Naureen Aqueel

Archive for August 2008

An edited version of this article was published in The News, Educationzine, August 9, 2008.

Schools and colleges often require students to complete a certain number of hours of community service in various areas before they pass out. Many universities also give preference to students who have participated in some form of community service.  The aim behind this is usually to instill in students a healthy conscience to help others, be of benefit to the community or society at large and to make them interact first hand with people who may not be as privileged as they are.

Many schools and colleges in Pakistan make it mandatory for students to complete a specified number of hours in community service, while others encourage students to do it in return for extra credit or extra certificates. This practice proves beneficial in that it provides a steady stream of volunteers to charitable organisations which are in dire need of people willing to spend time with the less privileged for whom these organisations are built. Students taking part in community service go to places like homes for the mentally and physically handicapped, old homes, orphanages, hospitals, charitable trusts, and schools.

Till now, the more popular trend in Karachi was for students to go to organisations like Darul Sukoon, which houses the mentally and physically handicapped and other old-age homes. A unique programme however has now been initiated by an NGO by the name Society for Educational Welfare (SEW) which runs a network of community based welfare “Baithak Schools” for underprivileged children in less developed areas of the city.

In line with its new Collaborative Community Development Programme (CCDP), SEW has initiated a programme of collaboration with mainstream schools and colleges whereby students from these schools and colleges come to the “Baithak Schools” and share their knowledge and time with these underprivileged children who cannot afford to study in schools like theirs. “This programme provides a platform for outsiders to help these children without having to invest time and money in gathering the resources and children,” says the In-charge of the Collaborative Community Development Programme at SEW. “It bridges the gap between these students and students of mainstream schools.”

The prototype of the programme was initiated in collaboration with Foundation Public School (FPS), whose students spent 24 Saturdays in community service at different branches of the “Bhaitak Schools”. The students of Foundation Public School were given themes like ‘helping others’, ‘a place for better living’, ‘colours around us’ etc to work with each Saturday. In accordance with these themes, students prepared lectures, demonstrations and other creative work to carry out with the children. They also taught the children pot-painting, drawing, collage work, sentence construction etc.

“Alongside their regular studies, we wanted the Baithak children to learn new skills as a result of this programme,” says Shaheen Arif, Co-ordinator of the Pehlwangoth branch.

The students of Foundation Public School also added to the infrastructure of the school by painting walls, setting-up a library for the children and re-organizing the office.

“It was an invigorating experience,” says a student of FPS who was a part of this programme. “It brought passion into out hearts.”

Most of the FPS students found it to be ‘an excellent experience’ and said it was a process of ‘two-way learning’ wherein they not only taught the Bhaitak students different skills but also learned many things from them.

Speaking about an extremely misbehaved child whom the FPS students helped transform into a more disciplined student, the In-charge of the CCDP says, “He could have been tomorrow’s terrorist, thief or criminal, but the attention the FPS students gave him helped transform him into a better Pakistani.”

Miss Zeba, the principal of the FPS branch whose students were a part of this programme describes this as “touching their lives”. Indeed, this programme helped touch the lives of many students who are less privileged than their counterparts who study in elite private schools. It also helped bridge the gap between the two extremes in our educational system. Programmes like these are desperately needed in societies like ours where the gap between the rich and the poor is growing day by day.

An edited version of this article was published in Newsline, August 2008.

“It’s the sense of ownership,” says the EDO Municipal Services, Muhammad Masood Alam, describing the state of littering in Karachi “If I can take care of my home, then why can’t I take care of my lane and sidewalks?”

It is true that the citizens of Karachi need to take ownership for the state of their city with respect to littering. Each wrapper that is not flung out of the open car window, each cloth bag that is used in place of polythene plastic bags, and each dustbin installed in the neighbourhood can help make a difference. It is only the will that is needed.

“Don’t Mess with Karachi” is one private venture by a team of primarily four motivated and concerned citizens who are out to set an end to littering. Salman Raja and Tooba Zarif, founding members of this campaign and of Deal Pvt. Ltd., which is carrying out this anti-littering campaign, speak about this project with great enthusiasm. “We have to rise against this problem as nation,” says Salman. “First, we have to raise awareness that ‘yes this a problem’ and then we can get down to practical things.”

The Don’t Mess with Karachi campaign aims to make Karachi a litter free city, embed the concept of a litter free environment in citizens of Karachi and enforce an anti-littering act by the year 2013. The city government has given Deal Pvt. Ltd. the right to launch an anti-littering campaign in the city and come up with innovative ways on how to educate the public about littering.

