January issue 2013
Building Blocks of Change
In the Karachi versus Lahore debate, Karachiites gloat about the fact they have a beach whereas the Lahoris don’t. Yet, how many of them actually picnic at the beach and how many steer clear of it because it’s dirty and smelly?
When Muntazir Mahdi, founder of Lets Build On (LBoN), and his team embarked upon their Clean Beach; Clean Karachi campaign, in the summer of 2011, it was precisely this perception that they wanted to change, and draw more people to the beach and additionally involve them in many beach-related activities. Now they conduct up to ten public and student events annually, such as sand castle-building contests and beach sports tournaments. This is yet another example of a young Pakistani thinking outside the box to create a positive change in the dynamics of the country.
Lets Build On was born in January 2011 through the efforts of then 19-year-old Muntazir Mahdi. “I realised during my first youth activity that I would be representing Pakistan at every step; I was flying to Nanjing, China on October 31, 2008 to represent Pakistan at UN-Habitat World Urban Youth Forum and while on the flight from Beijing to Nanjing, every other passenger was wondering what it was like to be from a terrorist country, or how I made it out of a curfew zone. That was when I decided that making Pakistan a better place, in the eyes of locals and nationals both, was my going to be the purpose of my life”. And so began his contributions to society, and the journey of LBoN. More young people were invited by Mahdi to engage in his pilot project; he sought individuals who he felt were just as passionate as him to do something positive for Pakistan.
Prior to founding his own organisation, he had been involved with various local NGOs, working with them on ventures such as flood relief, child rehabilitation, civic duties, and more. “I believe the seeds of LBoN were actually planted within my brain back in November 2008, when I was serving as the Youth Peace Ambassador.”
Although a telecommunications major at Iqra University, Mahdi’s first commitment is his organisation, and he intends to carry on with it even after his graduation — but on a much larger scale. LBoN is all about taking positive actions that may have the potential to build on Pakistan and the world ,and to ensure “a better tomorrow for all.” These actions include community-building and ownership events such as educating underprivileged children, undertaking efforts to eradicate poverty, transforming the youth into potential leaders, taking peace initiatives, celebrating global events, and projecting a true and realistic image of Pakistan to the world at large.
Since its creation, LBoN has undertaken quite a few interesting projects. Of these, Voice Pakistan is an online project that was initiated in March 2012 by LBoN’s Senior Associate, Dr Zsuzsanna Fajscak, through which foreigners who visit Pakistan, or reside here, are invited to speak out on Twitter and Facebook (www.facebook.com/VoicePakistan), share their views about the Pakistan they see and discover, and clear the misconceptions, if any — is it very different from what the media portrays?
Another interesting initiative was the Anti-Wall Chalking Campaign, whereby Mahdi and his team of 200 Pakistanis and foreigners took to the streets on Pakistan Day 2012, and began white-washing walls to clear them of graffiti. Starting from Zamzama, they moved from wall to wall every alternate Sunday, until all of DHA’s walls were completely free of political and commercial graffiti.
Helping Hands is another one of LBoN’s endeavours; it aims at educating children, empowering them enough to earn for themselves and discouraging them from begging. The LBoN team regularly visits several orphanages and schools, where they play with the kids and impart skills that could help them make money faster, and with more dignity.
Under their aim of working for global causes, they began introducing and celebrating certain global concepts here in Pakistan, too. Their first initiative was Earth Hour 2012, when they got the Park Towers administration on board, and celebrated it by shutting off the entire mall’s lights. They were joined in their mission by over 400 people, all of whom lit candles at the main entrance.
LBoN also aspires to create a more empowered youth, by training them according to their passions, expertise and aptitude. LBoN has not only trained many members of the youth, but is also helping them to participate at international youth forums, where they can defend Pakistan, and better its public image. They are also focusing on finding solutions to making Pakistan a better place.
But LBoN’s ride has not been without hitches. They’ve faced multiple problems, ranging from getting people on board to securing funds for their projects. But, there’s nothing Mahdi can’t handle: “It’s all part of the game,” he says, “and thankfully, we always manage to find kind-hearted people everywhere.”
“If I recall correctly, there have been many rewarding instances along our journey. Whenever we did something on the ground with the assistance of students and the local people, I was overwhelmed to see true happiness in their smiles and the true essence of patriotism that lies within everyone. If I were asked to name the most gratifying instance, it would have to be the enrolment in school, of a five-year-old kid who previously sold flowers at a roadside cafÃ© in Clifton.”
LBoN started out as a product of Mahdi’s own imagination that came to fruition after his friends from across the globe became actively involved in the project. Today, LBoN is a well-recognised youth organisation, complete with a network of supportive team members, friends and family. He owes a special vote of thanks to his parents for always standing by him in “all my crazy undertakings” and to his mentor Dr Zsuzsanna Fajscak, for her constant help and motivation in confronting all of LBoN’s challenges. Nabeel Dodhy and Mishelle Raza are also two people without whom neither Mahdi nor LBoN would be where they are today.