There is More to Us than Extremism: 10 Extraordinary Pakistanis of 2014

Published in The Express Tribune

Pakistan isn’t an extraordinary country. But Pakistan is a country brimming with extraordinary people. They are not perfect – yet therein lies their beauty. Extraordinary Pakistanis don’t wait for a perfect opportunity, a perfect personality or a perfect external landscape to make an impact.

This is the first insight we stumbled upon after interviewing extraordinary Pakistanis for a series of articles published on our website Extraordinary Pakistanis. Unlike the rest of us, extraordinary Pakistanis aren’t turned off by the problems plaguing this country. Where we see hopelessness, they see problems they can solve. Where we see a failed state, they see a nation waiting to be saved. And where we see escape as the only viable option, they see selfless determination to put things right.

Here is our round up of 10 extraordinary Pakistanis whose stories made an impact on us in 2014:

Haris Suleman – teenage pilot

Haris Suleman is the 17-year-old boy who began his venture to fly around the world in 30 days to raise money for schools in Pakistan, and lost his life to the cause when his plane went down into the Pacific Ocean.

Suleman was a thrill and adventure seeker like any other 17-year-old Pakistani boy. However, what’s different about him is his sense of purpose and drive to break new boundaries, which is visible from his writing,

“I’m preparing for the biggest adventure of my life; to break the world record by flying round the world in a single-engine plane in just 30 days,” wrote Suleman, before setting out on his journey.

“I will be flying as pilot-in-command with my father Babar, who will only take over the controls in an emergency situation. If we succeed, I will be the youngest person ever to accomplish this daredevil feat. But I’m not just flying to break a world record; I’m flying to raise money for The Citizens Foundation (TCF), a non-profit organisation that is leading Pakistan’s silent education revolution to help educate Pakistan’s poorest children both in urban slums and remote, rural villages.”

Mushtaq Chhapra – founding director and chairperson of TCF

In 2014, The Citizens Foundation proudly achieved a target it set for itself, back in 1995 when it first started, to establish 1000 purpose-built schools all across Pakistan, and make education accessible at grassroots level. TCF is a shining example of hard work, selfless devotion, and conviction – a movement started and nurtured by a team of six extraordinary Pakistanis.

One of these individuals is Mushtaq Chhapra, the founding director and the chairperson of TCF, but more than that, an ordinary citizen silently helping millions of children from slums and rural areas of Pakistan to pursue their dreams and build a progressive future for themselves, their families, and their country.

TCF has managed to make a credible identity for itself over the years, attracting donations from all over the world and marking its presence all over the country. But as expected, the ride was never a smooth one. The businessman-cum-philanthropist mused on how the journey has unfolded,

“It has been such an extraordinary ride full of bumps, challenges and criticisms. From the word go we decided we wanted to build 1000 schools – we didn’t want a small target. So many people said we were mad to invest so much money and effort or that it’s impossible,” he said.

“But we felt that a change was needed from within, and on a larger scale in order to impact lives. So we just kept our heads low and continued to follow our vision. The rest is history!”

When asked about what gave him the motivation and strength to continue on, despite the fact that there were no financial benefits for him, he gave a response that is worth pondering over for all Pakistanis,

“The motivation is the gratification when you see someone’s life change right in front of you, and to know that you had some small hand in that. The TCF kids, who probably would never have known life beyond the poverty and difficulties of their households, turn up with stable careers as teachers, doctors and engineers. In that moment, it all seems worth it – and so much more.”

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