Posts Tagged ‘Pakistan Youth Alliance’

First published in Islamabad Dateline on 01.02.2011


The ways of world have changed; tune is new, instruments have changed / Free your mind from mental slavery; make the young, masters of the old!

Indeed, instruments changed significantly since Iqbal penned down these inspirational lines. It is the age in which powerful authoritarian governments are overthrown by the youth, using social media and music, tools that seem trivial to elder generations. 

“Half the population is oppressed and living in misery/ President of the Country/ Your people are dead!” – lyrics of Tunisian rap artist Ben Amor commonly known as El General, who was put behind bars and his music taken off-air as it was causing an uprising in the youth of Tunisia few weeks ago. Today El General is setting the microphone on fire once again as thousands gather to celebrate Ben Ali’s exit and welcome the dawn of a new era in the history of Tunisia.

This was not it. The spark that ignited fire through El General’s political rap and social networking sites has taken Egypt and Yemen by storm. The authoritarian governments of the region try to ban “tools” igniting this rebellion but the young ‘are masters of the old’ when it comes to playing with radio frequencies encrypted with data that overthrow governments.
Egyptian activists like their Tunisian counterparts are using internet to effectively plan out their protests. Ahmed Salah one of the main organizers of protests against Husni Mubarak’s regime says “No one is accepting the people being assigned to government – they are oppressed & corrupt. We need support – we are being killed”. Ahmed was taken in custody and beaten, but his bravery knows no bounds and he says he won’t stop, even if they replace rubber bullets with real ones. Husni Mubarak will have to succumb to people’s power. Some already chant “Mubarak! Mubarak! Saudi Arabia awaits you!”

The pattern is identical, tools almost the same, this is the power of new media which if used effectively can cause decade’s old regimes to collapse. Same tools were used by us during the lawyers movement, and emergency relief efforts when floods struck in Pakistan.

Oscar Morales, whose facebook group “One million voices against FARC” transformed into the biggest demonstration against terrorism in the history of the world in 2008 and which eventually caused the debacle of guerilla organization FARC in Colombia expresses solidarity with Egyptians and says: “I am in tears of emotion and pride. My heart is with you in these defining moments of history”

People like Oscar and Ahmed Salah did not make history; they ‘typed’ it with their own hands.

Would this be the end? Certainly not.

Digital activists around the world relay a warning to world leaders which can be best described in the words of Stephanie Rudat, co-founder of Alliance for Youth Movements: “This is for you Ahmadinejad, Mubarak, Chavez, Jong-Il, Castro, Mugabe, al-Qaddafi, Jintao, Abdullah, Shwe, al-Assad, Karimov, Lukashenka, Zenawi, Deby, and Berdimuhamedow, Listen to your citizens – oppression & corruption is unacceptable! It will no longer be tolerated”

These waves of revolution which are already causing a domino effect in many countries will surely make this decade the era of social media.

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi is an aeronautical engineer by force, an activist by mind, a lover by heart and a wanderer by soul


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My diary (log) was published in December issue of  Media Voice Magazine (Page 66-77)

Text version:

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi and his friends took a journey from Islamabad to the flood-affected South Punjab with relief materials on October 23. From Nature’s fury and terrorism to snack stopovers, his log speaks of varied experiences.

1700hrs (October 23, 2010)
I was en-route Lahore with three volunteers to make a delivery of relief items to flood affected South Punjab. Hammid Ali, an MBA student, Shakeel Ahsan, an HR executive and Hammad Atta, a telecom engineer were with me on the trip started from Islamabad. We would meet more volunteers in Lahore where we will have to load three trucks with relief with relief items overnight and start our journey early morning the next day.

2000hrs (October 23, 2010)
Talking about the spot-fixing scandals of Pakistani cricketers on the Motorways we had a snack-break. Everyone had his own perception of what’s happening with Pakistan cricket, and same variation of perceptions existed about socio-political problems that we were facing. One wondered, if we will ever find common grounds to move forward.

2300hrs (October 23, 2010)
Markets and hang-out places remained open till late night in Lahore unlike Islamabad which closes down by 9pm. Lahori boys get hyper on weekends and horde the roads on their bikes. Driving through the haphazard traffic wasn’t an easy task. We finally reached the whole-sale bazaar near railway station in Mughalpura, where our trucks were ready to be loaded.

0200hrs (October 24, 2010)
Trucks were loaded. More volunteers arrived from Lahore. A US –based filmographer, Yasmin accompanied us to make a documentary. We had earlier asked for two trucks. One more truck had to be arranged, which demanded huge amount. Although I was angry at the truck-driver who was being unreasonable and cashing in on our emergency need, we had no other option but to hire him.

