I’m responsible for power outages

When no one else takes responsibility, I do. I’m the broken but extraordinary spirit of the people of Pakistan

M Bilal Lakhani July 01, 2015
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. He tweets @Mbilallakhani

I’m responsible for the tragic deaths in the heatwave. I’m responsible for the water shortage in Karachi. I’m responsible for a broken medical care system. I’m responsible for climate change. I’m responsible for poverty. When no one else takes responsibility, I do. I’m the broken but extraordinary spirit of the people of Pakistan. If you want to understand how so much beauty and so much ugliness can coexist in Pakistan, compare the response of the state versus the response of Pakistanis to the recent heatwave. Where state officials were busy passing the political football of power cuts to one another and an electricity company, Pakistanis rushed to hospitals with cold water bottles, ACs and other supplies. Social media was flooded with pictures of conditions inside hospitals and morgues, with citizens rallying one another to contribute and volunteer. This is what makes Pakistanis extraordinary; ordinary people who become leaders in the community without waiting for someone to ask. 

Enter Jibran Nasir

If Gotham city found its saviour in Batman, perhaps Karachi is about to find its superhero in a man named Jibran Nasir. It takes a proverbial dark night to notice our brightest stars sparkling through the city’s skyline. Jibran showed up at hospitals during the heatwave, installing ACs, providing cold water and other supplies through the help of ordinary citizens, Elaj Trust and social media supporters who raised awareness about the state of Karachi’s hospitals. Videos showed Jibran standing with ACs that were being delivered in trucks for the JPMC’s wards six and seven, so heatstroke patients could get the care and support their bodies needed. Jibran showed us the putrid state of toilets in Karachi’s public hospitals and tried to arrange janitorial services to restore basic hygienic conditions. Working with Elaj Trust, he sought to create temporary shade shelters where people could take shelter if the scorching heat took a toll on them. A Facebook friend and opinion leader in Karachi summed up sentiments about Jibran perfectly when he posted: “I don’t agree with the political views of this brother, but his initiative is simply amazing, hats off.” 

Extraordinary Pakistanis turns one-year-old

The glimmer of hope here is that Jibran represents a pattern rather than a lone warrior. Exactly a year ago, I started a four-part series in Ramazan called Extraordinary Pakistanis to document this pattern. A few weeks later, a friend turned partner-in-crime took this idea to the next level. Over the next couple of months we profiled folks ranging from TCF’s Mushtaq Chhapra to Dr Arif Alvi to Haris Suleman, a 17-year-old boy attempting to fly around the world in 30 days to raise money for schools in Pakistan. He died along with his father as his plane went down in the Pacific Ocean. “Although I’m a little bit nervous, I can’t imagine a better way to spend my summer,” Haris wrote in a blog post before his flight. “If all goes well, I will be going back to school for my senior year with some tall tales to tell!”

Over a dozen articles on Extraordinary Pakistanis and 30,000 Facebook fans later, the most profound insight we’ve stumbled upon is this: “If all the bad guys can come together to hurt Pakistan, why can’t the good guys come together to help Pakistan?” argues Saad Latif, the first person we interviewed for this series. We checked in with him one year later to see how he had grown as an Acumen Fund Global Fellow based out of Tanzania, where he worked with an organisation that generates electricity from rice husks in rural areas.

“The biggest thing I learned is that we concentrate too much on the problems in Pakistan, rather than the solutions,” Saad shares. “Pakistan’s problems might be big but they’re not undefeatable. Consider Ebola which wrecked African economies. We’re much better off in many ways, including, believe it or not, when it comes to electricity. The irony is that all the bad guys are working together in Pakistan while the good guys are working in silos.” Extraordinary Pakistanis is an exercise in connecting the dots and creating a snowball effect around the individual acts of goodness. If we don’t share these stories about Pakistan, no one else will.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2015.

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