Giving Pakistan’s Nargis Latif the Recognition She Deserves

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Pakistan: Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

Poverty, overpopulation, terrorism, corruption — these are just some of the words which come to people’s minds when they hear the name Pakistan. During my time as a student in the UK, I have witnessed various reactions when I’ve told people I’m from Pakistan. Some of them have been quite funny — “Is there Nandos in Pakistan,” and “How do you speak such good English if you’re from Pakistan?”

After a silent chuckle over the silliness of these questions, I have usually tried to respond to these queries as maturely and informatively as possible, explaining to everyone that Pakistan is not that different from the rest of the world. These questions always ultimately made me feel upset — Pakistan so rarely makes it into the news, and when it does, the articles are always negative. No wonder the rest of the world has such negative ideas about it!

Pakistan so rarely makes it into the news, and when it does, the articles are always negative.

Yes, Pakistan has many flaws. Yes, it does have problems such as poverty, corruption and terrorism, but to define a country by its problems is unfair — especially since many other places in the world face largely similar problems. Pakistan has its difficulties, but it has its own beauties. It is not short of amazing people wanting to bring positive changes in a country tarnished by corruption and fighting. Unfortunately, these individuals do not receive the attention they deserve, their positives are not headlined in the news, pushed aside in favour of bold scary breaking news. But their work is a blessing, a source of strength for the nation, and should receive the recognition it deserves.

Gul Bahao

Let me introduce you to Nargis Latif, who survived severe health issues only to become an individual with the will to make a difference. Perturbed by Karachi’s production of 12,000 tonnes of rubbish a day, much of which is burned, Latif started researching into ways the rubbish could be recycled.

(Nargis Latif calls her work a ‘bloody revolution’ and believes it has the potential to change the world [Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera])

(‘Bricks’ and raw materials wait to be formed into structures at Gul Bahao’s research centre in Karachi [Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera])

After one year of research, she started Gul Bahao (flow the flowers), a project aimed to use rubbish to create houses for the needy, water reservoirs, fodder for livestock, and instant compost. The project started in 1994 with more than 70 boys from Uzbekistan helping Nargis Latif collect plastic, vegetable peels, and other material from around Karachi.

Since 2005, more than 150 of these shelters have been made and sent out across the country.

In 2004, a research centre was established on government-owned land. It is now full of stacks of plastic as well as a Chandi Ghar — a type of shelter used to house those displaced by the 2005 earthquake. Since 2005, more than 150 of these shelters have been made and sent out across the country. Additionally, the project constructs mobile toilets which are a blessing for those travelling long distances and to villagers who do not have toilet facilities in their homes.

(The chandi ghar [silver house] was used as a shelter for those affected by the 2005 earthquake [Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera])

The project creates its masterpieces using waste plastic inside a thermopore shell (thermopore is material used to make packing material and insulation sheets), which makes up bricks. The bricks are then tied together to create the final product. Structures such as the Chandi Ghar are a joy to sit in as there is a constant airflow blowing through it — however its sturdiness is questionable during the hotter summer days.

(The large gaps in the walls not only serve as windows but also stop the structure from being destroyed by strong winds or storms [Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera])

Despite the project’s charitable aim and previous success, Gul Baho has recently been facing funding issues as well as staffing difficulties. There are only seven people running the project and Latif receives little funding. The public finds it difficult to believe that the rubbish being used in the construction of these structures is clean, research is not regarded highly in the country, and those who pay Latif usually pay her back in kind favours instead of cash funds.

Due to these complications, Gul Baho is facing an uncertain future. However, Nargis Latif remains positive and is determined that with education and awareness, the public misconceptions will disappear and her project will continue to thrive.

Latif’s positivity is vital to Pakistan’s future. In my next ‘Pakistan: Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things’ article, I look at the people and organisations in the country turning walls into structures of hope and positivity and not of division.

Featured image: Faras Ghani/Al Jazeera

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