Syeda Anfas Ali Shah Zaidi
“There is no higher religion than human service,” says Anfas Anfas Ali Shah Zaidi. Coming from a family of social workers and people motivated to uplift the human welfare in this country, she is determined and very committed to her goals. “My family has done a lot of social work. Even my grandmother worked in interior Sindh as a doctor to help those who lacked access to basic health,” explains Anfas when giving an insight as to how she ended up in the welfare sector, currently presiding over the Ocean Welfare Organization in Karachi. “That is just the kind of the childhood I have had. I have grown up witnessing that sharing and helping makes a difference. I run my own construction-related business as well, which generates the means to help others,” she says. Therefore, from the platform of her education she aims to improve the health standards in Pakistan, educate street children and empower women. She also engages in countering environmental issues such as cleaning beaches.
Working in the construction industry, Anfas faced greater challenges than her male counterparts. According to her, this is a problem in the whole world, but is more deep rooted in Pakistan. “I have to give in fifty percent more to prove myself compared to men. I would get discouraged by men even if my work was good. However, my faith in God is very strong and that kept me going”. She believes in continuing to take tiny steps forward and with time and hard work, challenges start to dwindle.
Social work, too, is by no means easy. The children on the streets include orphans, children who have run away from their homes, those who beg, and to top it all, there are mafias who don’t allow these kids to study. “You have to fight a war to educate these children but if the road to my goals is not difficult, I don’t enjoy it. That is just my nature. I like to be challenged which drives me to do more.” Before Anfas is able to begin educating these children, she has to gain their trust and become friends with them, which also means spending a lot of time on the roads. “I’ve gone to streets with empty plots to make them study and I pay them to study, Rs.50 per child, and give them food and groceries. I also give them clothes for events. That way, I can compensate their loss in income when they come to me to study.” To run this organization, Anfas seeks only the help of her family, her friends and God. Asking the government for help is out of the question since “if they can’t manage the public schools, what help can they extend to me and my cause?”
Financially, independence is extremely important according to Anfas, and without it there cannot be emotional independence. “You will be restricted to certain boundaries since you will have to depend on others and their moods,” she says. However, she does caution young girls that things do not happen overnight. One needs to be strong as well as practical. One also needs to prepare to fight and prove his or her capabilities.
The very motivated Anfas works 16 hours a day and if she works less than that, then she isn’t satisfied. Working for such long hours can take a toll on a person’s skin, especially spending endless hours on the roads under the harsh sunlight and amidst pollution. To counter these negative effects, she takes special care of her skin. “I make sure I cleanse my skin, keep it clean and give myself time.”
Given the law and order situation of the city, her mother often gets nervous about the nature of the work that Anfas undertakes but knows that her daughter is out on the streets for a good cause. Education is valued in her family. Anfas has much to thank her mother for, not just for her support but also the virtues she has instilled in her children. “Whatever I am today and everything that I am doing, I owe it completely to my mother. She has taught us that all genders are equal.”
Starting with 2 children, Anfas’s Miracle Moment was when within 2 months of the beginning of her project, she had 450 street children to teach. There is no doubt that she has encountered several setbacks on the way but with the determination she is holding her ground is truly miraculous. Her journey shows that successful people keep taking action – they make mistakes, but they don’t quit. And with this motto, she is indeed leading Pakistan to a brighter future.