Fatima Riaz at the British Council’s Global Citizenship Conference in Pakistan
Fatima Riaz, a young Active Citizen who is campaigning to eradicate polio, writes about her experience of meeting an inspirational mentor at the British Council’s Global Citizenship Conference in Pakistan.
To me, beginnings are hardly important. I believe it is the conclusion that really matters. In the case of this story though, the beginning is worth singling out. Michael Sheldrick, our Australian mentor from the Global Poverty Project once asked me why I came to attend the Global Citizenship Conference arranged by Active Citizens in Islamabad. I answered truthfully: Like any teenager, I was there for the food. What I left with, however, was food for thought.
The venue was like a condensed version of planet Earth that day, with its rich blend of nationalities. This was a lesson in itself on global citizenship. The thing that struck me most about every speaker was how they embraced similarities with others, without letting go of their own identity. It showed me that while borders on land are impassable, the borders in our hearts are ours to make or erase.
I believe that life is made up of moments which steer you on the path you are destined to tread. Michael Sheldrick’s impassioned presentation on polio in Islamabad was one of those moments for me. I remember sitting in the crowd, and deciding then and there that a polio-free Pakistan was a cause worth being a part of. What followed was a quick ambush of Michael during lunch, and the seeds for a nationwide polio awareness campaign were sown.
Polio has triumphed in Pakistan because it’s like wallpaper – ever present, but never noticed. An awareness campaign is the perfect solution to jolt the population into action, because until the scope of a problem is appreciated, its solution is beyond reach. This campaign draws on the most potent force in Pakistan: its young people, and their passion to see their nation free of polio.
While organisations like the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Rotary have worked hard to eradicate polio from Pakistan, there was always a missing piece. That missing piece was local involvement and national fervor. The battle of man vs. polio requires a force of driven and passionate individuals who understand the dynamics of their communities, and who have built trust within communities. Our organisation, Bioreach, is composed of such individuals, and we are always on the lookout for more members.
This movement is of youth, by youth and for youth. But how will it affect the global polio scenario? Our methods are simple in implementation, but far-reaching in their impact. Through awareness talks, photo petitions, blogs, and radio shows, we want to fight polio at a national level. Local heroes fighting polio will help take the disease to the very top of young people’s agenda, and will function as the first line of defense against polio in their communities.
The quintessential focus of this campaign is to create a generation of Pakistanis united against polio. When the youngsters touched by this campaign enter into professional lives as doctors, public health administrators, government officials or even just as parents, they will realize how vital those two drops of vaccine are for children, their mothers, and their communities.
The campaign has up till now been a whirlwind affair. Since it took off, we have collected around 100 photo petitions, spoken on air on our local radio station, and will begin touring campuses very soon. We have also set up a webpage especially for Pakistan. We have conducted polio awareness talks and have served to mobilize youth.
When I founded BioReach, I had no idea that one day we would be working on a national campaign impacting public health all over the world. No seed sown can grow into a proper plant without nourishment and care, and that was provided by Michael and lots of other amazing individuals, who are heroes in their own right.