CDGE in collaboration with the Writing center, Lilly program and the Off-Campus Studies office held an off-campus composition contest. One prize was reserved for an entry that best illustrated our theme, “Activism for Inclusion.” Below is the winning entry.
Young Trash Collectors of Lahore
By Usman Gul, Azimuth Fellow and Economics Major
Bazmail and Kareem, two young children from an impoverished neighborhood in inner-city Lahore (Pakistan), leave their home early every morning to collect paper waste or cardboard from wherever they can find it. They spend up to six hours searching streets, parks, public trashcans and alleys. Their daily lunch depends on whether or not they can gather enough waste, which they then sell to recycling companies to earn their livelihood.
I recorded the children’s daily life as part of a documentary-making project and gradually became good friends with them. They began to confide in me and, on our last day together, Bazmail revealed that he had been secretly collecting abandoned books from public places. He had kept them hidden from his family because, rather than selling them, he hoped to one day use them to learn how to read. “You can read and write,” he said, “Will you teach me?” I had expected him to ask for some extra money on our last day together. Instead, he asked me to help him change his life.
For more than a year, Bazmail had struggled to somehow teach himself how to read. Ten-year-old Bazmail’s endeavors were touching and endearing, and his resolve – not yet broken by the unbearable hardships that abject poverty brings with it – was impressive. His story, however, was fairly typical; the vast majority of children in Pakistan are locked in inescapable chains of poverty and child labor. They inherit poverty and they bequeath poverty. The Bazmails of this world yearn for opportunities that I have hitherto taken for granted; I was living Bazmail’s dream, albeit in oblivion. While I could not change Bazmail’s life as much as I would have liked, Bazmail certainly changed the course of mine. He fostered in me a social consciousness, combined with a renewed desire to make the most of the opportunities and resources at my disposal.
Upon my return to the College of Wooster in Fall 2010, I enrolled in extra courses for the semester and interned at the same time. I overloaded again this semester and opted to participate in the Social Entrepreneurship Program, which assigns teams of students to local non-profit organizations to help solve their business problems – an experience which I believe will be unique and immensely valuable. I am often asked if it is really necessary to push myself so much and my response is always an unequivocal yes. It would be hugely irresponsible of me to not make the most out of the opportunities I have. The workload is sometimes overwhelming, but the images of Bazmail and Kareem scavenging through piles of garbage are etched into my memory as a powerful and inspirational reminder that I must not, I cannot, take what I have for granted.
While I have undergone significant intellectual growth at Wooster, I feel compelled to say that the Azimuth Fellowship for Vocational Learning, sponsored by the Lilly Project, has had the most dramatic impact on my personal development. I have realized the true worth of the opportunities available to me, and since then I have been locked in a constant struggle to make the most of my time, which is my scarcest resource. Whenever complacency begins to set in, I ask myself – if Bazmail was given the same opportunities, would he settle for what he had or would he strive to excel more? I am convinced that the latter is true and, as a minor tribute to Bazmail’s spirit, I feel I must do the same.