As part of the collaboration between Afsana and Dewar-e-Ehsas, our representative, Hibah Javed, had an opportunity to interview Deewar-e-Ehsas's founder Fatima Asghar. A recording of the interview can be found at the bottom of this page. What follows is a transcript of their interview (Note: This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity and brevity):
Hibah: Okay, Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh. Hello.This is Fatima Asghar from Dewar-e-Ehsas and I will be hosting an interview with her. Thank you, Fatima for coming in and joining us for Afsana and giving us a little bit of a run-down about Dewar-e-Ehsas. So, before we get started: tell us a little bit about yourself, something about you that you want to mention, or just a little bit of background.
Fatima: Ok so, Assalamualaikum. My name is Fatima Asghar and I’m basically an A-Level student from Pakistan and I started Dewar-e-Ehsas in my first year of A-levels and now- not in my first year but last level of my O-levels but it officially started working in my first year of A-levels and now its second year of my A-levels and we’re constantly working with it. I basically plan to study abroad. That’s kind of it about me.
Hibah: That’s great, mash’Allah. That’s so awesome to hear, you started while you were in school. So, for the interview, some questions we had were: what is your involvement, specifically, with Dewar-e-Ehsas? What role do you play in this organization?
Fatima: So, I’m basically the founder of Dewar-e-Ehsas and I run the team and the events that occur throughout, and- yeah, that’s basically my role.
Hibah: I have stated the term Dewar-e-Ehsas, (but) what does it exactly mean and how did you come up with it? It’s an interesting name for an organization, very different from your typical organization name. What’s the meaning behind it?
Fatima: Originally, Dewar-e-Ehsas was just an idea to get a wall, to get permission from the government: for us to use a wall where we could display some donations and people that need those donations could come in and take those donations. For example, clothes, packed food and stuff like that. This idea basically came in winter to me. Because it was extremely- I think 2 to 3 years back, we faced very harsh winters, so I basically wanted to make that wall so anyone that wants to take- like, we were supposed to put their blankets and then like clothes and anything that could help them throughout the season. After that, it took quite the while developing this with school life, I had faced some problem while I associated Dewar-e-Ehsas with my school that I am currently serving in, so I wasn’t able to make the wall at that point (but) after sometime this idea developed and I grew up with it and so this idea expanded. Dewar-e-Ehsas what it means to me is a wall for empathy, a wall for sympathy, a wall of humanity. A wall made by people which holds us together through harsh times. For example,we are privileged, we have money, we have the blessing from Allah(SWT). It’s our job now to deliver those blessings to those people who are not as blessed as we are so that they can have the same but a little better living standard. For example, we donate clothes, we donate food and we have donated rations until now. And we also helped this person who teaches basically poor students with teaching his students as well. So yeah, that’s basically what Dewar-e-Ehsas means, it basically means we all have to work together to create a better society. With empathy, sympathy, and humanity.
Hibah: A very good core principle. It’s really nice to see that, especially from the founder. Something that I also wanted to ask was: do you have any specific projects you want to highlight from your organization? Anything specific that you would like to mention regarding Dewar-e-Ehsas. What projects are happening right now?
Fatima: Dewar-e-Ehsas isn’t a one goal-oriented organization. I mean we do not focus just on poor people. Right now, we’re in 3 collaborations. One with Afsana, of course, and one with another organization, Minds Matter, and a third with another organization, United Rescue. United Rescue basically works for pets who have been suffering from diseases, malnutrition, and stuff like this, and they provide them help. We are doing a donation currently through them to give them animal feed, or money, whatever we get from the people around us so that they can go and help those animals who really need it. Minds Matter basically works for the mental health of students in Pakistan and not just students, people in Pakistan generally. The current education situation in Pakistan is really bad, and is really affecting our mental health, and I, as a student, know this. I wanted to do something that could generally help, could raise a little awareness, and help a small population. So that’s what we’re working with them on. And Afsana is our biggest collaboration until now and the longest collaboration. Our main goal is to work for women, women rights and anything that can help us better the place for women in our society. Right now, what we have planned is a donation drive for pregnant women who really need our help, poor women who are not able to get the ration for a month and are in need of it. So these are the basic collaborations we have for now. Another thing that I would like to mention is Master Ayub, who is basically a teacher in Islamabad. He teaches poor students; it’s about 250 to 300 students and he doesn’t take anything from them, any fees or anything. He teaches them for free. He’s got multiple national and international awards as well. What our general goal is to just go there, give stationery, and just to help him in this cause. His story was so inspiring, like, how he suffered at the start of his life in his youth and then he found his real meaning and now he is helping these other youths find meaning as well. (They’re) becoming engineers, doctors making the future of Pakistan better. So yeah, that’s something I’d really like to mention here because that was one of the moments, we really felt that we were really helping someone and making an impact.
