Young Journalist Brings Attention To Issues In Pakistan [Interview]

Photo: (Arsla Jawaid)

Photo: (Arsla Jawaid)

Writing has the power to change the world, and young journalists are using the written language to spread awareness and engage in activism. The International Center for Journalists put MTV Act in touch with Arsla Jawaid, a 26-year-old journalist and editor from Pakistan.

Arsla is the associate editor of SOUTHASIA Magazine and works as director and executive producer of Let’s Think Pakistan, a campaign that’s all about making positive change. She was also a youth affairs adviser to the U.S. Consul General! To learn more about her work, important issues in Pakistan, and how young people can make a change through writing, I spoke with Ms. Jawaid herself.

ACT: Can you tell us about the Let’s Think Pakistan campaign? What sort of positive developments do you want to bring out of it?

ARSLA: Pakistan is mired by a number of internal challenges as well as victimized to negative international perceptions. When I returned to Pakistan after having studied and worked abroad, my country just didn’t feel the same. The Let’s Think Pakistan (LTP) campaign is literally designed for people to make a pledge to their country and hold themselves accountable to fulfilling it. Each citizen, young or old, male or female, has a duty that they can fulfill if they truly take ownership and believe that change, no matter how big or small, can make a difference.

For the people in Pakistan, it is a way to realize that not everyone needs to be a politician, or a CEO, or a celebrity to make a difference. Change is not marked by its scale but rather by its impact, be it planting a tree, opening a school for the blind or simply believing that we are all equal, regardless of religion, nationality, sex, social class, etc.

We launched phase 2 of the campaign allowing people to send in photographs of how they had followed through on their pledges and got tremendous response. The real reflection that the campaign has worked is if each individual person has truly fulfilled his/her pledge and then affected 10 more people to do the same. It’s a snowball effect.

ACT: You’ve risked your life for your journalism work. Where did you find this bravery?

ARSLA: Well, Pakistan is certainly a dangerous place to be for journalists and I wouldn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, claim that I am one of those brave people! I have reported on the polio crisis in Pakistan, which itself is a sensitive subject to cover given the Taliban threats and the ban on the vaccination campaign in certain parts of the country. The campaign has also suffered heavily after the CIA tracked and killed Osama bin Laden using the cover of a fake vaccination campaign.

As journalists, it is our job to uncover the truth and draw attention to issues and people that desperately need it. A story like this was very important for me because polio is directly targeting the future of our country; it is targeting the children.

The bravery, and I use that word only because you mentioned it, pales in comparison to the brave health workers who continue to go out into the field to administer drops to children despite the threats. There comes a point where you forget about this grand notion of bravery and just do your job because it is your duty to draw attention to a crisis and in doing so, play your very small part in saving lives.

ACT: What are some issues Pakistan is facing now that you’d like to write more about?

ARSLA: In terms of internal challenges, I think the polio crisis and girls’ education in Pakistan is of significant importance. The country is also the sixth most populous in the world and has a youth bulge (almost 35% of Pakistanis are under the age of 15) that brings with it both tremendous potential and grave challenges. I’ve previously written on the youth and its politicization, but there is much more that needs to be written about their changing dynamic, their uncertain future, the threats to the next generation of Pakistanis and most importantly, the role they can play in a globalized world.

ACT: Why do you write about the specific issues you cover? What’s important about them and spreading awareness?

ARSLA: Because we live in such a fast-moving world, we could be watching the atrocities in Syria on TV and the very next minute be trekking off to Starbucks and have forgotten about what’s happening in another part of the world. If it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind and hence few people care. That is the most unfortunate truth about the times we live in. Journalism allows us to convey and report on issues that must remain prevalent in the public consciousness to trigger action.

I tend to write about issues that are affecting people on a daily basis, both directly and indirectly, that require attention not only from governments but also from people around the world. It is imperative to consistently write about certain issues and spread awareness because as a global community we need to transcend government agendas and reach out to one another as human beings and not as representatives of a certain nation. Borders only mark boundaries but we would have achieved nothing if at the end of the day we can’t answer the simple question: “What did you do as a human being to leave behind a better world for your children?”

Arsla-InsertPhoto: Arsla and a young friend.

ACT: How can young people get more involved in writing as a form of activism?

ARSLA: Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more powerful than expressing yourself, through your writing or your voice or your art. One person can change the world, and, as the saying goes, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” Find something you are passionate about and consistently write about it. Activism is not conducted by guns and swords but rather by realistic ideas and strong, not loud, words.

ACT: How did you first decide to go into journalism?

ARSLA: I really just fell into it! My father is also in the media and I think that very much affected me while I was growing up. I loved writing and suddenly realized that I was very passionate about certain issues and wanted to play a role in drawing attention to them. I always knew I wanted to change the world but up until I became a journalist, I didn’t really know how. It was then that I realized how powerful words can be.

When I first started writing, some of my work drew a healthy bout of emotional criticism because of the subject matter. I remember reading the comments and thinking, “Wow, this really isn’t my thing.” Later that night, I received a number of emails from people I didn’t know, including a 25-year-old girl in India telling me that she had never looked at the topic from that perspective and was glad that there was someone across the border who felt the same. It was in that moment that I realized that I’d found my calling. This was the profession I wanted to be in and I’ve never looked back since then. I also stopped reading the comments section from there on!

ACT: What do you think is your great accomplishment so far? What would you still like to accomplish?

ARSLA: I think one of my greatest accomplishments came the day we launched Let’s Think Pakistan. We had launched the campaign with a very small team and it was the first time that I was so intricately involved in something like this. I had to learn everything very quickly. Despite the many challenges, the realization that we were doing something for Pakistan was enough to keep us going.

The immediate response and then the gradual awareness that the campaign received was overwhelming and made me incredibly proud of every single person who had been a part of the movement and more importantly of every single person who joined it. The more I saw the campaign take shape and expand, the prouder I felt to be a Pakistani.

In terms of the future, I have an entire list of things I’d like to accomplish! I want to set up a system of clean drinking water in impoverished neighborhoods in Karachi (the city where I’m from). I hope to continue a career in journalism, focusing on foreign relations and eventually get involved in policy-making. It is also my dream to see polio eradicated from Pakistan and play somewhat of a role in making that happen!

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