By Murad Ali Khan
LAHORE: While living in Istanbul I always looked forward to coming back to Pakistan, as home to me meant doting grandparents and a comfortable house, managed by a sizeable helping staff that ensured I didn’t have to lift a finger. Quite soon, however, this utopian impression of the Pakistani society which I had was proven to be false when I moved back to Lahore a little over three years ago.
The reality was cold and harsh, as I came to the realisation that I was a part of the over-privileged minority of Pakistan, a bubble in which all of us socialised and worked together to remain in a position of elevation over the struggling masses. This drastic social disparity has seemingly grown with time owing to the complete lack of socially conscious policies and endeavours by successive governments.
I have constantly struggled with my conscious as I enjoy the comforts of social strata that I have done nothing to achieve whilst doing nothing for those less fortunate than me, despite knowing that a huge gap exists between social classes in the country – a gap that results in certain people being able to enjoy an air-conditioned room in 45 degrees Celsius weather.
On the other end of the spectrum are families, often in excess of five, that can only afford a single room living through the harsh Pakistani summer without even a fan to give them respite. How can we, as a nation allow our fellow citizens to go through life in this manner while we enjoy the lives we have by sheer good fortune?
I happened to visit Kamaha village in Lahore a short while ago, where I saw families of eight (twice the size of mine) live in single rooms with no doors, in a crime-stricken dangerous area. Even safety concerns were too big a luxury for them. They had no toilets, sanitation facilities or proper water supplies and were susceptible to all sorts of water-borne diseases which they would not be able to afford a cure for either.
Some even lived in houses without roofs, dangerously exposed to the sun and the risk of sunstroke and dehydration. As I witnessed their living conditions I knew there had to be something that I could do to help, even in the most minute and basic way. It was then that I came up with the Makaan initiative, with the help of my mother who happens to be an architect.
Makaan is a project through which I aim to collect funds in order to make small but impactful changes to the underprivileged houses in Kamaha village. These changes aim to include, but not limited to, adding doors, plastering the walls and adding proper yet basic bathrooms. These changes might be considered inexpensive and simple for people from a more privileged social class like me; however, it could mean the world for the residents of Kamaha village.
These changes will provide their families with a safer and relatively disease-free environment with a nominal level of privacy and security, one that with their minimum wage, they can’t afford. Thus, with our help, their standard of living can be significantly improved. Their shanties can be built into proper rooms, where they can at least live in a very basic level of comfort.
Every project needs a start, and I chose to commence mine in Lahore on a small scale. Unfortunately, Kamaha village is one of the many such low-income shanty towns that are spread all over Lahore and thus to make a notable impact to these lives a colossal effort will have to be made; I am working towards such an impact with the help of others. I recently chose four homes to help and presented their cases in my school.
I received positive responses and managed to collect 120,000 rupees, through donations. This was an ideal start, but there are still hundreds of other houses, and villages with thousands of residents whose lives can be improved through a collaborative effort. The eventual goal is to make Makaan into a trust fund so that the work being done right now can be carried on even after I have left for my studies in university. The aim is to obtain government funds and grants that will aid the Makaan initiative.
The project itself will be overseen by my mother and her firm, ZASA, but in order for this to happen more donations and more help is needed, so that the necessary steps can be taken to assure that Makaan becomes a nationwide project that can truly help underprivileged residents have the necessity which we take for granted – a safe comfortable home.