Saturday, 13 June 2009

Pakistan Youth Alliance - Swat Refugee Initiatives

It was on February 16, 2009, much before operation ‘Rah-e-Rast’ had begun, when few young individuals came on the streets of Islamabad and Lahore to raise money for the women of Swat who had been deprived of the right of education. When others were only protesting against the growing effect of ‘Talebanisation’ in Swat, these individuals were in fact on the roads to do something about the next generation of Swat who were likely to grow up without the light of education if the situation persisted. In no time, they were able to collect Rs 250,000 for the burnt schools in Swat from the streets of Islamabad.

When the war drums started beating and tanks began rolling in Buner, these young individuals were sitting in a TV show vowing to put aside their differences on whether they support the operation or not, and to launch an effective relief campaign for the internally displaced persons. Their faces wore determination and compassion, and they appealed to the youth to step forward, and to live the change instead of demanding one. These individuals were from Pakistan Youth Alliance, a youth based and youth administered non-political organisation.

Having a history that starts from Musharraf’s Emergency rule, PYA had stood up when and before no one even cared. A group of youth were more politically and socially aware then their peers, which realized the dream of having an unbiased platform for the youth of Pakistan, different from the “student unions” which were used by political parties to realize their shady motives. Casually dressed in jeans young boys and girls, ostentatiously representing the ‘urban elite’ which is often labeled as apathetic, were out there in scorching heat of noon in Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar and Karachi, when they ought to be sitting in their air-conditioned homes. It was a heart warming sight as they had not only set up camps at various market places but they also reached personally to people and asked them to contribute generously. It all started from Bahria Town, Islamabad where Rs 100,000 were collected in few hours on May 16, and they targeted Mardan Khas government school on the very next day to distribute the relief items. The first relief effort was successfully completed in 36 hrs, and the spark they ignited had to spread amongst masses and turn into a big fire.

With every passing day their ranks started to swell as more and more young people joined the cause and donations started rising. They held fundraising campaigns during the whole week in different cities, and on the weekends instead of sitting on comfy sofas at some eating place they reached those far lying schools of Mardan and Swabi which were holding fresh refugees. PYA had representation of local young individuals who knew the region well, and this made the task of need assessment easier. In this manner they touched hundreds of families. On their second trip they distributed relief items of worth more than half a million rupees in schools of Mardan Khas and Daula Zai. This practice continued for the weeks to come as they also reached families in the areas of Shakrial in Islamabad and Topi, Swabi.

Their work still continues as they believe that these relief efforts must not be worn out by time. The work of PYA has been acknowledged by various segments of media and people belonging to different walks of life. By posting pictures, documentations and receipts on various social networking websites like facebook, they were open to all to ensure transparency and accountability, which appealed greatly to the donors. The pictures of young kids of Swat smiling celestially and wearing tags and shirts of PYA have often replaced apathy with the feeling of empathy in the hearts of many. They proclaim to “Live the change” instead of just proposing it and how well have they lived up to their words.

What is enthralling about these people is that they are not an outgrowth of some political party or a NGO. PYA comprises of bright young individuals belonging to various universities, or who have different jobs, and they know no divides on the lines of sectarianism or provincialism. Rather than limiting themselves in daily drudgery, they take some time out of their daily routine to ponder how they themselves can be the change they believe in.

As Wordsworth had written about the French Revolution, “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive... But to be young was very Heaven.” The current wave of youth activism is a silent revolution, not a rebellious one indeed. And it is very heaven to be young these days.

The ways of world have changed
Tune is new, Instruments have changed
Free your mind from mental slavery
Make the young masters of the old
- Husham Ahmed


More on PYA coming soon...

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