By Aalia Khan
The links between Pakistan and the UK stretch as far back as when people migrated to England in search of work, jobs and opportunities. Today around 1.26 million people call the UK their home, however their heritage and roots will always take them back to Pakistan and for many it is integral for this link to remain strong.
Pakistan has always received a vast amount of media scrutiny due to the terror issue currently rising there. It is now portrayed as an unsafe, dangerous, risky country to visit and many non-Pakistani’s, as well as some Pakistani’s would not dream of travelling there. As a result many of the social issues taking place in Pakistan are sidelined giving the word ‘terror’ all the attention. Pakistan Calling is a project aimed at increasing awareness and support for Pakistani civil society organisations and activists’ working to tackle the country’s many pressing social problems. They hope to promote cross-cultural dialogue and community trust in the UK by profiling the many different faces of Pakistan and supporting filmmakers working in areas such as arts, social welfare and citizen journalism.
Bradford College hosted the Royal Society of Arts and Commerce Pakistan Calling Event on 15th January 2015 in which some of the films made by the organisation in Pakistan and in the UK were screened along with words from the organisers and councillors. BBC’s Jon Snow was interviewed in one of these films, when the project launched, and he said the media attention on Pakistan is “Not all negative” but there “Isn’t enough coverage” on the social issues occurring there. He believed that the UK needs to “Heavily invest in aiding Pakistan.”
All of the films are short films with a strong message; some were filmed by a Karachi university student in Karachi showing the stereotypes of people in Pakistan, the student displayed how many people in the country are living a simple life by educating, earning and trying to do well for themselves.
Another one of the films introduced a man named Todd Shea who travelled to Pakistan, from America, as an aid worker and fell in love with the country so he decided to live and work there. Shea continues to work as an aid worker when disasters and destructions occur as well as working on other issues within the country. Shea’s story expressed how the negativity Pakistani people may have towards American people cannot be stereotyped to them all. Anwar Akhtar, Director of the Samosa organsation and co lead RSA Pakistan Calling, said at the event “America for better or for worse is the most powerful country in the world. I don’t accept that America is the devil or is evil, as it is sometimes perceived. America has helped Pakistan a lot with their load shedding issue.”
Also present at the event was Councillor Ralph Berry, Children and Young People’s Services and Councillor Alyas Karmani who is also an Imam and Chair of Just West Yorkshire. Both councillors believed that Pakistan and its youth have a lot to offer to the world and they simply need the opportunities to show their skills and knowledge. Cllr Karmani commented “There’s so much to Pakistan which is so enriching, inspiring and Pakistan has so much to offer the world. The young people have so much capability that we just need to unlock the potential to empower and enable them.” Cllr Berry was also on the same page “There is a rich, diverse, liberal, progressive tradition in Pakistan and other places that we don’t always hear about.”
As well as in Pakistan, some of the Pakistan Calling films were created in the UK to show the life of British Pakistanis. As such, one film which was made at Luton College raised the issue of identity. In the film some of students happily adopted their Pakistani heritage “I have more family in Pakistan and enjoy going there”, “When it comes to cricket I always support Pakistan”, “We do things collectively as one community”. And others were less interested in their Pakistani identity “I wouldn’t move back to Pakistan”, “It is much better here.” A non Pakistani, white student made the statement “Apart from the colour of our skin we are all the same.” These strong statements indicated how many people have different opinions of their Pakistani background; Akhtar believes that “Identity is personal.”
Cllr Karmani acknowledged the importance of art “We need art because it gives us a different perspective, all we usually see is doom and gloom but when you see something different it inspires you to be motivated and allows you to change your views. It is Important to change our perceptions as there is more to Pakistan than what we just hear on the media.”
The aims of these projects are to raise awareness on key issues and both the councillors believe this is vital. Cllr Berry said “We need to talk about the issues and understand the complexities in all societies”, Cllr Karmani also said “The key thing is awareness raising, sustainable projects that have long term impact. We also need to invest in and empower the youth.”
The film platform is a resource that can be used by community organisations, academics, students, women’s groups, teachers and youth workers. It provides a platform for filmmakers in Pakistan and the UK, and articulates the many relationships between Britain and Pakistan. The project aims to build stronger links between Pakistani social projects, the British Pakistani diaspora and a wider group of social entrepreneurs in the UK.
The films can be found here http://www.thersa.org/events/video/pkcalling-videos and to read more about the Samosa organsation read here http://www.thesamosa.co.uk/.