Everyday Hero Is Silver Lining, As Dark Clouds Of Policy Still Hover

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Report By Ahmed Saeed

Among the stories abound of the miseries of an untold number of people facing unemployment, poverty, and other problems, during the lockdown, Ahmed Azeem’s story shines through, like a ray of hope for many.

Azeem heads the Youth’s Initiative for Aid and Employment (YIAE), a non-profit, charity-based NGO established in 2016, which aims to provide employment opportunities to the underprivileged in Taxila and Wah Cantonment, as well as education to child laborers. During the lockdown situation, the YIAE expanded its operations by delivering ration to the doorsteps of many a deprived and starving household. To date, Azeem’s organization has managed to distribute rations worth millions amongst the starving needy.

“We conducted our ration drive in three phases,” Azeem explained. “The first phase was initiated when the lockdown was imposed mid-March, during which we distributed cash to over 150 daily wage laborers. In the second phase, we distributed ration that would last 45 to 50 days for around 200 people for Ramzan as well as Eid.”

Azeem is thankful for the government’s cooperation, especially with regards to the provision of registration dates from the federal government’s Ehsaas Program.

“We are thankful to the civil administration for their incredible support,” he said. “We received data from the government’s Ehsaas Program, with which we are able to identify those households which have already received government aid, and then we extend the circle by providing to those who were unable to receive relief from Ehsaas.”

While youths such as Azeem are a silver lining in these trying times, it is important to note that the Pakistan government has delisted and cut funding for a number of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs), the effects of which can be seen in the current issues plaguing ration distribution among the needy.

According to Advocate Lahore High Court and Executive Director of Asma Jahangir (AGHS) Legal Aid Cell, Nida Aly, there is no legal precedent for the 2013 policy promulgated by the Economic Affairs Division for the regulation of INGOS and NGOs operating in Pakistan.

“The policy is contradictory to the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan, especially Freedom of Association,” she stated. “It was introduced as an interim measure to be followed by an act of parliament or legislation to regulate NGOs, but it has been seven years now that this policy is being arbitrarily and randomly applied to reject NGOs. This is a serious curtailment of the rights of NGOs and civil society members working in the country.”

Executive Director of South Asia Partnership Pakistan Muhammad Tehseen, was of the view that by collaborating with existing welfare organizations and authoritative bodies, INGOs would have significantly improved and enhanced the reach of relief efforts during the lockdown situation.

“Nearly all the organizations delisted by the government would work with and through smaller, local organizations in severely impoverished regions,” he said. “If these INGOs were still operating today, our understanding and efforts to control the spread of the virus as well as its effects on the needy could have been controlled to an extent.”

While heroes such as Azeem have emerged during the Coronavirus crisis, the importance of NGOs and INGOs is being felt more painfully than ever before as existing welfare bodies and government systems strain to aid the underprivileged of our society.