11 rules for the Pakistani do-gooder

Published: November 12, 2011

Before leaving one’s comfort zone to volunteer it is important to be prepared. PHOTO: IRFAN ALI

If you have something to give, let it be given in the most natural way possible. PHOTO: INP Before leaving one’s comfort zone to volunteer it is important to be prepared. PHOTO: IRFAN ALI

There’s much to be said about the spirit of volunteerism and philanthropy, so deeply ingrained in desi culture. In a material world, it’s great to see people making the effort to venture beyond their personal spheres. 

Before leaving one’s comfort zone, however, it might be important to be a little prepared. This is true not only for the good-hearted burger-bachas, but also their proactive supervisors, armed to the teeth with terrifyingly good intentions.  After squirming in my shoes watching just such an army of angels at work, I thought it might be useful to have a Community Service Orientation Pack, to ease the transition for people like you and me.

Before you enter:

1. Know your community profile beforehand (ethnicity, religion, economic background).

2. If you want to be able to integrate, leave bold fashion statements for a different day. Girls – even if you don’t want to cover your heads, taking a dupatta along might make people feel like they’re dealing with less of a ‘mem sahib’ (wealthy woman).

3. Know what you’re going to do. If you’re going to spread ‘public service messages’, make sure they haven’t been spread already. Repetition is not always effective, it can get annoying.

4. Don’t presume that you’ll know more.

While you’re there:

5. Try not to stand in awkward groups, whispering amongst yourselves. Be interested in introductions, and if there’s nothing to say afterwards then silence isn’t such a terrible thing.

6. Please don’t pity the ‘less fortunate’. Take your time to talk to them, you might make friends. Cricket is generally a safe topic to start with or even – wait for it – the weather. It’s suddenly so cold, yes, winter is here.

7. Try to communicate in Urdu or the local language if you know it.

8. If you have something to give, let it be given in the most natural way possible. Take pictures if you must, but let it not be just a photo opportunity with people having to pose multiple times. If you want to take photos, ask for permission.

9. A good facilitator will help break the ice, and will not be talking about the communities in front of them. People can generally hear when this is happening.

10. Don’t give your cell-phone number to strangers, even if they are much younger. Be polite in the event that you are asked, but unless there is a specific purpose, slide out of it.

11. Smile. Friendly but not vacant, friendly but not too familiar. Friendly.

It’s so very easy for many of us who read the ET blogs to be blissfully unaware of an alternate reality, one that exists beyond Gossip Girl, or great literature, or serious political talk. We all choose our own boxes and it isn’t easy to step outside them. When taking that decision, however, it just might be good to remember that one has to respect the space inside someone else’s box, in order to be welcomed into it again.


Madeeha Ansari

A graduate of the London School of Economics who works at a development consultancy.

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

  • Zee

    This is entirely unnecessary. Recommend

  • http://www.writespacetime.wordpress.com Madeeha

    I would have thought so too! But you’d be strangely surprised.Recommend

  • mik

    Do as Romans do in Rome. The way Angelina Julie did in her trip to Pakistan as UN ambassador. Recommend

  • http://www.khoulah.wordpress.com Khoulah

    I like the last point.
    “11. Smile. Friendly but not vacant, friendly but not too familiar. Friendly.”


  • Azam Sultan Ahmed

    Security guidelines for volunteers or people on the move in Karachi:-

    1) Carry a cheap and in expensive mobile phone while travelling.Keep that in a prominent place and hand it over when asked.
    2) Never store personal pics, information like address, contact no, bank ac nos or pin codes in the cell phone.
    3) Keep a back up of contact numbers in physical form or available the service from the mobile co.
    4) Keep a wallet just with money and any other requirement. But do not keep a copy of your NIC, credit, debit or visiting cards
    With that wallet. You may keep it seperately if required. If th wallet is snatched you’re personal information can lead the criminal
    To your residence or you will have to go through the headache of having to issue all the cards again.
    5) Never I repeat never give ur cell phone to a stranger it can be misused for terrorism or making a ransom call and as the SIM is
    In your name, you will arrested in no time.
    6) In case of mobile being snatched get the SIM blocked as soon as possible and inform CPLC of the IMEI no and get the phone
    blocked from CPLC. Keep one dozen copies of IMIE printed and kept all over the place for ready reference.
    7) In case of theft/ snatching of any legal documents like driving license, CNIC, Arms License, Car Reg book,
    Inform concerned police station immediately and register. FIR or roznamcha and get it stamped from the concerned police station.
    8)If police says they will catch/arrest people on the basis of your complaint and invite you for identification parade don’t agree to it.
    9) Always act calmly and cooly in such situations and never agitate, aggravate, resist or argue with criminal. Remember your life and
    your families is more precious than any mobile,cash or vehicle etc. Which can be easilyt replaced.
    10) Never sit in a car with the ac on and the winds rolled up. You’re a easy and identified target. More like a sitting duck waiting to be looted.
    11) Keep you doors locked, avoid rush areas and unnecessary driving at night.
    12) Always offer Travelling dua and Ayat-ul- Qursi when on the move.
    (May Allah swt protect us and our families and guide trhe misguided) Ameen!!Recommend

