Good People Good Work
 
The Way to a Promising Future Lies in Nature: Pakistan’s Helga Ahmad (In Urdu)      
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Today’s Good People, Good Works will be presented in Urdu and English, with subtitles in Arabic, Aulacese (Vietnamese), Chinese, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malay, Mongolian, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Urdu and Thai.

Greetings, eco-friendly viewers, and welcome to Good People, Good Works on Supreme Master Television. This week’s episode features Helga Ahmad, the chairperson of a non-profit, nongovernmental organization called the Initiative for Rural and Sustainable Development which is based in Pakistan’s national capital of Islamabad.

One of the Initiative’s projects is the Funkor Child Art Center which promotes awareness of environmental protection, preservation of traditional culture, human rights, moral values and peace through art appreciation and book reading.

Ms. Ahmad is a nationally recognized environmentalist who in 2007 received the prestigious Fatima Jinnah Gold Medal from Pakistan’s Ministry of Women’s Affairs for her outstanding contributions to society. Her profile also appeared in “Green Pioneers,” a book published by the United Nations Development Programme that showcases those making significant contributions to field of environmental conservation in Pakistan.

Helga Ahmad was born and grew up in Bavaria, Germany. She later came to Pakistan which she has now made home for more than half a century. Her husband is Jamil Ahmad who previously worked as a Pakistani civil servant in the nation’s frontier areas and as a minister in Pakistan’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Due to her husband’s position, she was able to travel throughout Pakistan and she became involved in promoting sustainable development and environmental awareness after witnessing the challenges faced by the underprivileged segments of society.

So , after my husband retired from government service, I was active with the National Craft Council of Pakistan, and we were trying to promote traditional crafts. And being personally interested in it, I was sent to different areas to see how one could improve. So near Multan there is an area called Crorebhaka and Crorebhaka has beautiful block-printed work and tie-and-dye work, done by the local women and men.

Now the dyes which these women were using were highly toxic. And these women, the moment they were finished with the dyes, they used to throw it in the courtyard. And the children used to play. And naturally I was trying to teach the women that, look, this is very unhealthy, and your children become very ill because of it.

Then I was able to also teach them how to use a local tree which is called the Neem tree, which is now an international tree. It's called Neem, the global tree of the future. And the people didn't even know that the Neem tree is very good for any type of skin problem. So I taught them how to use the Neem tree, but simultaneously I also tried to look around for funding to teach the women how to use the old technique of vegetable dyeing. So we got an expert from Bangladesh, and we tried our level best to have a workshop for 10 days in that area.

The use of agro-chemicals endangers the health of rural residents, and this is another area of concern for Ms. Ahmad.

Cotton is grown and cotton has enormous, high levels of pesticide sprays. And because of the pesticide, the cottonwood, which is used by the rural women as fuel, I took some cottonwood with me to the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency laboratory, and we discovered that the cottonwood still has a lot of pesticide.

So the woman who is cooking the food, and for instance, the pregnant girl is told by her mother-in-law, "You sit comfortably and you do the cooking." Now in the process of it, this girl, when she cooks the food, she also inhales the fumes of the cottonwood. So she herself, as well as the unborn child, are automatically weakened.

When Helga Ahmad was a child in Bavaria, she and her family would forage in the forest for edible wild berries and plants because of serious food shortages during wartime. Ms. Ahmad is thus familiar with many medicinal plants and herbs. One of her success stories is how she helped show some of the rural residents of the Gilgit-Baltistan region in northern Pakistan how the sea-buckthorn can better their health and prevent landslides.

And on one visit, that was about 15 years ago, up into the Karakoram, I discovered the sea-buckthorn. Now sea-buckthorn is a plant which we as children in Bavaria, our mothers used to send us out to pick the berries from the sea-buckthorn shrubs. And our mothers used to make cough-syrups because during the war and even after the war, we lived off natural herbs. We lived off mushrooms, and the food which the forest gave us.

I mean in Bavaria our forests are unbelievable. I still dream about them. So our mothers used to send us out to collect different plants for herbal medicines and herbal teas and the rest of it; it was an amazing time thanks to the forests which we had.

So when I saw this berry up there, I asked these people, "What are you doing with it?" And they said, "Oh, this is for the goats and the birds who are living off it." I said, "What do you mean? This is a gift of God, who has given it to the mountain people so that during the winter, all their illnesses are removed."

