“Our problem is that since we are the residents of [the] riverside and known as ‘Boat People,’ our children are suffering,” says a man who lives along the Indus River in Pakistan. The residents of his community make baskets and sell fish, and transport people along the river with boats they spend months making by hand.
“We are living a difficult life here because we neither have any school here nor any education facility provided by the government,” says another community member.
Some people say “these sailors are self-dependent, they are not a burden on the Pakistan economy,” explains politician Zartaj Gul. But in reality, she says, “we have cornered them and made them the untouchables of Pakistan.”
These excerpts from ”Life of Sailors,” one of 20 short films created by students at the Interactive Resource Center (IRC) in Lahore, Pakistan, highlight the economic and social struggles of a little-known community. Like ”Life of Sailors,” each video seeks to tell the story of a marginalized group within Pakistani society—and in less than 10 minutes each, say IRC Director Mohammad Waseem and Risham Waseem, IRC media project officer and Mohammad’s daughter.
Waseem says the IRC, a Solidarity Center ally, aims to promote social justice, relying on the talent and enthusiasm of students, many of them from Islamia University Bahawalpur and Bahauddin Zakariya University.
The IRC specializes in citizen journalism, in which members of the public play an active role in collecting, reporting and disseminating news and information. The organization provides workshops for students not only on how to make documentaries but also on the importance of human rights advocacy. The 20 short films are just some of the final products of this interdisciplinary training.
In making these films, students were encouraged to uncover human stories that do not reach mainstream media, such as the story of the riverside residents. Another documentary shares the voices of street-side makers of khussas, traditional leather footwear in Pakistan and North India.
The videos do not just remain in the classroom—the IRC ensures they are seen by a broad spectrum of Pakistanis. For instance, the IRC organized a festival to showcase the films, followed by an open discussion.
Further, through creative and cultural tools, including radio, film and theater, the IRC encourages community mobilization and human rights advocacy. Waseem says citizen journalism is the most effective way to raise awareness for people who are denied their rights.
He cites the example of a student who filmed a report on a hospital in her community that she believed was not addressing people’s needs. Just “one minute of this video,” he says, was more effective “than a six-month U.N. (United Nations) investigation.”
The IRC’s message to marginalized groups in Pakistan, says Waseem, is that “they should have space in their country too.”