They keep a low profile to the point of choosing not to talk much about their work, but their actions speak volumes. Whether it is spending time and money on helping the impoverished, improving the quality of education and health care or simply promoting art and culture, they make a difference. GN Focus selects six good Samaritans whose initiatives have touched the lives of thousands of Pakistani expats in the UAE.
Mahine Rizvi Ahmad and Ayesha Imtiaz
Organisers of Salaam Pakistan
They could have just been content with their respective careers and busy personal lives. Instead, it was concern for their country and its socio-political issues, that prompted Mahine Rizvi Ahmad, Ayesha Imtiyaz and a group of Dubai-based Pakistanis to launch Salaam Pakistan.
“With this group we aim to bring about changes at some level, be it through fundraising, creating awareness or bringing people who share similar concerns together,” says Mahine, a mother of two, who teaches development and international relations at Middlesex University, Dubai.
Ayesha Imtiaz, an art curator in Dubai, adds: “With this group we want to show the progressive and educated side of Pakistan. Despite the political flux that the country is in now, there is another side to Pakistan and Pakistanis.”
For instance, Salam Pakistan showcased Pakistan’s rich and diverse culture with a book-reading session by novelist Mohammed Hanif and an evening of Urdu poetry and prose with Zia Moheyddin. It has plans to organise a qawwali nite later this year with Amjad Sabri Qawaal, the son of the legendary qawwali singer Ghulam Farid Sabri. As well as organising events for Salam Pakistan, Mahine, along with a group of concerned Pakistanis, also organises fundraising events in Dubai. Following the devastating floods in 2010 that rendered many Pakistanis homeless and destitute, they organised an event that auctioned Pakistani, Indian and Emirati art and raised over Dh500,000. They also organised a fundraiser ball at Armani Hotel and collected over $1 million (about Dh3.67 million) for UNICEF projects in Pakistan.
“Our fundraising activities are, however, not restricted only for initiatives in Pakistan. We worked on a project to refurbish a Pakistani school in Dubai which was in dire need of funds. The Pakistani community in Dubai was generous and raised over Dh200,000 to refurbish classrooms and the school compound,” says Mahine.
Dr Zia ul Hasan
President, Pakistan Association Dubai
For Dr Hasan, the urge to do something for society came from the simple desire to improve his people’s way of life. “I come from a small village in Pakistan. People from my village cannot afford treatment at my clinic in Jumeirah,” says Dr Zia ul Hasan, 52, a specialist in endocrinology and diabetes at the Northwest Clinic.
A significant number of Pakistani expatriates come from the low-income strata and don’t have access to expensive health care facilities in the UAE. This directed Dr Hasan to organise medical camps at the Pakistan Association Dubai so that he could offer them free medical advice. “After organising such free camps for more than four years, we are now exploring the possibility of converting the facility into a not-for-profit medical centre,” he says.
After being elected president of the Pakistan Association Dubai last year, Dr Hasan now oversees all activities — from arranging funds for the needy, helping prisoners in jails to guiding expatriates dealing with social issues — for the welfare of the Pakistani expatriate community.
“We are trying to facilitate a marriage between a Pakistani girl and an Indian boy. We want people to know that no matter what the nature of their problem is, the association can help them. We are broadening our membership base so as to engage all segments of the community. We wish to transform the association into a prestigious institution and actively work and support the initiatives of the Consulate of Pakistan, Dubai,” he says.
Ghazi Marjan Aurakzai
On the night of January 22, 1970, an 18-year-old boy landed at the port of Khor Fakkan from the remote Kurram Agency in Pakistan with dreams of earning enough money to support his family. In the last 42 years, Aurakzai, now 59, not only earned enough to fulfil his duties towards his family, but help expatriate Pakistanis as well. He has also won the love and respect of hundreds of expatriates whom he helped in various ways — arranging funds for their children’s education, raising money to pay for flight tickets home for impoverished prisoners or helping people repatriate bodies of friends and relatives.
“What saddens me the most is when someone loses his loved one in the UAE and runs from pillar to post to repatriate the body home. Losing a relative is a difficult experience; we just try to ease their stress by expediting the whole repatriation process,” Aurakzai says.
A Pakistani doctor, who recently lost his father in Dubai, told GN Focus: “Despite his failing health, Ghazi was with me during the entire process...he helped me complete
the documentation process to repatriate my father’s body to Pakistan.”
“If someone cannot afford the Dh3,000 in expenses to repatriate a body, we can arrange for the money from the zakat fund of the Pakistan Association Dubai,” says Aurakzai.
It was the summer of 1978. There was a celebration at the house of Choudhry Mohammad Akbar in Rawalpindi as his 17-year-old daughter Samina’s topped the matriculation examination in Pakistan. When asked by a reporter from leading Pakistani daily Jang about her ambitions, the teenager replied excitedly: “I want to be a lecturer in English.”
Sitting at her home in Ajman, Samina Nasir, now 51, beams with pride as she talks about the way her career shaped up in the last three decades. She taught in schools in Rawalpindi and Islamabad before joining the Pakistan Islamia Higher Secondary School in Ajman as an English teacher. She eventually rose to become principal of the school.
It was not only her love for teaching, but also the poignant realisation that something must be done to improve the quality of education imparted in Pakistani schools in the UAE that inspired Samina to undertake several initiatives and introduce a series of training programmes for teachers as well as pupils.
The Pakistani curriculum has often drawn flak for not being on par with international education standards. Samina believes pupils and teachers have the talent to improve the level of education, but need the right guidance. “Our teachers need the right values, skills and knowledge to be effective practitioners to bring in the desired change,” she says.
Founder of 1 Well 700 Lives Initiative
Three years ago, 13-year-old Aqil Rashid could have bought a Playstation or an Xbox with the money he received as gifts for Eid. But then he heard his father talking about how thousands of people in Afghanistan did not have access to clean drinking water and had to spend hours walking to wells to fetch water for their families. He was moved and decided to use his Eid money for a noble cause.
“I couldn’t believe that children in Afghanistan were losing out on their precious childhood and missing school only because they lacked access to a basic amenity, while I could simply open a tap anywhere at home and get clean water,” Aqil says.
He handed his Eid money to the corporate social responsibility arm of Roshan, a leading telecom provider in Afghanistan. “They have many initiatives, but I was especially attracted to the project where they build wells in villages. As long as a well is dug and every time people drink from it, the donor would be the recipient of blessings from the Almighty. On an average, one well impacts lives of 700 people,” says Aqil, a Grade 12 pupil at St Mary’s Catholic High School, Dubai.
Inspired by Roshan’s Build a Well, Rashid launched his own project called ‘1 Well 700 Lives’ in 2009 in Dubai and raised over $34,000 along with other members of his community. The money was donated to Roshan to fund the construction of 17 wells in 17 villages in Afghanistan.
As Aqil is preparing for Grade 12, we ask him how he manages to juggle studies and his community services. “I don’t allow my studies to get affected by anything. Education is my priority as that is the path to a better life and success in this world. I want to get a professional degree in social work to expand my activities in an organised way,” he says.
Aqil has recently been awarded with the Just Falafel scholarship which will allow him to pursue higher education anywhere in the world. “I plan to reach out to big corporates for the ‘1 Well 700 Lives’ project and motivate others to reflect on the blessings in their lives and do their bit to make the world a better place for everyone to live in,” he says.