Several years later when she was in northern Pakistan again, she ran into Mr. Mohammad Shafa who had served as her translator six years earlier during her visit to the area. He had taken her advice to heart and showed Ms. Ahmad photos of his family collecting sea-buckthorn berries.

I was so excited by it. Not only did he do whatever I had told the people to do, but he also made his son-in-law, who was a welder, weld together a fruit juicer, a fruit press. Now I had told those people that if you extract the juice from the berries, you have to have at least two spoons of the juice per day during the winter months. And it will keep the coughs and colds away.

Now this person, he collected one kilogram of berries, extracted the juice, and measured it spoon-wise. So he knew exactly how many berries he had to collect because he had eight children and there was husband and wife, so there were 20 spoonfuls per day. So he collected that many berries for three months during the winter.

Then he extracted the juice and he was drying the rest of the residue and he selected some of the husk and put it in his bread, so that also became extra nutrients, and then the rest of it he gave to his cow. Well after the local people up there discovered that he's doing all those things, and that their health has improved, suddenly the local people also got interested in it.

Lack of clean drinking water is another long-term challenge that the government of Pakistan is confronting. Ms. Ahmad is also concerned about this issue, and she recommends rain harvesting and water recycling as measures to enhance the sustainability of the water supply.

In Libya, if a house wants to get a completion certificate, the government officer comes and looks if there is a rainwater- harvesting system functioning in the house, if there is a wastewater recycling system in the house, and then the completion certificate is given. Now in Islamabad we don't have any of this.

So since many, many years, I have been writing about it, I've been talking on television about it, and I've been going to concerned government officials also, trying to tell them that our water problem is an artificial problem, because Islamabad is being built up very aggressively, and in olden days when the rain fell, the ground absorbed the rain.

Now on many occasions, people are selling organic vegetables. Now if you have contaminated water, how is your vegetable "organic?" Because our water has contamination, our sewerage water, we don't have a proper sewerage system, everything goes into our rivers, right up from the Karakorum, right up from the Hindu Kush, everything goes into the river system and it is washed down, and naturally the soil absorbs it.

So when we talk about "organic" you have to have rainwater. So anyone who actually wants to grow organic vegetables should also be made to collect the rainwater, so that in the end they can use rainwater for the vegetables. Even recycling of wastewater, there are so many techniques now for recycling wastewater and using it for cultivation.

I think I remember about 18 years ago, we had Professor (Teruo) Higa from Japan, who had developed effective micro-organisms that feed on all the contaminants. And he introduced it in Pakistan. Recently I discovered that the National Agricultural Research Council of Islamabad is still producing it, so I got some of this material.

Fortunately, the government of Pakistan is also highly supportive of Helga Ahmad’s idea about collecting rainwater.

Now we have built-up areas, we have road systems, we have parking areas, and the rain goes into the storm drains, and it gushes off and it causes floods in the low-lying areas. So we should do something about it. Well, luckily last year, Capital Development (Authority) of Islamabad got a new chairman who was fully aware about my perseverance in rainwater harvesting.

So he invited me and a committee was formed about rainwater harvesting. So there were some very committed people working in that committee, and in Islamabad now there are three projects, three areas where rainwater has been collected. And amazingly, during those last heavy rains, in certain areas the water table has risen by 30 feet just because of these rainwater-harvesting initiatives.

To close, Ms. Ahmad has a final message for us all.

And I think for nature to heal, we should be using our religious groups to preach it, because the Qur'an teaches it. The Qur'an teaches us that God has given us this Earth in our hands, and we have to look after it, and we have to, for our future generation. Now that is in the Qur'an.

We salute you, Ms. Helga Ahmad and those part of the Initiative for Rural and Sustainable Development for your deep concern about the future of the people and beautiful natural environment of Pakistan, and for your tireless efforts to create a green, healthy way of life for generations to come. May Heaven bless Pakistan with ever brighter days ahead.

Wise viewers, thank you for your company on today’s program. May all inhabitants of planet Earth be immersed in the healing, protective power of Mother Nature.

Wise viewers, thank you for your company on today’s program. May all inhabitants of planet Earth be immersed in the healing, protective power of Mother Nature.

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