Charity clubs: Everybody’s got a plan

Published: October 11, 2011
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Sponsors need to know that everyone has got a plan at Interact and are here to stay.

There are six people seated around a table, each with paper and pencil in hand. There’s the quiet hum of an air conditioner and the rustle of paper and a serious, practical kind of silence in the air. A paper with questions listed on it is passed around the table for verification- these questions are to be asked in the interview conducted by these six people. Someone giggles, which is immediately cut short with “Seriously, please.” Is this a top secret board meeting of a corporation? Has someone died? No, it’s a meeting of a few 17 and 18-year-olds… and they’re meeting in a dining room to interview prospective applicants for the charity club, Interact, sponsored by Rotary Club International.

But from the grave expressions on faces of interviewers no one can tell. In fact, for some, it’s positively grim. As Neha and Anam leave the dining room, having just given their interview, they confess:

“I kept thinking every word I said was judged very critically. I don’t think it went very well, do you?”

They lapse into a retell of the answers they gave to questions, wondering if they’ll make the cut. Clearly not your average teenage club.

And it isn’t. Interact is Rotary International’s service club for people aged from 12 to 18 years. According to its website, the clubs are sponsored by individual Rotary clubs. Their role is to raise money for charity and pursue community service. The club that I visited is the Interact club of Karachi Karsaz, sponsored by the Rotaract club of Karachi Karsaz. Yesterday’s meeting was held at the house of Muhammad Asim Kidwai, the president of Interact Karachi Karsaz and also the District Interact Representative for Sind and Balochistan. His biggest claim to fame, he proudly tells me, is raising Rs2 million for flood relief last year. And to think he hasn’t even completed his A levels.

Those are the the kind of people attracted to this club and the kind of people they are looking for today, as they conduct interviews for ten more members for their club of about 25. Mehermah Haider, the secretary, talks about her experiences at the Kidney Centre, SOS Malir and The Citizens Foundation. Meanwhile, the vice-president, Hamza Quadri, narrates his experiences of walking around Sunday Bazaar, asking people for donation for flood relief. (The particular venture raised Rs70,000). “We don’t want those losers who’re like: Mujhe please club mein dalday (Please put me in the club), and then who don’t work at all,” says Mehermah. Hamza adds:

“Also, enough talk about flood relief. Everybody contributed to flood relief, so what makes you different for this organisation?”

It’s that kind of directness that shows in the questions drilled to the applicants in the interviews- what are your strengths and weaknesses? Have you had any experience in organising events? Are you a leader or a follower? No wonder, then, that in one interview the secretary suddenly asks,”So what’s up?” just to break the tension the air.

Two things are apparent once you really start observing Interact club. First is the way the whole club is structured. The club does have a parent body, but is a self sustained organisation as a whole, with clubs funding their own events. So there is no overriding body to tell these 17 or 18-year-olds, what to do, or how to do it. The result is a very self governing structure but with a certain degree of frankness among its members. They come from different schools, have different friends, and may not even talk to each other outside of Interact. But within the club, it literally boils down to what a person is capable of. Witnessing a board meeting drives home the point of dedicated, serious near-adults.

Amongst samosas being passed around in a lounge, frank questions are asked- is this person really doing her job? Is our treasurer reliable? The process is democratic too- the president turns around to ask whether the rest of the board members have anything they’d like to add about him. Each one takes out a list of pending criticism that Kidwai patiently has to listen to.

The second fact that strikes you is the kind of applicants that apply. Like the board members they come from different schools. Unlike the board members, they’re usually younger, ranging from 15 to17 years. All of them are also sensitive, in a way that can’t be pinned down by reciting a CV. One applicant, Murtaza, talks about how he and a friend simply went from car to car at Teen Talwar signal last year, asking for flood relief. Did you do it through an organisation? “No, just by myself. It was a moral decision I had to take, I guess,” he replied. Another applicant talks about how this interact could be a stepping stone for an eventual NGO she’d like to run someday. One even talked about an animal rights centre she’d like to start. Kidwai says:

“We need people here who’re not just there for the certificate but they’re here for the long run.”

Looking at the recent interviews, I’d say he’s found some.

Yet despite the level of dedication that these Interacters show, what is their biggest concern? That sponsors don’t take them seriously enough.

“They just look at us and say, right, a bunch of useless kids. We’re here to say that it’s not true,” he says.

He then starts listing his future ideas- a concert, maybe a play. That’s the feel of Interact- everyone’s got a plan.

Meiryum Ali

Meiryum Ali

A freshman at an ivy league school who writes a weekly national column in The Express Tribune called "Khayaban-e-Nowhere".

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.