Hibah: I think it’s super important for, especially the youth, to understand who they are and figure out what their identity is and they can you know build on it, that’s really great, masha’Allah. So, another question we have is: what has drawn you to this cause and why does Dewar-e-Ehsas matter to you?
Fatima: Okay, so Dewar-e-Ehsas was basically just a general idea in my mind. I kind of read news a lot and I watch news channels a lot, so I saw a news report that an old man died of extreme cold, and because of a lack of food, lack of jobs. Which is obviously not something that we can change right now, that’s (the) government’s job. Lack of food, lack of blankets, lack of good enough clothes to survive through the winter, those were the things that triggered something in me. When I read this news, I was in my bed in a very warm blanket with a heater. So, I just saw that if I’m blessed enough to have these, why can’t I just get another blanket and give it to someone who can use it. Why can’t other people have these blessings as well? If Allah (SWT) has given us all of these, then it’s our duty to give to other people as well. So, yeah that’s when the idea of Dewar-e-Ehsas started in my mind and slowly I guess it grew up and it developed that what I can do is the power that youth has and if we have, if we put our minds to something it’s just a matter of time and if it that we can actually that goal. So, I developed this idea and from a dewar (wall) it came to a whole organization of 30 people who are continuously working towards a better society. So yeah, that’s how Dewar-e-Ehsas’s idea basically came into my mind. Why does it matter to me? Well, it’s basically the only way that I’m giving back to society. It’s basically the only way, the only job that Allah (SWT) gave to those who are privileged. I am fulfilling that job as a young mind and I do plan on taking this cause or goal of mine into my adulthood as well as much as I can. And help everyone around me that I can.
Hibah: That’s so great masha’Allah. I was reading your story about the man (who) passed away in the winter and it’s really nice that you brought that moment with you, that even though that was a moment of hardship for him, you took something from that and made it a goal to better the community. I wish you success in this, insha’Allah. What are some personal experiences and moments with Dewar-e-Ehsas that have stood out to you specifically?
Fatima: I’ll mention Master Ayub’s drive here again. When we went there, we basically gave out stationery. The age groups of students there were a lot. Like we had there, children from pre-nursery to children in 9th and 10th. And when we gave away (stationery), those smiles were what we were working towards. After that we had a chat with Master Ayub. And seeing how he told us the stories about students who were suffering a lot but were still willing to get an education. A child whose mother died in a fire a few days ago. A child whose family had an accident, (in which) his father, brother, and mother died, and he only survived. He was helping these students build up a future who lost so much in just a little amount of time. And if he wasn’t there those children would have suffered on the streets. That’s what normally happens when you do not get help, and at that moment I realized I’m helping a child who has suffered so much, and I’m helping him make a better future for himself even though he doesn’t understand what’s going around him right now. What’s happening in his life, how much he has lost, but in the future, if he remembers this, he is going to remember at that time that I had people who supported me through that and I made this future for myself. And so that was really inspiring for me, and that inspired me to lookout for more collaborations and to become more impactful. At the start I didn’t have that idea for collaborations, but I guess a few organizations reached out themselves, as well. But after that, I thought we should expand our work area, we should expand our goals as well as what Dewar-e-Ehsas was meant to do. It was meant to mitigate every single bad impact on society. So, yeah, that was the moment where I realized we should expand out more, and in that moment I really realized that whatever I’m doing is helping someone, helping someone make a better life for themselves.
Hibah: I really like, you know, when different organizations have these core principles of empathy and helping out others. Because there are so many larger organizations out there who don’t know what’s going on sometimes. I appreciate talking to you and you giving me a rundown about all of this and your personal experience as well. It’s a very big thing to do, and the fact that you guys are nurturing the youth as well, in terms of their future, that’s a really huge blessing that you know you have with you. So again, may Allah give you success. So why do you think others across the world, including us, should consider your line of work?
Fatima: Why should we care? Ok, so, basically this is a general question, but I’ll answer it in this way. Everyone around us, every person that we know, that person would know a person who needs help. And if he could provide that help, whether financial, whether if he wants to talk, whether if he is going through something, and he needs some support, if that person provides that help to that other person, that person could change his life, could go through that grief with the support of someone. So, I think the reason that everyone should care about what Dewar-e-Ehsas’s team is doing is because we- I told you Master Ayub’s story. Helping a person can impact that person’s life so much, that if you even donate a single blanket that could save a life. That is such a big thing to even think about. So, I think everyone should care about my line of work, because I work for the community and if there is no community we do not exist. That’s basically the goal that I’m trying to achieve: making this place a better place for everyone. People in this generation should care because if they make this society a better place, they will leave a better society for the next generation as well.
Hibah: No, definitely, with a community we are strong, without a community, everything is divided. So, I think that’s really good, masha’Allah. Another question we have here is: what do you think that others can do to support your work? Like what else can people across the globe, people in Pakistan, what can we do to help you out?
