into people that might be suspicious of foreigners. But the good thing is that I look Asian so people think I’m Chinese rather than a Westerner.” When I ask him if his parents and friends back home worry about him living in Pakistan, he shares that people have gotten used to the choice he’s made. “I’ve also started to make an effort to present a more accurate picture of Pakistan back home and explain what I’m trying to do here,” says Jeremy.
What Jeremy is quietly doing in rural Pakistan brings about a minor revolution in the lives of the villagers he touches with his social enterprise. While most of us think the primary problem with electricity in Pakistan is load-shedding, Jeremy points out that 40 per cent of the country simply doesn’t have access to electricity to begin with. “60 million people are just forgotten about,” shares Jeremy. “We spent 2.5 years doing research by going into villages and trying to understand the energy problems there so we could introduce solutions. You can’t believe the impact we can make in the quality of life of a villager if they’re able to charge their mobiles in their own home. Sometimes we make an unexpected impact as well. For example, one villager told us that he discovered that his sheep had been stolen late at night and was able to use the solar lights we had provided to trace the direction in which the sheep had moved, helping catch the culprit and recovering the sheep at the same time.”
When I ask Jeremy if he worries for his safety, he spoke with the signature bravado of a true Karachiite. “I’m not really worried,” says Jeremy. “Yes, I might think twice about street crime and getting mugged but nothing more than that really.” Instead of feeling stressed about things outside his control, Jeremy chooses to make the most of the ‘dynamic’ entrepreneurial culture of Pakistan. “Things move very, very fast here,” he says. “Pakistan forced me to ask myself the really difficult questions like what do I want to achieve in life and helped me discover my passion”.
The purpose of this article is to find and share inspirational stories about everyday Pakistani heroes (if you know someone who should be profiled, send me a tweet @Mbilallakhani). If we don’t share these stories about Pakistan, no one else will.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 25th, 2014.