I am in Karachi, Pakistan, one of the 5 most populated cities in the world. What was meant to be a short visit here turned into a landmark stop on the journey of living-being. I came here originally to attend a wedding. Now I am married to a girl I met traveling earlier on this journey. My volunteer experiences in Africa and Europe as well as exhaustion from constant travel has created a need to get involved deeper within a community. This has given birth to The Lotus Project — an initiative to empower youth and strengthen communities.
Pakistan is usually the go to destination for travelers to visit or work these days due to its political instability and apparent security issues. Many international NGO’s have put projects on hold whilst many development workers have left the country due to genuine concerns. One must have a good sense of humour to consider there would be thriving tourism industry here. Expats and foreigners aside, many locals talk of leaving for “better” opportunities elsewhere.
The city of Karachi is like a “state” of its own. The megalopolis has its own political realities and dynamics that differ from the rest of the country. As an economic hub, Karachi is a melting pot of people from everywhere. For these reasons, it is also the target for terrorist attacks and destabilization efforts by local and foreign forces. In a city of 21 million plus people it is easy to get lost in the crowd and get caught up in a constant battle for survival. Once you’re in it’s not easy to break free. It is like the lyrics from the song Hotel California by the Eagles, “ You can check out any time you like but you can never leave”.
Once a tiny fishing village, Karachi was the capital of the newly independent Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The city was know as far back as ancient history. The Greeks knew the city as Krokola, the place where Alexander the Great set up camp to prepare a fleet for Babylonia. In 712 AD, Muhammed Bin Qasim led his conquering forces in to South Asia through Debal, a name given to the area by the Arabs. The town was captured by the British East India Company in 1839 and was later annexed to British India in February 1843. By the time of the independence Karachi had become a bustling metropolis with classical and colonial European themed buildings. The city became prime land for settlement by Muslim migrants from India who further developed it. Karachi was one of the most progressive cities in the world and continued to prosper until 1958 when the seat of the government was moved to Rawalpindi towards the north of Pakistan. In the 80’s and 90’s Karachi saw a huge influx of refugees as result of the war in Afghanistan, followed by refugees escaping from Iran. Today, Karachi is one of the largest Pashtun cities in the world.
Karachi suffers from an identity crisis. With several ethnic enclaves the city seems divided. You can find zones with people from virtually every part of the Indian Subcontinent in this one city. Of the 8–9 years of my life I have lived in Karachi at various stages, I have seen only a small area of this huge city. With such a divers population fighting for basic survival and little support from the government, progress is slow.
We made a conscious decision when we decided to stay in Karachi make a difference by empowering children with knowledge and education. Our children, equipped with the right skills can bring the change we want to see in the world. We recognize the risks but feel that there’s a greater risk by not doing anything. We live in a global community and our actions have real consequences to live of people half way around the world. From security to increasing gas prices, environmental impact, declining resources, or the growing number of refugees — if we choose to, we can make a difference. When I look at the faces of children at our schools, when I hear their stories, I can not help but want to do all that I can to help create a future where they receive the basic rights that all humans deserve.
About The Author
Urooj Qureshi is pro Adventurer and storyteller. Follow his adventures on Instagram @uroojqureshi.
Originally published at http://www.living-being.com on February 22, 2013.