‘Don’t you see how clean it is already’

To see groups of young men and women at Boat Basin on a Sunday evening is barely out of the ordinary.

To see them wearing pale green masks and shoveling steaming heaps of trash into garbage bags definitely makes the sight more interesting.

“We were sitting in Subway when these guys came in and asked us to help pick up trash,” said a 17-year-old girl, holding on to the corner of a green garbage bag, “We decided to help.”

Armed with plastic gloves, shovels, brooms and garbage bags, a group of people has collected under the Zimmedar Shehri’s green umbrella to help make Karachi a cleaner city.

Zimmedar Shehri started with five boys in Lahore talking about all that is wrong with the country. However, what made these five different from countless others who do the same is that they actually did something about it.

“We got tired of the fact that we just complain and complain without doing anything,” Murtaza Husnain, one of the vice presidents of the society, told The Express Tribune. “So we decided to do something.” It was formed in Lahore a little over a year ago in March 2009 and from there it spread to Islamabad, Sargodha, Faisalabad and Peshawar. And now, it has finally made it to the biggest city in the country.

“It’s a little harder in Karachi,” Hasnain said. “There’s too much of a divide over ‘this side of the bridge and that side of the bridge!’” Talking about the choice of site, Husnain said that they chose Boat Basin because they are “a bunch of Lahoris” who don’t know the city much. “But we’re hoping that like in the other cities, Zimmedar Shehri takes a life of its own in Karachi as well.”

With Pepsi sponsoring the group’s first major event in the city, there were enough cameras to distract from the real action which was in corners piled high with trash. “All this garbage is so moist,” a 16-year-old girl said, making a face as she shoveled a rather black and stinking pile into a bag. “I know somebody has urinated here!”

While there was no shortage of cynics with “it is not going to make a difference” comments, the day belonged to the optimists, who sweated out the negative comments and swept lanes of sewage-soaked trash. A happy-looking woman, who sells shirts on the street, told a group of girls how pleased she was with the effort. “Such pyaari girls from good households, how are you doing this,” she said. “It’s such a good thing.” “Of course it’s making a difference,” said a riksha driver who had joined the effort. “Don’t you see how clean it is already,” he said proudly pointing at a lane.

The riksha driver was the kind of volunteer Zimmedar Shehri loves the most because they are the ones who see what is happening and join in. “It’s not just about cleaning up the place,” Hasnain said. “It’s about telling people, showing them that it is important to keep our country clean.” The event kicked off at around 5 pm in front of Hanifia, whose management later asked the group to move their green bags full of garbage away from their entrance.

Two hours later, the group had collected around 30 bags of trash. The volunteers who showed up at the event were hopeful that the project would not be a one off but a series of efforts that would help make a tangible difference. “People will join in,” said an A level student who had taken time out from studying for exams starting on May 12 to volunteer. As a 20-year-old university student put it, “It’s my city and I want it to be clean.”

The Zimmedar Shehri is a group of young people that wants to make a tangible difference in the country.

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