By Naween A. Mangi
My grandfather was compulsively compassionate. As a child, I remember this quiet and gentle soul, offering love, understanding and a helping hand, to whomever he came across. Thieves and con men were no exception. When his family objected, he smiled and offered compassion anyway. Compassion was a trait at the center of his being.
When I started the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust in his memory in 2008, the aim was to create a model village in his ancestral hometown of Khairo Dero, a village in southern Pakistan. A model that could be replicated elsewhere in turning poverty-stricken and forgotten rural hamlets into habitable places; complete with access to clean water, a sanitation network, housing for all, education, income-generating opportunities, and health-care services.
As we began the process of engaging the community of 3,700 people in their own development, something felt sorely amiss. While projects were doing well and impact was visible, the work seemed somehow to be standing in isolation. Then, I came across the Charter for Compassion, became a signatory, and started thinking about how we could bring compassion into village life, creating a binding force that would weave our work and our community together.
When we opened a community center and park in 2011, we documented our symbolic commitment to practicing compassion by displaying the Charter in our Community Hall. We then started by teaching our trust’s employees and volunteers about compassion and seeking their views on how we can implement this approach in our daily lives.
Since we wanted to make compassion real, a part of village life, and a practice rather than a notion, we began holding regular activities exploring how to live compassionately. Some of the events we routinely host are:
-Readings from the Charter for Compassion and group discussions.
-Readings from Karen Armstrong’s Letter to Pakistan and Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.
-Short plays developed and performed by village children on the theme of compassion.
-Drawing competitions about compassion.
-Compassion Counter: We maintain a journal at the Community Center where adults and children can come and record their acts of compassion. We’ve crossed 700 acts and are aiming to hit 1,000 by the summer. Two examples: a schoolboy took a few extra moments to clear away stones from the road so passengers wouldn’t be hurt and on a chilly January morning, and a teacher brought in one of her favorite sweaters for a maid who didn’t have any warm clothes.
-Compassionate Living Day: We celebrate this without schedule and as often as our community feels we need to center ourselves and come back to the mindful practice of compassion. The day is marked by cultural performances, plays and speeches on how we can treat fellow villagers as we would ourselves would like to be treated.
As we began taking these small, practical steps, we started noticing a change in the way villagers interacted with each other.
“People always used to bully me and make fun of my speech and gait, and in turn, I also used to misbehave with them,” says Rashid Gachal, a 12-year-old diagnosed with cerebral palsy. “Seeing the love and compassion I got from the staff since the program began, villagers also started treating me with love and in turn I also behave very well with them.”
We were so heartened by these countless individual stories that we added Compassion Campaign to the list of projects on our website and continued to spread the word, inviting more people to participate. We went for the easiest, most visible targets first.
“Earlier, children were constantly complaining about each other and picking fights in the park,” says Zoya Parveen, a trainer at the trust’s Community Center. “Since we began our compassion campaign, we notice how these kids offer each other a turn on the swings and slides without our intervention.”
This led us to our next step and we started asking ourselves how we can make all our projects in the village more compassionate. We pondered how we could make the process of documenting which candidates most urgently needed a hand pump to access water, or materials to build a home or a micro-loan to set up a small business more infused with empathy. And again, we thought the smallest steps are the best place to start.
“As volunteers for the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust, we are taught to practice compassion in everything we do,” says Tariq Kango, a 15-year-old student. “So we are not supposed to just take patients to the hospital but accompany them with an understanding for their suffering. And in this process, I’ve learned that the practice of compassion brings me so much happiness and great joy.”
Soon, we also started noting changes in the way people interact with our organization that is now at the center of village development. Individual demands of “more for me” started to slowly give way to the idea of sharing.
“I was a beneficiary in the first group of women who received micro-loans to start small businesses in 2011,” says Mashkoora Mirbahar, a 35-year-old woman, who spent years begging in the fields for food to feed her children in the absence of an income. “I also became part of the group that discusses compassion. When a meeting of past and potential loan candidates was called, I attended. But when asked whether old candidates should get loans again and whether I would like a new loan, I said no. I already received that benefit and now the opportunity should be given to other needy women. This is how I chose to practice the concept of compassion I learned here.”
Most recently, we lost our sweet Waheeda, a heart patient in her twenties who died on April 2 after post-surgery complications. We came back, in our grief, to compassion. In our condolence and prayer meeting the next morning, we decided on a new compassion theme to make constant practice easy: Each Person Matters.
In a letter to our trust’s employees that day, my heart deep in mourning, I offered these words:
Service without love, without warmth, without truly giving of your deepest self, is no service at all. As we set out each day in service of our community, let us always ask ourselves if we are showing each person we serve that they truly matter.
The same day, Waheeda’s husband, Javed Depar, came to us with this consolation:
“I could never have arranged my wife’s surgery if the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust had not made all the arrangements and provided funds,” he said. “But what truly moved me was the courage, support and deep compassion they provided me. This created a warm, family-like feeling that will always stay with me even though I lost my wife.”
In today’s Pakistan, there is often talk of revolution; when it will finally happen, how it can be brought about, what forces will be involved. No one can deny revolution is what our people so desperately need. But can a true revolution be brought about by grit, force and power? That may cause change, yes. But isn’t revolution ultimately meant to improve the lives of a people weighed down by an endless struggle to survive? What good, otherwise, is a revolution to those helpless against a system that provides them no skills, no jobs, no access to healthcare? In our little village, peoples’ lives are changing. Street children are drawing flowers and forming letters, once-starving women are making a living and casting off dependence, those suffering in sickness are finding a place to turn to and the community is pulling itself out of a centuries-old mire.
As I watch, in amazement, I have learned that a real revolution is small, silent and deeply empowering. In our little corner of the world, an uprising is underway and our commitment to compassion is the thread tying it all together.
Naween A. Mangi has been working as a financial journalist for 18 years. She is currently the Pakistan Bureau Chief for New York-based Bloomberg News. Naween started the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust in 2008 in memory of her late grandfather. The non-profit aims to create a model village in Khairo Dero, district Larkana, Pakistan, that can be replicated elsewhere.
Naween holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the London School of Economics and a master’s degree in business and economic journalism from New York University. She lives in Karachi.