Why care for the poor?

Helping the poor, is vital for our progress.

All of us are leading such ‘busy’ lives, there is no time for anyone else. – Neither do we have time for our family members, friends, or community members – what to say about helping the downtrodden!

Analogy of a ship:

Usually, a ship has three decks. The elite are kept on the highest level with all the luxuries. Then the middle deck, for the middle class. Finally – the lowest deck with the lowest ‘class’  in it.
Naturally, the ship’s lowest deck is near the bottom of the sea, if something happens, they will be the first to sink. Also, their ignorance can cause  a hole too;  The story is the same for all ‘lower socio-economic levels in all countries.

Look at how we are  ‘managing’:

The poor class of societies, earn by serving us, working in our homes and workplaces by making our lives better. They do this so well, that many of us don’t want to go abroad. (As I write, my domestic help is going out in this hot sun, to do my market chores, while I sit in this air conditioned room writing.)

Mismanagement of resources:

However, another paradox is also taking place; When we are handing over our resources in the care of the illiterate ‘helpers’, there is a great deal of wastage. We are not realizing that though we are careful with water, gas and electricity conservation, our staff are very careless. They haven’t been made to realize its implications.

We have to educate them to conserve  the world resources . This is why even the educated homes have the same issues of lack of preservation of resources, because we leave all our assets in the care of illiterate staff, and do not bother to train them.

Our gross attitude towards the lower class:

We’ve got to treat every human being with respect and regard. This is where it begins.
The concept of disregard of the poor people in our society begins from saying: ‘they are like dogs, treat them like dogs, they will respect you more!’  If you are going to talk to them, like this, how will things improve for them?
• We literally use and abuse them, in our homes, offices and factories.
• We are not caring of their human rights and make them work beyond humanitarian levels. (Believe me, this goes on in Western countries too, especially with illegal migrants! Also with other employees from underdeveloped countries, who do not know their rights or are too afraid to mention it!)
• When these poor people grow old and weak, we let them go.
• We do not train them properly, nor educate them. So when they are lacking in productivity we get harsh and disrespectful towards them.
• Yes, we help them occasionally, and then let them spend rest of their lives, being obliged to us.
• We are not careful of their times of sleep, rest or food. Nor give health benefits.
• In short we do nothing for them. Leaving them to their own meager resources.

How the underprivileged survive?

  1. No family planning: Since they they are on their own, so they manage by creating their own helpers, reproducing like rabbits:
    o In the hope that these ‘hands’ will help them as free labor in their lives.
    o Take care of them when they fall sick or when they grow old and helpless.
    o They will be sources of income, as beggars, and domestic help. Today, girls are given as domestic help to families  through agents.
    o At worst they can be sold off for adoption or even prostitution.
    o I’ve seen Sri Lankan maids in Kuwait and other Gulf countries as full time maids. Most are treated very badly, even sexually abused on regular basis. Of course, some are well-treated by good families.
    2. Health benefits:Through quacks in the field or genuine ‘hakeems’ or experts in herbal treatments which is a science of millions of years actually.
    3. Spiritual healing: by visiting shrines and going to ‘faqirs’, or bathing in streams with ‘magical’ powers, (actually having minerals from underground, as sulphur in Mango Pir, Karachi.) They find solace through these places and people. Every area has a ‘mazar’ or a ‘pir’ where they go in hoards. Yes, Pir Chinasi, Data Darbar, – the whole region is full of them. These are shrines of great saints who once lived in these regions who listened to the problems of the people. They managed to console them, and give them solace.
    Note: These people are still thirsty for that kind of love and care. Today, free food and solace is found in these shrines, hence the people go there in hoards.

    Need for solutions: 

1.  Resources in hands of illiterate and untrained staff:
o Train staff well,
o Supervise often,
o Strict rules and time tables in homes and offices.
o Surprise checks.
o Rules of rewards and punishments for adhering to them or not.
2.  Quality of work suffering due to distraction of social media at all levels:While in offices, shopping, doing personal work and holidaying, what are we doing? We are busy with our social media. Constantly. It has become an epidemic.

My message here:

The message here is to continue with charity work  intelligently. Lets do it with focused objectives.