0500 (October 24, 2010)
Trucks were on their way to Daira Deen Panah, a town adversely affected by monstrous flood water. We had time to kill, and we decided to visit Data Sahib (mausoleum of Hazrat Ali Hajveri, the famous Sufi saint). This tomb recently faced the brunt of a terrorist attack killing many. Many malangs/wanderers were sitting around the tomb, and the atmosphere was simply ecstatic. After paying homage to Data Sahib, we then had to have sizzling breakfast of halva-puri in ‘andaroon’ Lahore (old Lahore which was a walled city).

0800 hrs [24th Oct, 2010]
We are on the way to South Punjab now. In the coaster with loud music playing ‘chal way Bulleya othay chaliyeh’ singing, chatting and some playing cards. We are total 12 relief workers. I and Maryam were talking about how after Ramadan, donations have dwindled and people are not donating open-heartedly. The initial phase of immediate relief did not require as much money as the rehabilitation phase. 
1500 hrs [24th Oct, 2010] 
After 10 hours journey, we reached Kot Addu, whose town Daira Din Panah we had to hit. We had been here twice before, but then it took 26 hours as roads were blocked and bridges dismantled. Situation had changed as now only traces of water and its destruction remained. Our trucks were still 2 hours behind and again, after having a delicious lunch we visited the shrine of Syed Abdul Wahab Bukhari, known as Deen Panah, on whom the town was named. Locals told us how flood waters could not drown one street in their town, that was, where the shrine was located. 
1600 hrs [24th Oct, 2010]
We started making lines of flood affectees, our one team was here yesterday to distribute coupons in affected families. Now we called all of them, and asked the head of families to stand in a line. This impossible process of filtering out genuine affectees, trying to make others, who did not have the coupons understand that we cannot accommodate them due to our limited capacity was tedious and heart wrenching. Female volunteers made females stand in a line, where as, male volunteers made males stand a triple line to ensure distribution without hassle. 
1700 hrs [24th Oct, 2010]
Now our trucks had arrived and we started the by-hand distribution process. Each victim had coupons signed and counter signed by us, along with his National ID card to ensure genuine-ness. This process continued till it was dark and after 3 hours of distribution, reaching out to 1000 families we called it a day.
2100 hrs [24th Oct, 2010]
We called this delivery, the mystical delivery as once again we decided to visit tombs of Shah Shams Tubrez and Shah Rukh ne Alam in Multan after having dinner at Pizza Hut. The driver and conductor with us strangely took interest in trying ‘how a pizza tastes like’. We went to the tombs, which are located adjacent to each other and had never seen such tight security ever before. Police officials told us, this area was under threat from terrorists, who had been on ‘blast a shrine’ spree. An old woman sat infront of Tubrez’s shrine, asked us to go back to Lahore and pay homage to Data Ali Hajveri on her behalf. 
2300 hrs [24th Oct, 2010]
Now we were on our way back to Lahore. On our minds, the sad faces of victims who had nothing left. Schools, hospitals, homes – all washed away. Another thing that continually became a topic of discussion was our nations reaction to national disasters which showed a ‘sudden burst of patriotism and then relative numbness’. Such was the case with Pakistan floods 2010. When the disaster struck, immediate emergency relief aide needed was nothing compared to what’s needed for rehabilitating 22 Million affected souls. Regular stops were made on juice corners, truck driver hotels and pan-shops on our way back as we had no deadline to meet. Most of us were so exhausted that we went to sleep in our coaster. Others continued to ‘fight’ on issues such as cricket, Zardari, US involvement in our internal affairs and what not.

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi is an aeronautical engineer, a poet and a social activist who is the founding force & chairperson of Pakistan Youth Alliance(http://www.pya.org.pk/). He can be found tweeting @Ali_Abbas_Zaidi (http://twitter.com/#!/Ali_Abbas_Zaidi) & is available on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/aliabbaszaidi

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My interview with The News regarding shortage of donations after Ramazan, for flood victims.

By Rabia Ali
Citizen donations for the 20 million flood victims are fast drying up in a period where relief and welfare organisations are aiming to begin reconstruction of flood-hit areas, The News has learnt.
Fundraising campaigns had received an overwhelming response during the holy month of Ramzan, when the flood victims needed to be fed and accommodated, but social workers now complain that those who donated generously in the holy month have ceased to donate relief items and cash.

