Stories about poverty

Pakistanis – as charitable as we are corrupt!

What could I write about? I thought to myself, while taking a long drive down the smog filled roads of Sea View in Karachi, my birthplace and a city I keep returning to. Corruption, violence, poverty, slave labour, child abuse, acid victims, rape, gender discrimination. The possibilities are endless because we are an under-developed country with a plethora of topics ranging from the manic to the incredibly insane making lives quite exciting for photographers, journalists, documentary-makers and writers. Photo: Reuters Then, something remarkable happened. I was passing by one of the food stalls erected away from the beach area. A boy, barely eight-years-old, holding ...

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Wali Flo Shah’s success story: When he refused to let poverty break him

“I know you’d expect this kid to be a criminal, But before you judge someone, don’t be as cynical Because that child wasn’t a story, That child was me.” Thus, eighteen-year-old Wali Shah ended his powerful spoken word ‘The Child’, narrating his journey as an immigrant child – battling economic hardships at home and a troubled gangster life outside in Toronto, Canada. For his narration, he received a standing ovation at a prestigious event at United Way, attended by dignitaries in the city of Mississauga. I met Wali Shah later in his home, located in a modest, middle class rental apartment building. As his Mom received ...

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A broken pen, a sweeper’s respect and my shame

It was a normal day at college. While two of my friends were playing table tennis, another friend and I were trying to disrupt their game by constantly throwing objects their way. This was routine for us – nothing unusual. On this particular day, we started by throwing Nestle water bottle caps at them, then pen caps and when we ran out of the smaller pieces, we threw pens their way. Since we had a poor aim, these items were scattered all over the lobby but we didn’t pay much attention to the mess we had made and continued with ...

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Ibrahim Hyderi: Where children chew gutka and await their turn to eat

Enter Ibrahim Hyderi. From the foul and putrid smell that contaminates the air to the alleys upon alleys of shanty mud erections, this 4,000 year old basti (town) will leave you despondent. It has been deserted by the government, abandoned of literacy and polluted with all forms of abuse: child, drug and health. Its inhabitants lead a very dismal existence indeed. This crumbling and dilapidated town is home to a staggering 50,000 Pakistanis. As the rocking waves settle against the sweltering sun, a string of fishermen’s boats line the docks. The effortless beauty is deceiving for while Mother Nature may majestically ...

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‘Halal’ education in Pakistan: When ‘pig’ in a nursery rhyme is taboo

As certain words and concepts in English are out of their range of experience, my students, coming from an underprivileged background, find it difficult to understand or accept them. With English nursery rhymes for example, since Jack was remiss enough to break his crown, the girls thought he and Jill were king and queen, until I explained otherwise.  Humpty Dumpty on the other hand continues to be viewed with deep distrust, however much I pleaded his cause. It isn’t, after all, normal to be an egg person. The resultant doubt of his being quite kosher creates a degree of disquiet. If ever Humpty wanders ...

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Life in Pakistan: Can we afford to hope for improvement?

I find it difficult to come up with a truthful answer to the question “How is life in Pakistan these days?” A simple “It’s complicated” does not even begin to describe the complexities of everyday life in this country. Pakistan is a difficult country; difficult like dealing with a child who has started screaming and crying in a crowded market, a child that cannot be pacified by meeting its unreasonable demands. Sheer patience is required to face the unending drama we create and encounter in this country every day. However, patience is not a virtue known to prosper in the ...

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Education only panacea to current mess

Today, Pakistan finds itself in the quagmire of violence, uncertainty, and despair, mainly because of its shattered and obsolete education system. A recent report by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (Sparc) states that Pakistan is number two in the world with 25 million children out of school, coupled with an astronomical dropout rate. This gloomy picture exists because of the oppressive socio-economic conditions that have fostered impoverished living circumstances, monopoly of resources and concentration of wealth in a few hands. State institutions, occupied and run by a handful of feudals, have shirked their responsibility to ...

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Drinking straight from the tap and courteous officers: Surprises in the US

I have always wondered why every other Pakistani is so heavily influenced by the West. Was it the media or was there really something impressive about them? I have to say, after my visit to the States, I have fallen in to the same trap. Here is my story… As I landed at the Los Angeles International Airport, I stood in the immigration line, patiently waiting for my turn. A few minutes later an officer called out to me from a distance and asked me to leave the line. I did as I was told to and the officer slowly walked up to ...

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Pakistani with every fiber of my being

I hail from green and white – from a crescent and a star. I live under lights that do not dim, even with electricity loadshedding every day. I walk in slums and narrow streets. I travel across shahrahs and highways that lead up to the mountains. I cower from the sun, glaring down, staring down; I cower from heat waves — from warmth that can make you faint. I am in awe of the sea, the beautiful vast sea that drowned a boy I knew, with long, white, foamy waves that I watch merge with one another. I recognise five rivers that have ...

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A day in the life of 78-year-old Riaz

It’s Monday morning. The alarm has started wailing in its almost cynical tone as per the daily routine. It is time for Riaz to drag himself out of bed and face another listless and robotic day at work. The tea is cold as usual and the bread two days stale. Living in a locality bearing the brunt of both the electric and gas loadshedding means the water never really reaches a point of warmth, let alone the boiling point. Baked bread is too expensive a luxury so this stale piece must do. Upon reaching work, the young supervisor starts barking orders ...

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