1. Stop beggary by children:
o Give them food, (let’s take along a leftover food or snacks for them, clean drinking water too. But not give cash. Once these beggar’s guardians and parents realize it is not working, it is bound to stop.
o Instead, pay those organizations and persons who have schools for such children;
o Do volunteer work with such organizations .

2. Education and skill development:
o Individually: teaching them ourselves, or keeping a tutor at home to teach staff. Giving them on-the-job training. Run your home like an institution.
o Collectively: in your own community give monthly fees for at least one or more children.
o Invest in technical training: so they can become independent and earn.
3. Entrepreneurship courses:
Such short courses would be best for teenagers of both genders to be able to start their own small business or assist their parents. This can be done in schools as part of the curriculum.
4. Help in marrying off their children:
Marrying off children is the biggest dilemma of every person in these parts. Somehow these expenses result in debts for a lifetime. So, if one can help them in any small way we can, it is good. Especially to help single parents to marry off their daughters in a dignified way. This is how one can be of great help:
o Getting things for the bride or groom.
 Clothes (12 suits for girl or 6 suits for young man.)
 Items for house: utensils, household goods, even furniture if you have it.
 Food for the event. ( Even Rs.10,000 can make a difference.)
5. Help in construction of their house:
o Either for whole house, or pay for some materials, etc.
o The idea is to help them gain a secure roof over their heads.
6. Give them a layette for the baby: If an employee is in family way, facilitate by giving less heavy work during pregnancy, and clothes and items for new baby.
7. Pay for health problems, operations etc. I know many organization do it, but many don’t.
8. Paying for water pump installation: This could help provide water for their requirements.
9. Educate them in family planning: the facilities are there, but they aren’t effective. We have to sit and convince them
10. Paying for higher education like PEF (Professional Education Foundation): This is the best way, to give scholarships to deserving students from schools for underprivileged children. There are negligible facilities for them available right now.

  • Stay blessed! 

Blessings of Domestic Help.

Domestic help in Pakistan, and this region (India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Gulf States,) are a point of discussion all round. This is so because they are an integral part of our lives. Like them or not, we can’t live without them. Driver, servant, maid, gardener, cleaning maid, cook, guard – you name it we have it. If not many, almost everyone has at least one who does it all.

Most of my married life, I’ve kept part-time help, as I find them less nerve wracking and easier on the pocket. When there is no help, I declare, ‘we are living abroad!’. All of us put on full blast music wherever we are in the house and enjoy while we work. So, it’s ok. Presently, God has been very kind, more so due to my parents, who have become so old and weak that I need twenty-four hour help taking care of them.

Continue reading “Blessings of Domestic Help.”

Joy of Charity Work


Somehow, you always receive more than you give!

This topic is so close to my heart, I don’t know where to start! I suppose charity begins with empathy. Yet there are so many beginnings to it.

Why give charity? It can be any of these reasons:

  1. To help others out of their dilemmas.
  2. To thank Allah for all that He has blessed you with.
  3. It is the best way to bring your own problems into perspective.
  4. It is the best anti-depressant, and diffuser of sadness. An instant mood booster.
  5. A financial booster. (I’ll explain in a while.)

Continue reading “Joy of Charity Work”

Sustainable Development Conference – 2017

Attending one of my favorite conferences…


Almost every December since 2005, I have attended the annual three-day conference of SDPI. This year the theme was: Seventy Years of Development-  The Way Forward, it was held on December 5,6th and 7th . I just love going there, it is a great experience. The director Uzma T. Haroon makes a point of inviting me every time. I respect her writing abilities a lot.


So, this year she asked me to be a panelist for Art as a Resistance against Oppression, also to put up a presentation at the session on Promoting gender equality: Icons of Feminism in South Asia.  My presentation was on Icons of Feminism in Pakistan during first 70 years: Suggestions for the Future. Happily I agreed, as both the subjects were close to my heart.


During the art session, it was truly an honor to sit next to icons like the Urdu writer Kishwar Naheed, Actor and DG of PNCA, Jamal Shah. I’ve interviewed both for Dawn many years ago.


