Watch the film to find out what Agha says about his life and what he thinks about terrorism. Then reconsider what you think are Pakistan’s greatest problems.
I am Agha” is a powerful example of how artists, activists and academics can both inform their audiences and prompt them to question their habitual ways of looking at the world.
Pakistan Calling, the platform on which the video appears is also an example of the latest online trend — the launch (and success) of make-a-difference news platforms… or at least good-news sites.
What’s surprising about many of these sites is that they aren’t take-your-medicine boring. Think Buzzfeed-type headlines (such as “What Agha the Pakistani Street Child Thinks About Terrorism Will Surprise You”) married to Amnesty International-type crusading.
Archimedes once (supposedly) said: Find me a lever long enough and I can move the world.
These sites are evidence that at least at the moment, media — and perhaps especially films and photography — are our lever to move the world. A lot of people, it turns out, are looking to media for answers. A lot of people want more than breaking news driblets of violence, smarmy pssst-wanna-know? celebrity factoids and incessant scare-tactic you-must-keep-up-to-date-with-your-profession updates.
There’s the popular Upworthy, with its tagline “Things that matter. Pass 'em on.”— a site that aggregates videos about people who challenge the powerful and who act to counter stereotypes and -isms of all kinds. Huffington Post has not one, but two sections of positive stories: one simply called “Good News” and the other called “Impact.” Then there’s the TED talks, and NPR’s TED Radio Hour (and podcast) spin-off. There’s Carlos Watson’s OZY, a daily news brief on “What Happened & Why It Matters.” Quora’s business model has readers taking time to answer other readers’ questions. The Daily Beast has a news section on Women in the World. Fast Company, which won “Magazine of the Year” this year has sections (and daily emails) called Co-Design, Co-Exist and Co-Create — all focusing on solutions to global problems. And beyond all of those is the trend for do-good initiatives that cross social media, such as the ALS ice-bucket challenge taken by everyone from Britney Spears to Steven Spielberg to Bill Gates to George Bush 43.
The site that posted the film about Agha is another such change outlet and another one worth paying attention to. In essence, Pakistan Calling is a less-well-known version of Upworthy. Like Upworthy, Pakistan Calling is an aggregator of short videos from professionals as well as amateurs. Like Upworthy, Pakistan Calling hosts a range of films: some are investigative, others are calls to action. Launched by The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, manufactures and commerce and in partnership with The Somosa, a media blog, Pakistan Calling aims to inspire a new generation of filmmakers — students, journalists and activists — by giving them a platform to bear witness and tell their stories. Its site includes video profiles of Pakistani intellectuals; documentaries about indigenous civil society organizations; day-in-the-life features of children, women and the handicapped; and interviews with members of the working class, such as bus drivers and ambulance drivers.
Unlike Upworthy, Pakistan Calling has a specific target audience. It wants to leverage the estimated 7 million Pakistanis in the diaspora, most notably the 1.2 million in the United Kingdom and the 700,000 in the U.S. Many Pakistanis in the global diaspora have great influence on Pakistan via direct economic and family ties. According to the World Bank, Pakistan ranks among the top 10 nations in the world for remittances sent home, transferring $13.5 billion in 2012. Pakistan Calling aims to encourage the diaspora community to bridge trade, economic and development networks between South Asia and the diaspora countries. Pakistan Calling also aims to encourage the diaspora to support conflict resolution in Pakistan, to wage campaigns on minority rights issues and on gender equality and girls’ education — all issues difficult for local development networks and delivery NGOs to address.
Pakistan Calling is an intriguing platform, but it is also intriguing as a model for other places: Harness the journalistic, artistic and progressive impulses within a country to tell stories of kindnesses and commitments that aren’t being told by mainstream media outlets. Use those stories to link diaspora populations to civil society organizations. Bind a country’s wounds with stories of leadership and future possibilities; they can help a country heal.
But here’s the Dragnet ending to the “I am Agha” video, however: Not all stories end well. Pakistan has one of the world’s largest populations of street children, estimated by the United Nations in 2005 to be 1.2 to 1.5 million — a number undoubtedly greater today. The film about Agha was made four years ago. No one now knows what has become of him.
The RSA Pakistan Calling www.thersa.org/pkcalling project has built partnerships across education, civil society, welfare and development groups in both Pakistan and the UK. Those interested in learning more can contact @aakhtar on Twitter or contact [email protected].
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