Deal Pvt. Ltd aims to educate citizens, primarily students, on the importance of keeping the city clean. They have already started going to schools to build up an ‘Anti-littering force’ who will then participate in activities like student conventions, beach clean-ups, kids fashion shows, tree planting etc to raise awareness and funds for the anti-littering campaign. So far they have obtained permissions from forty schools already. They plan to go to every school in Karachi, even those for children coming from less-privileged backgrounds.

So, why are they focusing mainly on children? Salman and Tooba explain that they found it more effective to educate children and younger citizens about littering, rather than going directly to elder citizens. They think children are the means of reaching each and every home, and each and every citizen of Karachi. “If we go and tell older citizens not to litter, they won’t listen,” explains Salman. “But if their child tells them the same thing, they will love it, and they will listen.”

In addition to having a school programme, the Don’t Mess with Karachi campaign also has a corporate and citizen programme. A few companies have shown interest in this campaign, but nothing much has been done by them, say Tooba and Salman. As per the citizens programme, citizens can become members and sponsor their activities such as sponsoring a bin.

Deal Pvt. Ltd., being official consultants of the Chinese firm, has also taken up the task of spreading awareness about the project of the Chinese company and urging citizens to cooperate with the company. They will officially launch their school programme and bin installation programme as soon as the Chinese company launches its operations.

The project to clean up Karachi requires cooperation from the citizens. Everyone needs to play their part. Teachers, religious scholars and NGOs must educate people about cleanliness and the evils of littering. Citizens must make an effort to reduce, reuse and recycle and not litter the streets. “A sense of civic responsibility needs to be inculcated in the public to make them aware of their ethical and religious responsibilities to maintain cleanliness at individual, household and community levels,” says Syed Ghulam Qadir Shah of World Wide Fund for Nature, Pakistan. “The solution to maintain a clean environment should come from within the community with support from civic agencies.”

An edited version of this article was published in Newsline, August 2008.

Heaps of solid waste lie open in vacant plots, streets and waterways of the city of Karachi. Distraught citizens pass by scrunching up their faces, pinching their nostrils and holding their breaths. But this waste poses more than just an eyesore and a source of stench in their streets. It has significant environmental and public health impacts in the form of diseases resulting from human or animal contact to the waste which often includes hazardous waste substances as well, and atmospheric, surface and subsurface pollution caused by the dangerous liquids and gases emitted by the accumulated waste materials.

The city of Karachi is generating an estimated figure of around 8,000 tonnes of garbage per day. According to Syed Ghulam Qadir Shah, Conservation Manager for Sindh and Coordinator Indus Ecoregion at World Wide Fund for Nature Pakistan, the real figure is more than 9,000 tonnes per day. He says that approximately 50 per cent of the total solid waste produced in the city is actually collected and then properly disposed off. The remaining garbage lies unattended throughout the city creating a number of adverse environmental impacts, clogging up drains and threatening public health.

Most waste is illegally dumped near residential areas instead of being transported to and then dumped at the designated landfill sites for the city’s solid waste, where arrangements are made for effective disposal, incineration and recycling. The illegal dumpsites are then set alight to reduce the volume of the waste, adding significantly to air pollution.

Although the picture appears bleak, recent initiatives by the City District Government of Karachi create hope that there may just be light at the end of the tunnel. The city government has signed a contract with the Chinese firm Shanghai Shen Gong Environmental Protection Company Limited, according to which the Chinese company will manage the city’s solid waste including domestic waste, hospital waste and industrial waste in an environmentally safe way. The contract which was signed on January 11, 2008, and which is expected to be put into action from August 14, 2008, maintains that the company will invest $250 million to set up the system and the city government will pay $20 per tonne to the Chinese company for door-to-door collection of solid waste from all areas of the city and its disposal to the designated landfill sites, where the company will recycle it and use it to generate electricity.

“It is called the Build, Own and Transfer (BOT) Agreement,” says Quain Yu Lin, Chairman of Shanghai Shen Gong Environmental Protection Company. “We come here, we invest, we operate and after 20 years we will hand over everything to the city government.”

The project, says Lin, was conceived after initial research in 2006. The Chinese company was selected from a panel of five international companies who had responded to the call for tenders by the city government in 2007. Among all the international companies, the Chinese company had offered the lowest rate. After signing the contract on January 11, 2008, the company submitted its feasibility report on February 28. This was approved on Aril 6 and 7. Another report, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report is still awaiting approval from Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA). Work can only begin after its approval, says Lin.