24900079_1764513226915295_8850702260152814216_nSheema Kirmani the awesome classical dancer and actor was also there, among other icons.  Right before the discussion, we were informed that each panelist will speak for ten minute on the subject and  the first speaker was of course Shireen Gheba! I mean, to come unprepared, because you think it’s a discussion, and then to have to speak for ten minutes at such a forum! – Well, once I get started, usually there is no stopping me. So, I shared my thoughts: that one of the greatest persons using his art as resistance against oppression was Allama Iqbal. We Pakistanis are a witness to how meaningful his work was when he actually convinced the people of the Sub-Continent of India to rise for their freedom. Uzma made this video as I spoke:

Each one of us is living in this free country thanks to the inspiring poetry of Iqbal and leadership of Quaid-e-Azam.


Then of course, after Pakistan came into exhistance seventy years ago, there were many great artists who used art as a resistance against oppression which included Sadequein, and later on poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Habib Jaleb. Sheema Kirmani has given amazing classical dance performances against oppression of women, Jamal Shah in his television dramas and film productions and Kishwar Naheed through her writings and poetry. Though many speakers didn’t agree with me, but each one sprouted out Iqbal’s Urdu poetry to make their points! – Not surprising, Iqbal’s poetry being what it is!

So, SDPI conferences are usually three days of four concurrent sessions which take place simultaneously for three slots daily: 9.30 – 11.30 am, 12.00 pm – 2.00 pm and 3.00 pm – 5.00 pm. The venue is Marriot – a four star hotel – of Islamabad. The food is lavish and hundreds of people attend the sessions. Each session has panelists who are the gurus in the fields chosen for discussion. Then the audience is also very well read and accomplished, so the subsequent discussion is interesting. Everyone can participate with their questions, and connect with the speakers later during the tea or lunch session. What I really like most of all is the way the whole conference is organized  with  patience, efficiency and punctuality.

The presentations were in the evening session, and mine was on ‘Icons of Feminism in Pakistan during first 70 years: Suggestions for the Future.’  I was given ten minutes and Nathelene Reynalds was over-all incharge of that session. Sheema Kirmani was chairing it. The Nepalese Bandana was very elequent and she rounded off the session at the end – along with Sheema Kirmani. Everyone spoke with great passion about the plight of women in Pakistan and in South Asia. Sheema specially pointed out the plight of the minority women.




My ninety year old dad insisted on coming to my presentation. It was great having him there. Of course, my daughter Waliya brought him over along with our helper Sabir.


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On the last day I attended two sessions, Roundtable on Labor Unions, and next one was on Water Stewardship and Research Initiatives in Pakistan. It was really upsetting to see the situation of the laborers in our country. I had gone there, to get information for one of my upcoming books. Each speaker made one realize how bleak the situation has been. Also, that the European Union has had a very positive effect on the situation and their pressure on our government has made things bearable for our laborers. But the fact remains, situation is bleak, and needs all the attention possible. Many of the laborers do not actually receive the lowest rate of wages which is Rs.15000 per month. Most have to manage within Rs.12000 only. Pays at the manager level are slightly better, but these too are not enough.

It was the same with the water situation in Pakistan, ‘Water Stewardship and Research Initiatives in Pakistan’.

I learnt about ‘drip-irrigation’ and how effective it is. How there are organizations which are actually helping the farmer with research and development of new and effective methods. The Nestle company is doing a lot in this field too, as they had initiated this session of SDPI on water. Hydro-electric power and use of water storage and rain water storage was talked about too.

24900062_1765477873485497_5501286247848828542_nHelga was there too in the audience, she is a German residing in Islamabad, who has done a lot in this field. She even helped a village use biogas as source of energy.  There was Rina Saeed Khan who is a journalist and one of the panelists. (Later on I bought her book ‘From Mountains to Mangroves – protecting Pakistan’s Natural Heritage.’) There was a person from Nepal telling us it isn’t easy there either. One of them informed me that though the Islamabad water table has got lowered, it still isn’t as low as it is in Lahore where you have to do boring till around 700 feet below ground level. The need for educating the masses to save water at all levels, was deeply felt. One of the SDPI members even gifted me a book of theirs. They are all so dedicated and sincere in their efforts. We, the people of this city and the country should be active also.


