Zar Aslam – The Fight For A “Cleaner” Future
Breaking stereotypes does not mean denying the problems; it is in fact showing the alternative narrative. Zar Aslam with her The Environment Protection Foundation (TEPF) is one such example.
The journey of TEPF started at the end of a six month sabbatical that Ms. Aslam undertook after the 2008 recession that hit the United States, not even sparing the home of Silicon Valley, California, the city she had called home for most of her adult life.
“I thought that I can stay here and be depressed or I can go around the world and learn something.”
This ‘walk about’ brought her to Pakistan where her mother was based. Not knowing how long will she be staying in the country, she started travelling to the northern areas and to sum it up in her own words, “having fun on the whole”.
When she was ready to go back to California, she realized her natural strengths which included her love for working with kids and out-door activities. Along with these the fact that Pakistan has been turned into a mini landfill bothered her a lot. These three factors combined resulted in the creation of TEPF.
Not having any resourceful connections, she started her work at the ground level by making cold calls at various schools. While some schools welcomed her, others shut her out, her persistence has proven to be a key success factor as the kids that she works with are developing the ability of self-reliance, critical thinking and taking ownership of their community and environment; factors that are not part of their development in general either at home or schools.
The objective of the organization states: “TEPF works with student volunteers and provides venues, tools and certification for community service work done by the students. TEPF focuses on engaging the youth to promote tolerance through community service initiatives.”
For her, there is no point of a clean and green environment if individuals don’t have tolerance for other individuals and they are not willing to accept
and respect their differences. The two are very much connected and it is critical that our younger generations be sensitized about the importance of these factors. Their programme is a structured six months process in which the kids are taking through various stages covering different topics, in an interactive manner to ensure that it is a two way learning process.
Ms. Zar has recently been in the limelight with her Pink Rickshaw Initiative, aiming to put more and more women in the driving seat. I asked her under which branch of her organization does this fit in, and with a hearty laugh she responded “nowhere”!
Someone suggested it to her that she write a proposal for a grant which had various topics she and she came up with this idea. For one she wanted the idea to be something that is sustainable and goes beyond a specific number of days and secondly, seeing the transportation issues that her young female employees faced commuting to and from work. As she explained there is a sense of empowerment associated with having your own wheels, not being dependent on others for your movement and Pink Rickshaw is going to be that resource for many women, in addition to being a financial resource for many as well.
Pakistan has many problems but there are equal number of opportunities as well. There are people like Ms. Zar Aslam who believe in finding and implementing the solutions and this kind of narrative needs the attention and support of the global community for a better and brighter future.