This has put relief efforts in jeopardy, as humanitarian organisations and groups are facing hardships in aiding the resettlement of survivors back in their hometowns.
Ali Abbas of the Pakistan Youth Alliance said that after Ramzan, they have been able to raise only Rs2 million as compared to Rs20 million raised during the holy month. “We need billions of rupees for the rehabilitation of the survivors but somehow, people have forgotten about the plight of these people and have stopped donating,” he said.

Abbas narrated that the PYA wanted to rebuild a school in Nowshera which was destroyed by the floods, but the lack of funding has made them unable to do so. “This is the world’s worst humanitarian disaster as thousands of people have been rendered homeless and penniless. The media and social activists should keep on reminding that public that the IDPs need their help continuously and the process of donating should not stop,” he said.

Moez Premani of Karachi Relief Trust urged people to help them into reconstructing houses for the homeless. “We are now in the construction phase, where houses would be built in parts of interior Sindh for the flood survivors. For that, we need the support of the citizens into contributing towards the noble cause. Those who can afford can also adopt villages and assist us into resettling them,” he explained.
Al-Khidmat Welfare Society Secretary Tanvirullah Khan told The News that donations received after Eid are merely two per cent of the Rs100 million that the organisation acquired during Ramazan.
“People have simply stopped contributing as they think that they have fulfilled their responsibility by paying Zakat in Ramzan to the flood survivors. The public should realise that the magnitude of the disaster is gigantic, and it is now that the affected need our help the most,” he said.

Khan argued that the affected people have started heading back to their native hometowns, and thus, organisations are in dire need of monetary donations in order to build thatched huts, concrete houses, schools and mosques.

Z.A. Shah, the disaster management manager of the Pakistan Red Crescent Society, blamed the media for creating a pejorative perception of relief efforts. “The media does not highlight the positive work of the relief organisations, and keeps on showing that the internally displaced people (IDPs) are not getting any aid. This false perception is creating distrust among those who donate to social organisations, and they feel that since their donations are not reaching the public, it is useless to contribute,” he lamented.
Shah added that non-governmental organisations are witnessing a massive decline in their fundraising campaigns, and hoped that people would once again come forward to help.

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My tweet was quoted in Daily Times today, regarding Musharraf and the show he pulled in yesterday:

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The Internationally renowned Alliance for Youth Movements interviewed me concerning youth activism & flood relief work:

The Pakistan Youth Alliance (PYA) is one of a cluster of civil society groups that emerged on Facebook during 2007’s emergency rule. The organization focuses on strengthening Pakistani civil society, ensuring that young people—a demographic that the alliance sees as largely indifferent to social or political causes—are its biggest contingent.

Since emergency rule ended, PYA’s presence on Facebook has grown into three separate groups with over 5,000-plus members and a fanpage with 7,000 members. “Facebook is a gift from God,” PYA’s chairperson, Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi, told me. The social network serves as the cornerstone of the group’s efforts—they use it for everything from recruiting, communicating with members, fund-raising, and outsourcing expertise. They also have a nearly 20,000-strong email list and an SMS list with between 10,000 and 12,000 numbers.

When this summer’s heavy monsoon season turned into the worst disaster in Pakistan’s history, all these resources were diverted to flood relief. Since July, PYA has been delivering the basic goods and services that flood victims initially hoped to see come from the government. As one anonymous organizer told Foreign Policy: “A few of us thought that if no one is willing to help our own people—not the world community, not our own government—then it’s our job.”

How has its foray into relief efforts impacted the PYA as a civil society organization? Will they be able to redirect attention generated by the disaster back into their pro-democracy efforts? I caught up with Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi this week.

AYM: What type of support do you most need right now?

PYA: In disasters as big as this one all support and funding seems like less than it is. We need volunteers, we need relief workers, and we need donors. We need doctors, paramedics, and street activists along with digital activists.

AYM: To what degree is the flooding disproportionately affecting some Pakistanis over others?

PYA: This being the biggest disaster in the history of Pakistan, it is affecting both rural and urban settlements to the core. But rural populations surpass the country’s urban population, and their sources of earning (i.e., crops and cattle) have been completely destroyed.

Even if the flood recedes, what will people go back to? Nothing is left. This flood has broken the backbone of people with lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Not only their life earnings but the source of these earnings have been washed away.

AYM: How are you using social media in your relief efforts? Which tools are most useful?

PYA: We started PYA in 2007 as a Facebook group; since then, a mere Facebook group became the biggest and the most potent youth movement of Pakistan. What was initially digital activism has been transformed into street activism. We’ve helped over 25,000 families in need.

Most of the fund-raising, propagation, and messaging is done through Facebook and Twitter. According to my personal estimate, more than 60 percent of 17 million PKR (approximately 200K USD) we have raised to date has been because of Facebook.

