After barely two of sleep, Aslam Khwaja arrives back at our house, and he and I set off again, this time for Tando Bago. On the way, we pick up Jibran Javaid, a filmmaker who’s offered to help with my project. The drive is long and uneventful. Once we reach Tando Bago, Aslam tries to guide the driver to his cousin Badar’s house, but by this point, the rented Toyota has had enough. The car overheats and begins to stall. The driver hops out and pours water into the engine as he did before when we drove to Lyari, but this time the car refuses to start.
Thanks to the techno-driven world in which we live, Aslam is able to call his cousin Badar, who rolls up to us on his motorbike. Jibran, Aslam and I hoist up our filming equipment and follow Badar to his house, while the driver is given instructions on how to find a mechanic to get the car fixed.
After a meal, Badar walks us over to the house of Ali Mohammad, a member of the local Sheedi community. There, we meet Ali Mohammad’s sons and daughters and he shares with us the challenges he faces in his community. “But I am determined that my children learn how to read and write,” he tells us. “That’s something that our previous generation couldn’t offer us. I’m a peon and soon I will retire. But up until then, I am determined to create education opportunities in the family.”
When asked whether he’s witnessed socio-economic changes in his community, he nods. “The biggest change that came for us was from Bhutto. He spoke to us and told us that we have rights. And because of that, I have been able to provide for my children. Still, things are difficult… I won’t have money after I retire. And our community still struggles. We don’t enjoy the same rights as others around us. “
We then visit a Sheedi inner village, where we are greeted by Pir Buksh, an educator. When we introduce ourselves and request a taped interview, he says: “What do we have to gain by talking? We have been interviewed many times and yet nothing changes for us. We live in poverty, we have to walk miles to take our children to good schools and we have little access to good jobs. What can be gained from this recording? You’ll film us and then you’ll go away and our lives will remain the same.”
I ask him if he’s willing to write an essay about his life, which I can then get translated from Sindhi and published in English and Urdu. “Would you be willing to do that?” I ask. “We can record your story and share it with the larger community but your voice has more power.”
He nods and agrees to write for us. Because he doesn’t own a computer, he makes an agreement to write by hand and then pass the story on to Badar, who can scan and send the story to Aslam, who will then translate and share with me after which we can work on publication.
A young woman also talks to us. “I only finished studying till Class 8,” she tells us. “I wanted to study more but my family ran out of money, so they took me out of school. And then I got married off. Now I have four children. But I still have a desire to study.”
She and other women perform a couple of songs for us along with a young man who has a passion for singing.
On our way back to Karachi, we stop off in Badin for an improv meeting with Iqbal Hyder, who in 1987 began a grassroots collective called the Young Sheedi Welfare Association. “I was about to take my Matric examinations,” he tells us in the resthouse his new organization, LAAR Human Development Program, now owns. “But I didn’t have money and neither did my friends. So together we decided to raise awareness in our community about the importance of education. We collected Rs. 2 from about fifteen families and we used that to continue our education. More families got involved and we raised more money and we offered tutorials. We also saw that people in our community didn’t have funds to purchase textbooks. So we began a textbook bank. First we worked mostly with boys but then we saw that girls were also looking to learn so we began including them in the tutorials. Over the years, I’ve learned that poverty is a mindset. If our people can just raise their voices and step out of that mindset then we will have done more than half of the work.”
Hyder started his education with the intent to learn engineering but after all his grassroots activism, he discovered his passion for social justice and organizing and changed his field of study to sociology. “We no longer work with just the Sheedi community,” he says. “Our goal is to address health, poverty and education at a wider scale.” By the end of the two-hour conversation—during which both the driver and Jibran take their Iftar meal—he also agrees to write an essay about his experience and offers to collect stories from others in his community.
We drive away from Badin well after 8:30 pm, knowing that we will not land in Karachi till long after midnight.