The media has reported that there have been repeated delays in initiating the project since the signing of the contract. Some say it is the unstable political situation of the country that maybe a major cause of delay. Although accepting that the security situation of the city has made them quite apprehensive, Lin voices his firm’s resolve to go ahead with the project. “We see Karachi as our sister city,” he says. “We are determined to do this project. It is a misunderstanding that the project has been delayed. This project involves a lot of investment, so there’s a lot of homework to be done. After signing the contract the feasibility report normally takes about six months to one year to prepare. We submitted it in less than two months. This isn’t a delay; we have to move step by step. The firm has mobilized the team, so technically the work has begun.”

Lin claims that the project has not been delayed by his firm. It is the great number of formalities that has slackened the pace of the work. “Many approvals are required by the Government,” he explains. “We can’t start our work before the EIA report is approved by SEPA. Many newspapers are reporting that we are delaying the work, but they don’t understand the nature of the project. It involves a step-by-step process. There are a total of five lengthy procedures. Physical work can’t start until all formalities are dealt with.”

Although appreciating the support the city government has provided to them, the Chairman of Shanghai Shen Gong states that one of the preconditions of the agreement has still not been fulfilled by the CDGK. According to the agreement, the Chinese company has the right of reserving the fulfillment of its obligations until the CDGK hands over the site to them free of charge and of any encumbrances, and until the CDGK issues land use license that would be valid till the expiry of the agreement.

The Executive District Officer (EDO), Municipal Services, Muhammad Masood Alam however explains it differently. “There are two main reasons for the delay,” he states. “One is political instability in the country. They read the newspapers and watch TV too. Even the local investor does not want to invest in the Stock Exchange and Real Estate, you can well imagine the anxiety a foreign investor would have.” As for the second reason which addresses the Chinese firm’s concern that the CDGK has not handed over the site to them, the EDO says it is just an administrative glitch. The Chinese company expects the long procedures involved in transfer of land sites as in their home country, while the Pakistani procedure is quite different. “We are facilitating them in all the procedures. They just have to obtain approval before work begins.”

According to the EDO, the Chinese company has been given the contract for all 18 towns and 178 union councils. But to start the work, the company will initially be launching operations in four towns which are Jamshed, Saddar, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Gulberg and Liaquatabad, the last two coming under the same umbrella.

So will this project come with some costs for the citizens whose waste this company will be collecting? The EDO says taxes will be imposed based on the square yards of land in residential units, commercial units and industrial units. The rates will be different for different categories.

The Chinese company has brought in some of the managerial staff from their country. The rest of the workers will be hired locally. They will also be inheriting the local labourers of the CDGK. Presently, there is a firm by the name Abaseen International which is managing the landfill sites, but they will leave as soon as the Chinese company takes over. The three landfill sites that will be used by the Chinese company are Jam Chakro, Gond Pass and Dhabeji. The company will be renovating and upgrading the Jam Chakro and Gond Pass landfill sites.

Previously, different initiatives have been taken by the CDGK and the town municipal administrations to outsource the municipal waste collection and transportation to the private sector. However, most of these contracts ran into serious trouble due to a combination of technical, administrative and coordination problems. This time the government and the Chinese company are cooperating to make the project work.

“As Pakistan and China enjoy friendly relations, we feel from the heart that we should contribute to the betterment of the city of Karachi,” says Lin. “We have taken the responsibility of cleaning the city and we take pride in this. If everything goes according to our plans, we can say that in three years Karachi will be the cleanest city in the South Asian region.”

Lin says that the venture is basically a non-commercial project. He describes it as “no profit, no loss”. The profit will be the valuables that they will generate from the waste which includes electricity, fuel, compost etc, which they hope to make useful to the citizens of Karachi. According to Lin, the basic problems with previous initiatives for solid waste management in Pakistan were the allocation of inadequate funds and the absence of an effective management control system.

Perhaps Ahmad Saeed, Head of Pakistan Ecosystems and Livelihood Group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), identifies the main culprit preventing such projects from achieving fruition. “The problem lies with us,” he points out. “It is the inconsistent policies and the inability of new governments to continue the projects of previous governments that is the problem.”

One hopes that this project goes on to achieve the vision the Chinese have set for it so that we can all enjoy living in a clean and beautiful city.

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August 2008