Mobiles, Blackberries, iPhones—all aid not only activism but relief work. As live feedback is sent to donors they get to see where and how their money is helping people. It helps us, as workers on ground, to communicate in inaccessible areas.

AYM: Could you talk about some of the long-term consequences of the flooding as you see them?

PYA: Pakistan will be back to where it was before the flood in around a decade.

The political consequences are already evident, for example how some political forces are using it as tool to get political advantages. Local politicians and landlords use relief aid to get more voters. Extremist organizations use flood relief work to recruit more people.

But not all of the consequences have been negative. From Pakistan’s flood, I see Pakistan’s young generation emerging. I see amazing passion and patriotism in youth all over the country shrugging off their apathy and reaching out to their fellow countrymen in need. This is the future, right here.

AYM: Can you relay the attention PYA has received for its flood relief work into your democracy activism?

PYA: We work on short-term objectives and long-term goals. We work from initiative to initiative basis—and yes, we do social development along with sociopolitical activism. Right now, the immediate crisis is flood relief. But our hope is that our goals for a democratic Pakistan will resonate with new members.

We can’t force issues; many young people are just interested in rebellious street protests and many are just into social development. But overall, as the organization grows [we hope to] gather more respect and attention among an increased membership, which will make us matter more when lobbying for democracy.

And our membership has grown magnificently. Since July 2010 there have been approximately 2,000 to 3,000 new registrations on our site, 2,000 new people on our SMS list, and 3,000 to 4,000 in Facebook groups and fanpages.

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First Published on Dawn.com

A series of eyewitness accounts from volunteers at relief camps:

At IDP Camp in Charsadda


The Pakistan Youth Alliance (PYA) made simultaneous deliveries on August 14 to Nowshera, Muzaffargarh and Rajanpur with 31 volunteers in three teams with eight trucks of relief goods.

Nowshera (Datta Kaka Sahib)

This time we went to a remote area of the district after passing through the devastation caused by the the floods. The water seemed to have receded since we were there last, but in its wake it has left behind lives of many who are now uncertain about their future.

On our agenda was delivering supplies to about 160 families at a camp set up in ‘Datta Kaka Sahib.’ Once we arrived, our group leader briefed us on how the operations would work. We were, however, not briefed about what to do if we were attacked like our fellow PYA team members were in Rajanpur. I guess it was best we kept that out of our minds. At the camp aid workers, with their official jackets, were seen who helped effectively distribute aid to the affectees.

We had with us different items such as flour, rice, oil, etc. according to the requirements of that particular camp. The list was made by our local contact in whom we trusted. Our team also had a list of 160 families that were to be given the goods. Each person was passed through a process of verification before he/she was given any help to ensure it was being given to the right person. I believe we did a good job and gave it our very best. However, one must always accept that 10-15 per cent of the aid may not end up in the hands of the intended recipients.

During the process, I took a short walk outside the camp to talk to the people and gauge how their lives had changed. What I heard were unconfirmed reports of a alleged ‘sex-for-food scam.’ I was also told that prices of everything had sky-rocketed and there seemed very little hope for any reconstruction in the future.

Yet, amidst all this chaos, I remain an optimist. No, a prisoner of hope would be more appropriate as Desmond Tutu once said. Pakistanis have weathered many disasters and calamities and we have never yielded, nor shall we this time. We will get through this, we always have – Pakistan Zindabad!

Ahmed Hasan, a volunteer for Pakistan Youth Alliance, contributed for Dawn.com

Muzaffargarh (Alipur)

The second team embarked on the journey towards Rohela Wali but had to stay at Ghazanfargarh due to a road blockade. These areas of south Punjab have been worst-hit by the floods and what we saw here was unprecedented. Many IDPs were living alongside main roads and news of them attacking relief-convoys were heard. It was raining heavily and our dedicated volunteers decided to move on despite of warnings from local administration and Army.

On the way, during our stay at Ghazanfargarh we met Ghayur, a local who studies at Punjab University. He was extremely agitated with the government’s response to the disaster in his region. “In order to protect certain areas, the local authorities blocked the water which resulted in smaller towns being drowned completely,” he said.

Our final destination was Mehmood Kot camp at Alipur, but reaching there seemed impossible as flood water was now on the roads. We had to stop our convoy and walk through three to four feet of water to assess the situation on the other side. Our drivers and truck owners refused to go forward in the flood; we even requested some army personnel deputed in the region to help us deliver our relief aid but they advised us to go back as flood-warning was severe.