  • http://www.pakistani-revival.blogspot.com Ovais

    I dont really get the purpose of standing up for volunteering with the level of fashion and social status involved , volunteering is meant for a change not for fame , sadly those are the obvious aspects of volunteering in a city . Its sad to see the people responsible for most of this countries problem from electricity to food when we waste both of them daily to churn out in to the streets trying to superficially help the poor . Education is the only volunteering we require its sad none of us are willing to work in a government school. trust me they will welcome uRecommend

  • http://ayeshahoda.wordpress.com Ayesha Hoda

    Good one!Recommend

  • Yasir Ali

    golden advice there! thanks for the good read. sound practical advice for pps interested in integrating the diversity in pakistan.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I thought your eleven points were pretty good. You could have given a guide as to the most effective approach : single, boy/girl, boy/boy. girl/girl or boy/two girls.Recommend

  • Ali Kazmi

    I like your article, Madeeha, but I wish you were a teeny tiny bit less patronizing. “Do-gooder” and “Burger bacha” aren’t the nicest things to be calling sweet and kind people who want to help others. I’ve noticed that quite a few activist and volunteer types can be a bit holier than thou and even downright rude and I think that’s not very helpful. There’s just so very much apathy out there and so any benevolence on the part of fortunate people should be welcome and respected.Recommend

  • Savul

    What actually is the purpose of that article??Recommend

  • Girl

    ….the rules you provide are coming more from common sense then experienceRecommend

  • whatever

    Let me get this straight….the upper classes leave no stone unturned in exploiting the lower classes, and the burger-bachas are showing benevolence by volunteering for the less fortunate.
    And lol @ point 7.Recommend

  • http://www.amd.amd amd

    We r doomed wth these burger bachasRecommend

  • Ather Sultan

    I myself have been engaged with philanthropy/community service for the last few years and believe you me, it’s a very satisfying experience……. the only thing you have to avoid is exhibitionism…Recommend

  • Hasan Saeed

    Dear Madeeha,

    You have posted some good points on what people can do to avoid acting / looking over excessive when engaged in charity work.

    However, some of thw words used such as Burger bachas and point 7 are excessive…these are people who take time from thier lives to try and help those in need , we should be encouraging them and encorage the populace to come out and help our fellow citizens.

    One other point…if you are using a pic of certain people do take thier permission first…the two girls whose pics u have posted here are friends of mine and we were with them during our flood collection drive…posting/copying pics without even asking or informing is a no-no all of its own.Recommend

  • Ali Ghumman

    It is so frustrating to read that people would find something bad with good intentions as well. No one is perfect, if someone is having a photoshoot while going good then let them because you sure as hell aren’t even doing that much! But no, we have to show our pseudo superiority by enitrely assigning someone’s good intentions to their facebook profile needs … seriously people! grow up! and if you want to prove a point then do this perfect philanthropy you speak of as oppsed to just criticising everyone under the sun Recommend

  • http://www.floodreliefcampaign.blogspot.com Sarang Latif Qazi

    These are volunteers from DSFRC (Doctors and Students Flood Relief Campaign). I myself am the founder member of this organisation and we take volunteers from all the strata of society. Everyone is encouraged to participate. If there is any doubt regarding the volume of work that we have done this year and last year please visit our blog http://www.floodreliefcampaign.blogspot.com
    and our facebook page

    Now let me clarify some things for you Madiha. It is very easy to take a picture and form a perceptive opinion. Labelling is a common syndrome our society suiffers from. Anyone with an internet connection and good language skills can become a writer sitting at home. However if you want to be a good writer, one that really brings something worthwhile for the world then you would have to dig in deep and make more effort. Find out about the people in the picture, what drives them to do this work. What is the magnitude of the work that they have done overall. Then only you would have done justice to the profession and the readers.Recommend

  • http://www.writespacetime.wordpress.com Madeeha

    Just a disclaimer: pictures are furnished by the publishing powers that be. And titles are at the discretion of the editing powers.

    It was just a little rant inspired by a specific (rather horrific) experience at work, kept generic to avoid offence. As mentioned, it wouldn’t do to discount generosity of spirit and the courage it takes to explore alternate realities. But if one shouldn’t be condescending towards the people who give, then it doesn’t hurt to say that one can be careful about being condescending towards those at the receiving end.

    Am the first to say that development workers can be most callous and self-righteous, striding in and assuming that they know best. :)

    That’s just it. It’s worthwhile to take the time to figure out that other people are intelligent, sentient beings who may know their own needs better.Recommend

  • http://bp-theplaybook.blogspot.com/ barney stinson

    i do social work like this…..way more fun…:d