The walled city of Lahore; these words light up the imaginative centers of the brain and for a person like me, who has lived in Lahore for the last five years and has never visited that part of the city, these words make me think about this land that holds customs and traditions very close to itself. I was sure that the streets would not be as wide as the ones that we drive on but they would be colorful and full of life.

I recently got to know this amazing bunch of people, who are dedicated towards the improvement of our society. The Democratic Student’s Alliance (DSA), I am sure many of you know them and follow them diligently (In case, you don’t. You must!), is a student organization and they have started a free summer school for the children of Joseph Colony.

I decided to visit the summer school one day and help during the classes. The journey towards the colony was eye-opening. The Lahore that I know is very different. It has large roads, full of lights, all kinds of people walking the streets, the McDonaldization is pretty evident. In short, it’s the epitome of urbanization. The walled city is quite the opposite. We have managed to build brilliant structures in the new city but forgot about the preservation of the old ones. When you walk down those lanes, you realize that life has not significantly changed for them.

You notice the faces around and you see marks of struggle and hard work of a life time clearly etched across their faces. They still wake up every day and work all over again, and are stuck in this cycle that promises no better position.

Joseph Colony is also one of those many places that we have ignored. I hope most of you remember the incident that took place there three years ago. There is a huge board that claims that the place has been rehabilitated but only so. They are forced to live within those walls; walls that do not offer the best of life. Half of the habitants, after the incident, have not even furnished their houses due to the fear of somebody burning their places down again. We, after eight hours of work, come home. They are never sure if they will have that home for long.

“After the incident, we are all scared. This place used to be our home but now we are scared inside our own homes. We think twice before interacting with someone and have to be very careful while stepping out”, said one of the young girls.

The services that we take for granted are luxuries that they once glistened in their hopeful eyes. Now, remains a sullen silence, shattered rubbles of a forgotten dream. 

“We all just want a safe life. We want to be able to play in these streets again. We do not wish for huge things in life, just a little peace and safety”, they all chanted together.

Although the recent construction in the new city has also managed to reduce the number of trees, we are still better off than those living in that colony. There are no trees and no parks. No place for the children to play or the families to have a good and relaxing afternoon. Hospitals are non-existent and so are dispensaries. Girls as young as 15 are getting married and face severe health issues. The maximum education that the entire community receives is till grade 10.

DSA started the Summer School with the aim of reaching out to these marginalized populations. Each day offers a variety of topics for discussion and the idea behind it is to make them feel understood and to tell them that they are not alone, and that there are people outside the walls of the colony who do care about them. The young minds are taught ideas of conflict resolution, the importance of debate, the need to understand their responsibilities as a citizen, and the necessity of appreciating diversity and difference of opinion.

We were surprised to see the enthusiasm in those students and the warmth with which they welcomed us, despite being side-lined by the majority of this country. They were quick to pick up on ideas and were ready to implement them in their lives. Their eagerness and willingness to do something for themselves and for the community aroused hope within the hardest of us. They made it possible for us to believe that change is indeed not impossible to achieve.

And this interaction with them was a huge reality check. Often, too busy in our own lives, we tend to forget others living around us. The structures that we build should not increase disparity but rather bring everyone closer. The fruits of development should be shared by all. It is not just the responsibility of those leading us but also our own responsibility to not leave behind those who have lesser resources.