After almost four years of living in Lahore, people ask me still if conditions in Karachi are as bad as the media portrays it to be. An affirmative nod from my end further invites questions like ‘are people not scared?’ or ‘how do the ‘Karachi-walas’ manage? Sometimes I just smile and shrug. Other times I, nonchalantly, respond with the very safe ‘guess we are used to it by now’ response.
If I had a nickel for every time I was asked this question, I’d have a few hundred, thousands in my bank account now. Yet, this perpetual inquisition (certainly felt like one), that frustrates me at times, never ceased to make me think along the same lines; seriously, how do we manage?
Karachi has a reputation
It is no secret that, in recent years, Karachi has garnered a reputation for being ‘unsafe’. Not just foreigners, but even our own countrymen are reluctant while travelling to the city once fondly remembered as the city of light. From petty street crimes to large scale terrorist activities, Karachi has experienced it all.
However, this year, the city experienced a marked improvement in the security situation following the ranger led operation. The crime rate fell down by 80% which boosted the over-all business confidence. Traders are happy now that the extortionists have stopped bothering them. Even the real-estate market is reviving. As per Zameen.com Property Index, the prices for all types of property in Karachi raised 25%-30% in the year 2015. Most importantly, the residents of Karachi feel ‘safer’ now with its streets coming back to life again with many eateries and stores staying open late into the night, even in neighborhoods once deemed no-go areas.
Although, we still cannot say that the troubles of the common man have completely disappeared. Without undermining the efforts of the authorities involved, this is just one battle won with many still standing in line. True, the city has shown improvement, but dangers and problems still plague the residents, making their lives difficult still.
Karachi’s resilient spirit
Yet, after every hardship and hurdle, Karachi remains the economic backbone of the country. With a current population of approximately 17 million, the city still attracts people from all across the country. It is also the country’s main port city which accounts for 42% of the total GDP. It is responsible for generating about half of Pakistan’s tax revenue and is home to the country’s stock exchange and central bank.
These achievements, though miniscule for a metropolitan city, are magnified when viewed from perspective of a common man. Despite all the hurdles, a common Karachiite, sets aside all his problems and goes about his daily business, contributing in whatever way he can, to not only make ends meet but also keep this mega city functioning. Scared or not, these Karachiites rarely let anything deter them, showing great and unexpected resolute in the face of adversity. And many of these Karachiites go beyond the call of duty, breaking stereotypes and helping those in need.
Karachi’s unsung heroes
One such Karachiite is Parveen Saeed, the owner of Khana Ghar. Holding a master’s degree in journalism and the proud mother of two bright daughters, the lady single handedly laid the foundation of Khana Ghar– a facility where food is provided for a minimal fee of Rs.5. The inspiration behind Khana Ghar is drenched in sadness that reflects the stark realities of everyday life. When a woman in Ms. Saeed’s neighborhood made the heart-wrenching decision to kill her children after watching them suffer with hunger for several days.
Initially, Ms. Saeed used to provide ration to people in need. However, with time she realized the necessity to build a place which serves quality food in a dignified manner.
Established in 2002, at present, Khana Ghar has two branches in Khuda Ki Basti and Korangi where almost 3000 people are fed on a regular basis. In times when feeding one’s family seems like an arduous task, Mrs. Saeed refuses to term her efforts as extraordinary.
Sharing similar sentiments, Parveen Rao is another such selfless individual who has dedicated her life to provide quality education the under-privileged. Amal-e-Danish school located in Gadap, Karachi, almost 1000 children gain quality education for a fee of one rupee/month. Parveen Rao, in collaboration with a few of her friends started the school in 1984 in the Korangi area. It was later shut down due to security concerns. However, despite financial constraints, Parveen Rao, in 2004, revitalized the initiative once again with her own personal savings
Now, apart from educating kids at a nominal fee, the school also provides loans to students interested in pursuing higher studies. Following the curriculum at par with that of private institutions, the school has now branches in Surjani Town Karachi and Tehsil Ferozewala in Lahore.
The Garage School (TGS) started by Shabina Mustafa focuses on educating and grooming underprivileged kids. A single mother, Shabina never let it define her. Instead, on insistence of her maid she started TGS in her modest, Clifton house garage in 1999. However, instead of conventional education, the children are groomed and based on their aptitude placed in other academic institutions on reduced fees. Moreover, the children are given monthly medical check-ups to ensure their health and are provided with nutritious food like fruits and poultry. Now TGS operates out of an apartment in Neelum Colony as well where women, due to close proximity, come in droves to learn.
Beacon of hope
These are just a few stories of everyday heroes with many similar to them strewn all across the city. These women and others like them have one thing in common; despite the adversities they came across, they managed to shine. Instead of succumbing to unfair circumstances, they turned things around, not just for themselves but for people around them. These brave women truly make a difference while giving us hope in the people of the city.
In the spirit of these kind souls, let us, for once, forget the negative connotations attached with the city. Let us, for once, avert our eyes from the dangers of the city and zoom in on the beautiful and fearless people of Karachi. People who dare to step away from their circle of troubles and struggle to do something for those around them. People who refuse to let the hardships bring them down. People whose resilient spirits reflect the strength of the city which stands proudly on the shore of Arabian Sea.