As soon as I got off the coach, a rickshaw wala showed up and offered his services. We agreed on 120 rupees fare to my destination. On our way, the Rickshaw wala asked me if I returned from abroad.
“No, I am returning from Islamabad.”
He looked confused as he stared at my suit and luggage. I quickly got to his thoughts and smiled;
“Well, there was a conference in Islamabad. I attended that. Now I am heading back home”.
Rickshaw wala: “May I ask what kind of conference it was?”
Me: “of course! It was on Youth Activism. Where we had different sessions and speakers to discuss the role of youth in various fields of life. About 200 local and international alumni’s participated in the event”
As he was not educated and literate, many things I said were new for him. For example, he didn’t know Youth Activism. So, I had to translate it to make him understand. That moment I realized how easy it is to sit, discuss, and talk in English for hours with educated people but very difficult to explain the same thing to a layman.
Me: “Youth Activism is basically youth engaging themselves in productive activities to benefit themselves and society. For instance, we learned the use of social media such as Facebook to aware masses. We can share stories, make networks, communicate to explore, identify problems, and offer solutions to those problems.” I gave few examples.
Rickshaw Wala: “nice. Is that all you did in the conference?”
Me: “No! It was just single example. We did many things besides sessions. We practically got engaged in community service. Some of us went for tree plantation. Another group went to the Pakistan monument and collected litter and waste there. One group played a match with school children. Yet another group did a theatrical session with kids with disabilities. While our group attended a project on women empowerment. We got to meet and hear stories of three girls who were victims of acid attack. It was painful. You’d be sad to know their stories as they were punished for something they never did or very minor mistakes one commits every day. Their lives and the people around were destroyed”
He sighed; “Indeed it’s painful. But what can you guys do for it?”
Me: “We can do many things. We will work with organizations which are fighting this evil. We can aware public and tell them what’s wrong and how important every life is. The government can be pursued to take strict actions against it. As for the kids with disabilities, we will find some shelter homes. We can volunteer there to play with them, cheer them up or take some time to school them.”
As I went on explaining, he seemed to be getting my point. A simple person as he was, simpler were his questions.
Rickshaw wala: “So where do you work, I mean job?”
I could see the expressions on his face when I told him I was a student at Islamia College Peshawar and that most of the attendees were students as well. He was literally stunned.
Rickshaw wala: “oh! If you are a student then who is going to pay you?”
“No one….,” I smiled.
Rickshaw wala: “Then how are you going to do it, and why?”
Me: “As I told you we will work in our individual capacity or with some organizations on voluntary basis. I have worked with couple of organizations for the same cause before. As for why? Don’t you think someone has to do something for the society, for people like you too? Don’t you think we owe you people as well? To make our homes and then make yours too. Shouldn’t we use our knowledge and skills for the common good? Hmm?” I smiled again.
If only I knew how to describe excitement, happiness and hope at the same time, I would die to do so. His innocent, common and short-bearded face suddenly lit up. I had no intentions but I felt I touched his heart.
He could only utter, “Yes, Yes….” with appreciation in his bright eyes.
It took him a while to think over the discussion and compose himself. The next question he asked was somehow hard for me.
Rickshaw wala: “Who organized this event?”
Me: “It was organized by the U.S. Embassy and PUAN. PUAN is an organization of the students, teachers and professionals who went to the United States on scholarship programs.”
He suddenly looked suspicious.
Rickshaw wala: “So you have been to USA too, right? Why do they send you guys?”
I never claimed that I am a mind reader, but this one was obvious. I understood his flow. I think a smiley face can help you a lot in many stressed and complicated situations, as it helped me there.
Me: “Yes, I did. For four months. Have you seen any foreign student in the university campus? There are many international students from Asia, Africa and Middle East studying in the Universities of Peshawar. They are on scholarships from the government of Pakistan. Same goes for us. We went there to study, explore and understand American culture. For example, I had this misconception that Americans are very rude. But you’ll not believe me if I tell you how kind they are”
Our conversation turned to my experiences in the U.S. He was astonished to hear that my friends in the USA reached out to me after the Lahore incident and that they extended their condolences and sympathies. He found it hard to believe that one can sue a restaurant in court if they refuse to give you or provide incorrect information about the ingredients. Thus we talked about lifestyle, education and economy to the best of my knowledge and his understanding. He had the same stereotypes as most Pakistanis. Belonging to a low income family, he was specifically interested in the labor market, employment and wages.
Meanwhile we reached our destination; my home. So we had to stop and finish our discussion. I invited him in for a cup of tea but some other people called him for a ride. I paid the fare, thanked him and walked to my house.
Oh! His name was Sadeeq…….Sadeeq ur Rahman!!!
International Youth Activism Conference was held in Islamabad (April 7-10, 2016). The event was sponsored by the U.S. Embassy, Islamabad and organized by Pak-US Alumni Network. About 200 local and international USG alumni from Pakistan, Nepal, Srilanka and Bangladesh participated in the conference.