“I want to be a teacher,” she said. And in the neatness of her braid, the primness of her posture, the clarity of her speech, you could tell she wanted to be a teacher. Every child I met that day, had such hopes and aspirations for their future. They, who would probably leave this room and wander the streets till dusk, braving dangers I could never imagine, never having a home to return to because their parents needed to work every single minute of the day simply for them to survive. Children are so alive with hope, a stethoscope around their neck or a neat braid is all they need to feel their dream is within reach. All they need for them to say, ‘I want to be something wonderful.’
I had forgotten how to feel that way. A few years back some things didn’t pan out the way I had expected, and life took me by surprise. I let myself fall into the flow of its twists and turns and it carried me somewhere really far from what I had ever imagined life would be like. Then one day, arms full of dishwashing foam, two children tugging at my clothes, I realized that I had completely lost my sense of purpose. And that purposelessness was making me thankless too! I no longer felt the joy of my kids playing in the sunshine, the serenity of long drives as the kids slept in their car seats, or the thrill of staying up late with a good book. All of it was lost to me, because I felt like a drone.
And then I read something really remarkable. This short quote from Sylvia Plath’s “The Bell Jar”:
“My mother said the cure for thinking too much about yourself was helping somebody who was worse off than you.”
It sparked a small flame inside of me. And I began to paint. I taught myself everything I could about painting and drawing, in every spare minute. And as I and my skill grew, I felt a growing sense of purpose. I knew that what I really, truly wanted to do, was use art to recapture that uncomplicated hope we shed so easily as we grow up.
So “Art to Spark Hope” was born. And the more we sat and talked and painted with them, the more I came to realize that all these children needed was someone to listen to them, to pay attention to them and for someone to truly care. I will never be able to forget how excited they were to receive all the goodies we had arranged for them, or how eager they were to share their knowledge and talents; how carefully they listened to learn something new, and how bright their eyes became when they first walked into the art gallery and saw that it was their work people were admiring, their work decorating the walls.
What I didn’t expect was how this would change my life. Founding this event broadened my perspective on life. It made me realize how easily each of us can make a huge difference in the lives of those around us. It helped me rediscover that sense of purpose I was missing. I know that all of us don’t have the capacity to be as giving or as selfless as Edhi, but I do know that each of us has the capability to make a huge impact. It can be one child or a dozen, it can be children or adults, but finding a way to help those around you, is going to help you in ways you could never imagine.
The best part is, ever since I found the courage to fly to Pakistan with two toddlers and take on an event of this magnitude, opportunities to do more have been popping up all around me. Only now do I see what a brilliant set of people Pakistan is made up of. So many people are doing so much, in little ways and big ways, to change Pakistan for the better, and I am now more determined than ever, to be a part of it all.