Reshaping Lyari: Creating Hubs of Love and Hope
“Just as we grow into the world, the world grows into us.”
What we create creates us. The spaces that we build play a significant role in our own foundations. The more vibrant, colorful and welcoming a place is, the more positivity its dwellers radiate. Modern philosophy calls this concept Ontological Design.
This concept has fascinated me ever since I came across it in Jason Silva’s micro documentaries a few years ago. To deepen my understanding of Ontological Design, my first instinct was to read more about it, until I understood exactly what it meant by the transformative powers of creating safe spaces, as soon as I entered the gates of Kiran Foundation’s DCTO School in the heart of Lyari. That day, I learned that when people are led by their hearts and work with true passion, they subconsciously do all the right things without knowing the research or literature.
My perception of Lyari was the same as most foreigners sadly have of Pakistan. Without ever stepping in to the most densely populated towns of Karachi, I had painted all its inhabitants the same color. For me, Lyari was all about gang wars and violence, crimes and cruelty. On the insistence of a friend, when I first went to visit Kiran School last year, I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least. The DCTO government school was already a year into adoption by Sabina Khati’s Kiran Foundation in partnership with Akhuwat Foundation, and I was welcomed by brightly colored walls, ever-smiling staff members, children of all ages playing happily in the garden way past the official school time and a room full of mothers who had come to attend afterschool adult literacy classes.
It was beautiful. I felt something shifting inside me. Everything that I had learned, I was now seeing in action. Children who had suffered severe physical and emotional trauma were now on their way to healing. Adolescent boys who were once full of rage and frustration were busy excelling at sports and arts. Mothers who had suffered domestic violence were now economically and emotionally empowered. People seemed to genuinely enjoy their time spent in the community space that had been created in the school premises, and staff and children alike, didn’t want to go home even after their service hours were over.
Kiran Foundation’s DCTO School has now been breaking stereotypes for the last two years. When people enter the school, they forget that they are in the same Lyari that we see in the news. They forget their worries. They lose track of time. And they always take back hope, inspiration and smiles.
This Independence Day, the DCTO School opened its doors to the entire community, with the launch of its newest venture: a student run Chai Dhaba. As part of their program “Lyari Se Yaari”, the school aims to create a family-oriented space where men, women and children can spend their evenings in a lively interactive space. The dhaba will offer four types of teas and four types of parathas, and even WiFi internet so that students can use it for research or assignments. Most importantly, the dhaba offers part-time employment opportunities to students with shifts that will allow them to balance their work with their studies, while earning a livelihood with dignity and respect. This dhaba which was a long standing dream of Nazir Tunio, the head of Akhuwat Foundation, is now a reality as a result of the vision and hard work of Sabina Khatri (or “Maa” as she is lovingly called by everyone) and her brilliant ‘Kiran Family’.
On the 13th of August, 16 teams of students from different schools hit the main street of Lyari, adjacent to the school, and painted murals on the dhaba walls. The participating teams were not only from DCTO and Kiran School, but also from other government and private schools, including L’ecole, Generation, White Bird Grammar School, Al Karim Secondary School, Government Girls Secondary School Wali Mohammad Haji, to name a few. The students painted murals on themes randomly assigned to them, such as Respect, Trust, Courage, Hope, Sacrifice and Quest, etc.
With patriotic songs blaring through the sound system and children making magic with colors, bringing dull walls to life, the energy in the streets was electrifying! For once, people weren’t annoyed at the traffic which slowed down, as every person wanted to catch a good look at what was happening.
The curious onlookers often cheered on and encouraged the children as they painted through the day.
On the 14th of August, the teams returned bright and early, anxiously waiting to find out the winners of the art competition, and for the official launch of the hotel. In my opinion, each one of their shining faces showed a winner. Love won. Peace won. Hope beyond all odds won. While the way ahead is long, and a lot still needs to improve, with hope and love on our side, we are all winners today!
Let the rays of hope only spread, and let these places created with love only harbor more love.