Fatima: Okay so, I think there are three things. The first is that you can help us with our promotion, you can, you can take up our post and post it on your social media, let your friends and family know about it, that Dewar-e-Ehsas is doing this stuff and they need your help. Another thing that you can help us with is donating. We need donations, the collaborations that we have taken up all require donation drives. We need it in the form of money, or in some cases clothing or, for example United Rescue, they need feed as well. So that’s basically what you can help us with. Either you help us promote online or through your family and friends or what you can do is you can donate as well. The third thing I personally think is that if this idea popped into my mind, this can pop into anyone’s mind. So, what I want you to do is to encourage those people who really think that they can make a change, but they don’t have resources. I didn’t have any resources: what I can tell you right now is that I suffered for two years in school. I had to stand outside my principal’s office for hours throughout the day, and in the end, she would be like: I’ll talk to you tomorrow about this. All she had to do was take my proposal and just show it to the head. And at that point I didn’t realize, I was immature, I was young, I didn’t really know that I should go forward with this and how would I go forward with this without the help of school. So, I basically suffered through I guess half of my 10th and the whole of my 11th (school year). As soon as my A-levels started, I went to the head and I gave her the proposal myself. She accepted in a minute. She was like, start working with it. At that point I realized that I really needed to stand up for myself. I shouldn’t take others’ help to do that and after that, I faced some other problems as well, because when we do something through a school you need to get permission from a lot of people. A drive that I could’ve done in a week, would’ve taken a month or two months. So, I completely chose to do all of this independently. I took the team of thirty people that I had gathered and we all started to work together. We didn’t take any help from school. At the first drive I was kind of very scared, because COVID was at its peak. Even if one case came up, although we had a government letter, if one case came up Dewar-e-Ehsas would be done. But alhamdulillah, all of my team members were very efficient. I went to the drive myself, it was a food drive. So, we were wearing masks, gloves, and all the SOPs were followed. So, alhamdulillah, it was a very good experience. So after that, I learnt that you don’t need anyone’s help to start something when you try to help other people. When you start to think about helping others, Allah (SWT) is going to make the way, Allah (SWT) is going to make the way to get the donations to you, to get the permissions to you, all the things that are required so the last piece of advice that I would like to give to those who have such ideas in their mind: go for it, either it will fail or it will pass. If it does pass you will be able to help so many people with their lives, and they will remember you as a person who impacted their lives.
Hibah: That’s so great, masha’Allah. I totally understand the thing with COVID. We (Afsana) also started out during COVID times, and though it was all virtual it can be difficult in an organization, right? I guess that kind of leads me to my last question: what kept you motivated despite these challenges? You mentioned the COVID peak happening, and you still powered through that, and you still power through having to wait to get the proposal. What motivated you to continue doing that?
Fatima: Basically, I saw my family, my parents. What they did was that they donated around us. I saw a lot of people suffering around me. I have a village and there are some really poor people over there, and I’ve seen them suffer and they come to our house to get something, sometimes they come to get clothes, food or stuff. So, I’ve seen them suffer. When I started this project, I had that determination in mind, that I need to help those people. As the youth of this country, as the future of this country, and as a human being, it’s my duty to do it. So, what really kept me motivated was that I need to help people and a little bit of hard work on my part is going to help them. I had to face those two years of constantly standing outside my principal’s office. That was inefficient so I won’t elaborate on that, but I went through it and now I’m so happy that I did this. After Dewar-e-Ehsas started, I did face some management problems as well. Some of the team members weren’t that efficient, but alhamdulillah we have a very efficient team now, and we’re working towards a goal, and I’m really happy that I came through it. I basically dream to be an astronaut, so the passion that I had for my dream, that is the passion I wanted to implement on this as well. And with the support of all my team members- everyone was so supportive, and literally some of them literally told me to go on and at some point, I was afraid of talking to teachers, because that was a lack of confidence. Thank God I grew up with this project, and now I don’t have that problem. But at that point, many people supported me in my team and many members told me to go on with this, and we’ll work together on this. So yeah, that’s what basically kept me motivated.
Hibah: That’s so great, masha’Allah. You know, you mentioned the thing about confidence as a founder and that, as someone who starts an organization, you really need to step up. Masha’Allah, you have and you can definitely see the fruit of that. May Allah (SWT) give you success in both worlds. I appreciate you coming in for the interview, we’ll stop here. Thank you!
Here is a recording of the interview itself:
From Afsana: We've been very pleased with our collaboration with Dewar-e-Ehsas, and this partnership owes its success to our shared commitment to empathy and belief in collective action. We cherish the work we've gotten to do together so far, and hope our relationship continues has to have an impact far into the future. For that to be possible, we will need your support! Join us in our mission to secure a brighter future for Pakistan's girls. It's only together than we can make this dream a reality.
Transcribed by Salman Tariq
Edited by Adil Rahim Hyder