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Pakistan: Making possible the impossible.

Pakistan, June 07 -- FOR an education system that is struggling on most basic, elementary counts, it naturally is too much of an ask to do anything on the side, like promoting volunteerism. We have been quick to learn the cut-throat, I-come-first ways of the developed world, from profit-making to adopting fads, fashions and attitudes, but the positive attributes - and, my God, there is no dearth of them - have escaped our attention.

It takes one part each from schooling, family and society to ensure a functional fourth part, the individual. Together they make an enviable whole that keeps going the tradition of volunteerism - a trait that inculcates in you the concept of doing something for others without even hoping for a reward; a situation where the act becomes a means and an end in itself.

Exposed to such a noble trait at a young age, kids grow up and become adults with a conscience; people who care, who believe in the good of society - at least their own societies if not humanity at large, but that is a little beside the point in the context of these lines.

The education system -schools, high schools, colleges and universities - not only inculcates the habit in their students, it also accords due value to an individual's previous track record in volunteer activity at the time of induction at higher levels of education. There is no such practice at our end, which is something we share with a lot of societies outside the developed world.

The potential of volunteerism to make things happen and make them move can be seen in the achievements of Canadian teenager Bilaal Rajan, the son of Aman and wife Shamim. He is only 13, but in the last nine years he has raised over $5 million for various causes and is the youngest ambassador ever nominated by Unicef anywhere in the world.

This is an exceptional case by a massive margin and by any standard, but there are lessons to be learnt for all and sundry for it brings out the power of an individual when it is harnessed by a system. As a four-year-old, Bilaal sold oranges door to door in his community, raising $350 to help the 2001 earthquake victims in Indian Gujarat.

From then on he has been active one way or the other - from selling decorative plates to his teachers to writing and successfully seeking donations from corporate giants - for causes that are as widespread as the globe itself. His book, Making Change: Tips from an Underage Overachiever, is aptly titled for he has established his credentials beyond doubt . credentials as a volunteer. These last few days, he has been actively pleading people of all ages to kick off their shoes and go barefoot in support of his latest campaign. June 1, which, by the way, falls two days from now, is marked as the International Children's Day, and Bilaal is promoting the annual event that he launched last year called the Barefoot Challenge, where he lives life without shoes to raise awareness about child poverty in the developing world.

On his visit to countries in Africa he had come across hundreds of children walking miles every day barefoot to fetch water, work on their farm lands, or go to school. That made him think of what life would be like to live without something most people take for granted.

Last year, the idea gained momentum across Canada and with people in countries as far away as Australia, Afghanistan, England, Switzerland, Thailand, Kenya, Malawi and Tanzania. This year the campaign is likely to get even bigger. Bilaal has asked Barefoot Challenge participants to have friends, family and neighbours sponsor them and donate the proceeds to Unicef Canada.

This, mind you, is not charity. This is an act of a volunteer; someone who does it in his spare time without compromising on his studies or family time. This is a habit that schools can introduce in students enrolled with them, but things will be much better if the process starts at home. The younger one gets into it, the better one is expected to be for society at large.

As it happens, after a period of time volunteerism often leads to romanticism. The belief that one can change the world around. The sense of anything being possible and nothing being impossible. The desire to make even the impossible possible. The willingness to go for it even if the odds are heavily stacked against you.

In our society, the element of romanticism was there about a quarter-of-a-century ago. Call it Left. Call it Right. It was there for sure. People generally tended to outgrow the phase and get on with life, but others replaced them and the trend lived on. Today, even that is not there. The young today do not want to change others' lives. All they want to do, if anything, is to change their ideologies, their belief systems, their practice of rituals. In doing so, they go to amazing lengths. If they could go half that length in doing something constructive, they would themselves be surprised by the difference they can make

Published by HT Syndication with permission from The Friday Times. For more information on news feed please contact Sarabjit Jagirdar at

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Publication:The Friday Times (Lahore, Pakistan)
Date:Jun 7, 2010
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