After three hours, the water level receded and we could now move forward. Around 250 families were anxiously waiting for food items we promised to bring to them on August 14. We finally managed to distribute the items only after cross-checking the ID cards to make sure it was going to the right person. IDPs at the camp also complained of mismanagement by local authorities and narrated stories of personal favours being given to particular group of people for political benefits

Areas of Kot Addu, Muzaffargarh, Rahim Yar Khan and Rajanpur have been severely affected by the flood and what we saw here, wasn’t comparable to what we witnessed in Khyber Pukhtunkwa. During our deliveries to Pukhtunkhua and south Punjab, we have felt the need of a central agency for coordinating relief efforts with individuals and organisations. At the moment, we are assessing the need of the areas ourselves as well as managing the logistics. Security is also an issue in certain areas where people, desperate for supplies, are attacking aid convoys. I was with the Rajanpur-bound convoy and 50 odd men attacked  the truck of supplies. Only the government, with its manpower and logistics, can set up such emergency cells in flood-hit areas.

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi is the founder of Pakistan Youth Alliance, who tweets @Ali_Abbas_Zaidi and is available on facebook as Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi. He can also be reached at damanwiddaplan@hotmail.com

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Article published in Indian Newspaper Express Buzz

First Published: 29 Aug 2010 11:24:00 AM IST Last Updated : 28 Aug 2010 06:51:18 PM IST

Syed Ali Abbas Zaidi, 24, has not slept for over 24 hours. It is a day after the UN declared Pakistan’s floods a bigger disaster than the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake and the Haiti earthquake combined. Hundreds have died, millions are homeless, and Zaidi is making his ninth delivery of food packets in south Punjab for 1,500 families.

He is the founder of Pakistan Youth Alliance, a youth-based and youth-run organisation that started in 2007 after emergency rule. “It aims to create socio-political awareness in the country,” says Zaidi. Their network extends across and outside Pakistan and has more than 20,000 members.

The group has organised and completed 120 events worldwide, including walks, vigils, protests, concerts, relief work, seminars and art for change competitions. “We have reached out to 15,000 families with immediate relief aid and have managed to raise over 12 million rupees from the streets, by begging,” says Zaidi.

Most of PYA’s members have impressive academic records. Zaidi is an aeronautical engineer, poet and columnist. Then there is Maryam Kanwer, 26,

co-founder of the organisation and a teacher and researcher; Maryam Noor Malik, 21, a medical student; Husham Ahmed, a research consultant with a degree in electrical engineering and Shakeel Ahsan who is an MBA student. These are just a few of them.  

“We started work for flood affected even before it became a disaster of unparalleled nature,” says Zaidi.

It has been physically exhausting and emotionally taxing. “After visiting flood-hit areas and having personally experienced the situation from Pakhtunkhwa to south Punjab, I can easily say this is the worst disaster to hit Pakistan,” says Zaidi. “For example, last time I went to Nowshera the locals told me how they found water containers floating on flood water. When they opened them, there were babies inside. Mothers who were about to drown in nearby villages had put their little ones inside it.”

“Similarly, we hear of how water levels started to rise while people were sleeping and they could not save their five-year-olds, how everything they had was washed away. People are angry. They complain of no prior warning, no evacuation plan and no disaster management by the government.

“The situation is chaotic. Children face skin diseases, mothers fight each other to snatch more food for their

babies, fathers are turning desperate to keep their kids alive. We hear of sex for food and parents stealing food,” says Zaidi. “Children live in the midst of snakes, mosquitoes, hunger — dreaming of a normal life.”

“Everything has been destroyed — schools, mosques, hospitals. Infrastructure has been rendered useless. I haven’t seen anything like this. During the Swat crisis (when the Pakistan offensive against Taliban left millions homeless), people were hopeful that they would go back home and start a normal life. But here, they have nothing to go back to. Nothing is left.”

Zaidi says the government “should have been pro-active, instead of reacting the way the tide turns.”

Foreign aid and NGO support have been helpful. And Zaidi has heard of some India-based groups helping flood victims in Pakistan. “It makes my heart warm,” he says. “I would love to collaborate with such youth groups.”

“I’ve always dreamt of working with an Indian youth organisation, to spread the message of love and tolerance. Extremists and war-mongers in India and Pakistan must realise war can never be a solution. We need to feed our people, for God’s sake, we need to provide them shelter and clothes.”

Zaidi has been dreaming of a better world since he was a child. His email address is damanwiddaplan@hotmail.com (the man with a plan). “I thought I do have THE plan,” he laughs. PYA seems like a workable one

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