Tariq Buneri who founded this wonderful organization and is settled in Utah, USA now, was there at the sessions. Dr. Abid Qaiyum Suleri is the Executive Director, SDPI. Their sincere efforts are evident in the smooth manner in which such a complicated conference is carried out so efficiently. It was heartening to find students from universities attending, along with these girls from Islamic University.

24796357_1765478096818808_8642221238715809603_nMany housewives, lecturers, and government officials are usually present at these sessions. It is time we all got out of the shopping craze to come to such conferences and see where our country is actually going. It is important to find out where we stand in comparison with our neighboring countries. To meet their intellectuals and compare notes.  It is also heartening to find common problems, also eye opening to see how they are combatting the problems of trade, communication systems, water, electricity, health and education.

Through the sessions skype talks were also initiated, which mostly fizzled out due to connection issues.

24796479_1765478420152109_9030564670212327562_n However, the one on the closing ceremony was successful with Ms. Shamshad giving a detailed talk. (Some of us wished there was a skype issue here too, as it was getting a bit long,) Anyhow, the next speech by Mushahid Husain was interesting. His speech was a breath of fresh air; giving a very optimistic picture of our region in the upcoming months and years. He informed everyone of the number of projects already on the way, which include the new Islamabad Airport, the CPEC roads and many other projects. There is a bright future ahead, do not be dismayed.

Previously, I’ve attended invigorating sessions on Media, attended by the late Agha Nasir. I’ve seen Muneeza Hashmi and Salima Hashmi in such programs. The late Khwaja Masood the great educationist also often chaired many memorable sessions on Education. I’ve heard him saying, ‘you all have read history – I’ve lived it!’ – he was around eighty-four years old then. I often meet the great Shamsul-mulk at these sessions, his complexion glows more with every year. Also, some of my favorite speakers were  Haroon Sharif, Bandana, Sheema Kirmani, Rina Khan and  Kishwar Naheed.

I make a point of attending such conferences or workshops through which I learn more about what is going on. These are eye openers. What is interesting is to meet like-minded people at such places, and share experiences. Also it gives one a better outlook as to what is going on. Instead of sitting at home, and making bleak conclusions it is better to go out and find out for yourself. There is a lot of hope and when it is hopeless, you know what is to be done. See, where you can make a difference.

We all still have some life left in us, let’s make the most of it, to leave this world a bit better than we found it. I’ve never regretted going to such functions.

Never. When you go, try to sit in the front row, ask questions, participate, and come out wiser.

Stay blessed, my dear Reader. Let us be very selective with our time, such opportunities of attending conferences need to be availed.


Photographs taken and provided by author, and with thanks from Waliya Najib and Uzma T. Haroon. (video by Uzma.)





World disability day


Each one of us has a responsibility towards them

A couple of years ago, I had a first-hand experience of what it means to be ‘disabled’.  I had fallen from two steps, in the school where I taught English.
The doctors said, that I need knee replacement operation within a week if possible. It was too big a shock for me, also my students’ final exams were round the corner, so I decided to postpone the operation till the summer vacations. I suffered a lot of pain at every step, and had to use a stick or wheelchair. I had to walk with a very strange gait. I still went for my trip to Dubai and Abu Dhabi because everything had already been arranged and paid for.

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Labor Day – a tribute to laborers in Pakistan.

Laborers I got to know…..

In 2010 when my husband and I moved into this locality, it was a relatively new colony. -Lots of construction going on all round. There was dust in the air and more laborers seen around here, than the residents. Watching these laborers working and walking around, holding their fearful looking equipment or just like that, made one a bit afraid of them. If my husband had to go out of town, I’d refuse to spend even a night in our home. I’d pack our stuff in our car, and drive off to my parents’ home in Bahria Town. No, I wasn’t going to stay in our home, with all those terrifying laborers living around us! There was crime too. Burglaries, and what not, and one invariably felt that it could have been the laborers, living in most houses under construction.

Continue reading “Labor Day – a tribute to laborers in Pakistan.”