Building Pakistan brick by brick

Published: April 9, 2011
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A lack of affordable housing means that 30-50 per cent of one’s hard earned rupees goes to paying rent. PHOTO: AMCPAKISTAN.ORG

A lack of affordable housing means that 30-50 per cent of one’s hard earned rupees goes to paying rent. PHOTO: AMCPAKISTAN.ORG A lack of affordable housing means that 30-50 per cent of one’s hard earned rupees goes to paying rent. PHOTO: AMCPAKISTAN.ORG

Living in Pakistan far from home and my friends, it’s only natural that there are moments when I wonder what exactly I’m doing here.

Then there are prophetic moments when the clarity of my purpose washes over me with force.

This was a moment of comprehension:

At Ansaar Management Company (AMC), we were  quite literally, laying the foundation for Pakistan’s future.

In a country that sees more poverty than its government is willing to prioritise, a lack of affordable housing means that 30-50 per cent of one’s hard earned rupees go to paying rent.  When $120 per month is considered a normal family income, it’s hard to survive with what’s left over.

By building vibrant housing communities, AMC is helping the poor invest in an asset and build a community.

They help the poor stake out a turning point in their lives.

After years of preparation (slightly delayed due to our moral insistence not to pay speed money for government approvals), we are finally ready to set the tractors loose on our first major housing community 20 kilometers from the city center of Lahore in Kala Shah Kaku.

Staring at the mud caked on my dress shoes, it occured to me that I hadn’t come to the housing site prepared properly today.  I was certainly not expecting the emotional moment that was barreling towards me.

We laid our first brick.

The ceremony was being conducted entirely in Urdu—a language I don’t speak—and yet I understood it completely.  The musky scent of sentiment could be felt hanging in the humid air.

When it came time to lay the cornerstone, Jawad Aslam, our CEO, picked up a brick and gave it to Fizzah to place.

Why? Because Fizzah is symbolic of AMC’s bravery, he said.  Being the only female employee in a culture that is not accustomed to women in the workforce, she has become a leader in her department, just as AMC has redefined affordable housing in Pakistan.

One by one, the rest of the AMC team lay down brick after brick as I—the only foreigner in sight—watched.  Shahzad, Salman, Jamshaid, Amjad… and on they went.  My Pakistani brothers, literally built a future together.

Pakistan is a country that has a long way to go, but everything that we need is right here.  And this is just the start.

We are also kicking off a new project even more symbolic of Pakistani empowerment: we are building a housing development for those displaced by the 2010 floods.  A Pakistani home built by Pakistanis and paid for by a Pakistani foundation.

Though I could claim little responsibility for that moment, it brought me great pride and joy to see how far we’ve come, and yet I was left with a sense of anticipation for what was yet to happen.

In the early days,  our organisation was just three employees working out of a basement. Now we are growing so fast that we are trying to find room in the budget for a nametag maker.

And yet, there is a long journey ahead.

If you are interested in learning more about the affordable housing project visit AMC’s site

Bryan Farris

Bryan Farris

An Acumen Fund fellow in the class of 2011 who blogs at RisingPyramid.org.Bryan currently works at Ansaar Management Company in Lahore.

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