September 18th, 2010 15:52 EST
A Unique Attempt At Helping The Millions of Flood Affected People in Pakistan
Karachi (Women`s Feature Service) - "We are not asking for your money, just that you empty out your wardrobes. Donate your T-shirts, old or new and let`s turn them into something useful!" This appeal goes out to all netizens on the Facebook (a popular social networking website) page of Gullak T-shirt Drive, a unique attempt at helping the millions of flood affected people in Pakistan.
Recycling donated T-shirts into essential items such as blankets, pillows, sleeping bags and caps is how young designer Ammara Gul Agha, 27, of Gullak T-shirt company - that prides in making funky tees - wants to contribute to the vast relief efforts that are underway in the country. "There are many people who may be unable to donate money, but everyone can take out an old, faded, stained T-shirt," says Agha, who can think of a "million ways" to turn one discarded tee into several "functional" items. "All you need is creativity!"
Ever since the campaign started earlier this month (the first week of August), she`s stitched 10 blankets of 6 feet x 4 feet sizes all by herself. "We can only start making the bigger items once we have enough T-shirts. For instance, for one blanket at least ten big sized T-shirts are required," she explains.
The recent floods in Pakistan, the worst in 80 years, that followed the torrential rains from July 27, have killed 1,600 and affected more than 20 million people. A fifth of the country - equal to the size of Austria, Switzerland and Belgium put together - has been submerged in the deluge, which the United Nations Children`s Fund (UNICEF) has termed as "probably the biggest emergency on the planet today".
Almost a month into the natural disaster, international response has been sluggish with the UN figures showing that, to date, $490.7 million had been raised global pledges having topped $700 million. The United States has given the most followed by Saudi Arabia and Britain. On the domestic front, it is overwhelming to see how the people have come together, as they had in 2005 when an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale had ripped through parts of the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP) province and parts of Kashmir.
Of course, it`s the young Pakistanis, who are motivating each other to join hands in this hour of need. Admittedly, initially the response was slow; perhaps the scale of the tragedy had not sunk in. Today, however, efforts are gaining momentum. People are tweeting, sending text messages, setting up Facebook pages and emailing information on what they are doing and what they need. And there is a need for just about everything from shoes to pots and pans to medicines, milk, water and uncooked dried rations. "There is a requirement for anything you can think of since everything has been swept away," says Karachi-based Salim Khan (name changed), who has adopted two camp in Khairpur and Kashmore districts, in the Sindh province and is supporting close to 1,000 people. Khan got together with a few well-off friends to help the internally displace people. Camps set up by the district government can be adopted " and one can pledge to take care of every need of the people in that camp. Khan shuttles between the camps and Karachi as he stays there to look after the disbursement.
However, most people are carrying out relief work in small groups and, therefore, it is not always organised. Part of the problem, they say, is the lack of trust in the ruling government. "I did not send money to the President`s Fund after the 2005 earthquake and I don`t plan to donate to the PM relief fund now," says Asha Bedar, a forty-something Karachi-based clinical psychologist. "For that you need faith and belief in the individuals who lead the government and, sadly, that faith is missing for me and for most people I know. I would much rather donate to local organisations, who have proven time and again that they are there for their communities through all their challenges and crises," says Bedar, who is currently visiting Australia. She recently did some fund-raising in Melbourne with a group of Pakistani friends and has sent a substantial amount to a group they know will put their money to proper use.
Former Pakistani cricketing hero-turned-politician, Imran Khan, who has launched a fund-raising drive, echoes Bedar`s sentiment, "People do not trust government, so we have come forward and every rupee donated for flood-hit people will be accounted for."
Coming back to Agha, her "pro-recycling" initiative has caught on. What started with "five friends has had a ripple effect and has multiplied into almost 150 students and teachers" in the southern port city of Karachi joining in. "It`s become a movement," says Agha, a textile designer and an animator, who adds, "And that was the idea! It`s something people can do at home or a small group of friends can do together."
Students from various art schools have gone on their own collection drives. Ghazal Pirzada, 24, a young textile design teacher at Karachi`s Indus Valley School of Arts and Architecture (IVS) sees almost two big gunny bags of old clothes, not just T-shirts, inside the school gate every morning. "It`s all word of mouth. In the first week we collected about 400 tees," she says.
Once collected, the items are then sorted out after school and divided into lots. "We get some shalwar kameez sets (Pakistani dress) and if they are in fairly good condition, we just pack them back and label them according to the size, instead of cutting them up," says Pirzada.
"When we have collected enough T-shirts we will stitch the cloth into things that the flood victims might need, such as hammocks, sleeping bags and blankets," adds Agha.
Kanza Malik, 22, a textile design student at the Asian Institute of Fashion Design (AIDF) in Karachi, read about the T-shirt drive online. She is all praise of Agha`s effort, "We all learn about recycling as art students but it never occurred to me and I think what Agha is doing is brilliant."
After she saw the demonstration given by Agha at the AIDF, she`s put her name as a volunteer. "To cut and stitch a blanket it will take between two to three hours, I reckon," says the final year student. Her group has started a drive to collect old tees from her institute. "We`ve asked students to bring at least two each!"
A few days ago Malik along with some 35 friends started collecting money on the streets of Karachi. "In just one hour we collected about Rs 100,000 [US$1,170.82]," she says excitedly.
An organisation, D.U.C.K! (Designers United for a Cause, Karachi!), comprising young graphic designers who do not want to just "use their skill to sell soap and toothpaste to a consumerist society" have started designing a poster a day highlighting one organisation`s flood relief effort everyday. "This was something we could take turns to do quickly on a daily basis and raise awareness effectively and direct people towards relief organisations," says Sana Nasir, D.U.C.K`s director.
"We have always designed for free and given 100 per cent of our profits to charity," says Nasir adding that they have designed posters in the past for similar humanitarian causes. "Since we [designers] are all employed we can afford to keep this a free service," she informs. In fact, they have also designed for Gullak`s relief effort to help spread the word.
In Pakistan, every day the need for relief from tragedy is only growing. And the youth have indeed found creative ways to entice people to play their part in lending a helping hand.
By Zofeen T. Ebrahim
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