DANCING WITH THE TERRORISTS
This is a guest blog post by Sabiha Ashraf, Pakistani painter and artist. The post has been modified for Girls’ Globe’s End Fistula Channel. This post has the goal to raise awareness of the current fundraising tour in USA of Pakistan’s National Health Forum, to raise funds for Koohi Goth Hospital in Karachi, Pakistan. See more here.
Sheema Kermani is a dancer. Shershah Syed is a doctor. They are “terrorists” in Pakistan, as both have waged a ceaseless jihad for decades in a country they cling to as home despite threats against their lives. If you live in any of the 12 cities they have targeted in USA, you stand a good chance to meet them.
The doctor and the dancer are amazingly alike in their jihad of social activism aimed to create awareness in a society sickened by narrow, feudalistic selfish greed, rampant corruption and all the ills, which plague third world countries. Both Sheema Kermani and Shershah Syed have won recognition at home and abroad for their achievements in their respective fields as they continue their jihad for human rights.
Under the banner of a women’s empowerment organization Sheema carries on a dialogue with her audience through dance and drama, seeking to end gender discrimination, prejudices and injustices on all fronts. She takes her plays into downtrodden, violence ridden slums with an intrepid zeal. It is amazing to behold, and the response she gets is worth the guts it takes. Despite a narrow-minded prejudice against dance, Sheema has continued to pass on her legacy as a performer and a teacher to her students ranging in age from six to sixty.
During a visit in 2010 to Karachi, I was able to see her crusade against religious fundamentalism, corruption, and the absurdity of inept governance. It was during that same visit of mine that I saw a collaboration between the dancer and the doctor in a stage play named Every Woman is Priceless, which highlighted issues of gender discrimination, child marriages and the total lack of maternal care for the poor in Pakistan. A lack, which results in 30,000 maternal deaths each year – a shameful figure that Dr. Shershah Syed has sought to bring down ever since he was shocked by seeing the first maternal death on his return to Pakistan after his postgrad study abroad.
For Shershah, even more horrifying was the realization that no treatment existed in Karachi for a debilitating childbirth related injury that leaves very young women unable to control the passing out of their body wastes. As many as 2 million women all over the world in third world countries, including Pakistan, suffer in shamed silence from this injury, needlessly forced into isolated, miserable lives and for no fault of their own. Shocked but undeterred, Shershah trained himself to help such female patients through his own efforts, as well as later on through the Pakistan National Forum on Women’s Health which he founded, and in collaboration with UNFPA. Never one to mince words or refrain from voicing the truth, Shershah says,
My patient had waited for 41 years for treatment, and all it took me was just 21 minutes to give her back her dignity.
Appalled by the large number of maternal deaths among the poor, Shershah says bitterly,
The day the government decides it doesn’t want maternal deaths, we will have no more mothers dying. It is a matter of what is prioritized.
Dr. Shershah’s magnum opus is his dream child, the hospital that he set up in Koohi Goth in Karachi, initially with funds from his family, friends and UNFPA. Apart from providing modern quality care around the clock to women totally free of cost, the hospital also fulfills Shershah’s priority to train midwives, nurses and doctors needed to extend and ensure the care every woman should get regardless of her social or economic level.
The funds raised at various levels keeps this one of a kind visionary hospital in Pakistan going, which is what has brought Sheema and her loyal troupe along with Shershah on this first ever fundraising multi city tour in USA. If you get to dance as it were, with these two “terrorists” from Pakistan, count yourself lucky. These two are both one of a rare kind of “jihadist” activists who have taken on the responsibility on their own selves to do what has to be done.
The fundraising tour has already made it to Washington DC, Atlanta, and Orlando. The events in the various US cities include dinner and traditional Pakistani dance. Upcoming cities include: New York City, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston, Austin, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Fremont. Don’t miss it!