Children tell the President of Pakistan what they need to rebuild their lives
By Mary De Sousa
‘I want to go to Islamabad to see Mr Musharraf because he is the king of Pakistan,’ says diminutive 10-year-old Shabhir Ahmed holding on to the back of his seat tightly as the minibus swerves sharply on the four hour journey from his village in the plains of northern Pakistan to the capital city, Islamabad.
Shabhir, like most of the other 10 children on the bus with him from Mansehra, has never been to the capital before. Another busload of ten children and their parents is heading the same way from Muzaffarabad. The children live in areas that were hard hit by the earthquake of October 5, 2005. They are going to Islamabad as the culmination of a unique photo project
The children going to the capital to be present at a ceremony to mark the first anniversary of the disaster and meet the President of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf who will tour it.
“I have to be there at 6pm,” says Gul Badshah, 11, anxiously checking a huge watch on his arm. “I want to meet my trainer.”
The 160 children who took part in the EYE SEE II project worked with a group of trainers who taught them the rudiments of digital photography. The project was devised by UNICEF with the support of the Government of Pakistan’s Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority with the aim to teach children a fun new skill and, more importantly, give them a safe way to express themselves about the disaster that touched all their lives so profoundly.
EYE SEE II was a follow up to a project launched in the aftermath of the disaster. This time the focus was on children’s lives as they returned from temporary camps to their villages. They produced fresh and imaginative records of everything from their homes and schools to photographs of family, friends or a favourite goat.
“I never used a camera before the project and I didn’t know what to do with all the buttons but the trainers showed us how to use them and we took our own photos. The good thing about taking photos is that you can show other people how your house or your village is and all the beautiful places” Mohammad Haris, 15, said.
Alongside the photos the children made a record of what they needed in their lives most. They asked for homes to be rebuilt, schools and education, paved roads and easy access to services so that their mothers didn’t have to spend time and effort fetching fuel and water.
Zaida Taj, 15, is one of several Pushto speakers in the group and extremely timid, drawing her veil across her face often. “My father used to make doors but after the earthquake there is no work for him or my four brothers,” she says.
Arriving in Islamabad for Ramadan rush hour they are most impressed by the tall buildings and the heavy traffic. “There are more rules here for cars,” says Muhammad Fiaz, 10, “and a lot of tall buildings.”
As the bus nears their hotel they spot a road sign. “Faisal Mosque,” says Tahira, 14, reading the Urdu scroll carefully. The huge white mosque, that is an essential part of a visit to the capital, is top of their list of things to see followed by “a park.”
The next morning, smartly dressed, they are taken to Islamabad’s Convention Centre where the Government of Pakistan is hosting a special event to mark the first anniversary of the disaster.
The children stand to attention beside their photos. The President arrives. He stops to speak to each child and examines their photos and texts asking them questions. Shabhir looks happy as does everyone when they hear they are to take a short trip to see the mosque before heading for home.