Extraordinary Pakistanis with a twist

Published: September 25, 2014
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The writer is the recipient of the James A Wechsler Award for International Reporting and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism

The writer is the recipient of the James A Wechsler Award for International Reporting and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism

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.

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Reader Comments (12)

  • Ajay gupta
    Sep 25, 2014 - 5:24AM

    A lot of westerners are fascinated by poverty & ability to survive in terrible conditions. Having said that, his efforts are commendable. Just hope the beneficiaries don’t kill him in the name of Islam once their needs are met!

    Recommend

  • Jeremy Higgs
    Sep 25, 2014 - 2:11PM

    @Ajay Gupta:
    Thank you for the kind words. To be honest, this isn’t about a fascination with poverty, which I would find rather patronising – there’s nothing fascinating nor nice about poverty. Instead, I found an area of work that I found interesting, and it just so happens to be working with people who lack access to infrastructure and opportunities.

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  • Haroon
    Sep 25, 2014 - 3:20PM

    @ Jeremy Higgs:

    I am highly impressed from what i have learned about you from the above article. Keep up the good job you are doing and do let us know if we can contribute in any way to your noble work.

    Recommend

  • Ajay gupta
    Sep 25, 2014 - 3:22PM

    Again, very commendable. Just make sure to stay safe & know when to take the flight out.

    Recommend

  • Muneeb
    Sep 25, 2014 - 3:38PM

    @ Jeremy Higgs

    Thank you!

    Recommend

  • Atif
    Sep 25, 2014 - 4:20PM

    A beautiful article about an amazing personality. Only Ajay hateful comments at the end ruin the whole piece. An Indian will always be there to point faults in Pakistan after an article that talks about Pakistan in a positive light.

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  • Arshad
    Sep 25, 2014 - 4:21PM

    @Ajay
    “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. You just couldn’t digest this bit could you?

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  • alia ijaz
    Sep 25, 2014 - 4:51PM

    Well done Mr. Jeremy Higgs. i believe there is no dearth of fanatics here but at the same time there are many who are respectful & mindful of people doing good work for their country men.
    all the best for the future endeavors.

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  • Taimoor
    Sep 25, 2014 - 7:27PM

    @ Jeremy .. my utmost respect to you on this great effort. may you succeed in all your goals.

    @ Ajay.. i can see why you are so worried, jealousy and hatred can do wonders

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  • Yousuf
    Sep 25, 2014 - 7:48PM

    One of the nicest and down-to-earth AIESECERs i have met. Godspeed to you, mate. Cheers!

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  • Niaz H. Jafri
    Sep 27, 2014 - 6:56PM

    This is quite unusual – or rather very unusual that a foreigner is doing such a commendable work and spreading positivism. People like Jeremy Higgs are the reason that there still exists a thing called ‘optimism’. I really am disappointed that why stories like these don’t make it to the mainstream media (especially electronic/TV). Keep up the good work mate!

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  • Onaizah Panhwar
    Sep 29, 2014 - 4:34PM

    While most of us obsess about moving abroad to fulfill our so-called dreams (in actuality, running away from the mess this country is in), people like Jeremy give us reasons to stay back, to get our hands dirty and clean this mess once and for all. Thank you Jeremy for showing us hope!

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