The people who feel sympathy for humanity are many but those who stand up and ready to do something for them are very less. Zar Aslam is one such lady who is courageous and always ready to take initiatives. She is the President and CEO of Environment Protection Foundation. Her history of working for humanity is long but for the readers it is enough to have an idea that she spent more than three decades in the USA and with her jobs she had been working with The Habitat for Humanity to build homes around the San Francisco Bay area and in Bangladesh as part of a mission. In education sector she taught kids in the less affluent neighborhoods of San Jose. For the last four years she is in Pakistan and working laboriously to make Pakistani environment clean, green and peaceful. Although she was doing marvelous work for the last four years but recently made big news because of her initiative of pink rickshaw in which driver and passenger both would be women. In an exclusive interview with Sunday Plus she talked about her projects and her new initiative of pink rickshaw . Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: First of all tell us that what were the reasons of leaving a comfortable life in the USA and coming back to Pakistan?

Pakistan is a beautiful country and my dear homeland. In 2010 I decided to tour about the world. During this tour I also came to Pakistan and spent four months here. During my stay the thing which disturbed me very much was pollution and heaps of garbage at every nook and corner. So when I was leaving back for California, I was very clear about my next objective. It was to start an NGO related to environment. So I went back and worked to establish a non-profit NGO. It took me six to seven months to register it, making its boards of directors and sorting out my financiers. In this way I established Environment Protection Foundation.

Q: What this organization is doing in Pakistan?

This organization is doing different projects. Teaching tolerance to school going children and indulging them in different activities to make them productive citizens of Pakistan is one such project. Then the efforts for green and clean environment and the latest initiative of pink rickshaw for women are prominent ones.

Q: Tell us something about your school activities with children?

In this project we are working with eight schools in which there are three missionary schools, one is SOS, two LGS and two are Grammer Schools. In this way we have taken all the representatives of society from top to bottom. There are four seminars for these children which are about social responsibility and environment, about tolerance, about population explosion and about green technology including planting trees, solar energy. Every week we do some activity. For example, we have a selected a school and we call it a green campus in which children plant trees, paints the building, fixing the solar systems, putting bins and hanging many shades. All these activities are to make the campus green in every aspect and children are involved in these activities. In every activity we talk about tolerance with these children.

Q: How do you teach tolerance to children and what is its link with environment?

We hold different activities in which students are asked to volunteer. For example, recently we held an activity in a school in which eight students participated. Every student was asked to represent one community living in Pakistan. One was representing Christian community and the other was representing Sikh and then Hindu, Parsi etc. They were asked to stand out and deliver speeches as if they were contesting general elections and their speeches were to convince other that how they were equally deserved candidates as anyone other belong to majority. Such activities create balance and students come to know about different perspectives about different communities. The saddest part is that there are many divisions in our society, be it on religious base or on economic base. Our aim is to break taboos through different community sessions. We also make children visit churches, mosques etc. These children of different schools meet each other on a regular basis. Similarly there are painting activities.

As the second part of your question is concerned, all these activities are under the umbrella of Environment Protection Foundation. Making atmosphere green is of no use if people hate each other on religious, sectarian or social basis. We are making the environment green on all levels and creating harmony in society in every aspect. The atmosphere has to be clean, green, happy and tolerant and only then it makes sense of peaceful atmosphere.

Q: In all these efforts how the idea of launching pink rickshaw came to your mind?

That is very interesting. Many females are part of my team who usually have to take public transport. These young ladies told me often that they get harassed while travelling on public transport. It really doesn’t matter that either it is morning, afternoon, or evening or either they are waiting for the rickshaw or the bus or for any other public transport. That was the one issue. The second issue is that since I work in the development sector, I realized that when we talk about the empowerment of women, we talk a lot and act very little. During such activities bunch of literature is published and lot of money is spent but nothing comes out. Lot of working women don’t have their own cars. So my motivation was to do something for working women and introduce a rickshaw on which they can’t only travel but could also generate some extra income. For example, the women before going to their work place can easily arrange picks and drops of school children. They can bring and take back their other female colleagues also. In this way they are not only travelling safe but also generating some extra income. Even those women who don’t have jobs can easily go around their community and arrange same thing for them.

Q: How will you encourage women to drive a rickshaw?

I think it is not a thing which I have to encourage because the demand from these young women is very high. I don’ have to sell idea to anyone. These women can’t wait and keep me asking that what they have to do and when the service will start. The demand is already there but the matter is how to implement this project? Even the best idea fails if you don’t implement it properly.

Q: What will be the process of getting a rickshaw?

There will be a compete process. Once we will get the application we will do a thorough screening. We will take all the information that where the lady lives, why does she want the rickshaw and will she be able to pay back? We will also visit their homes, have dialogues with their family for the approval and will also sign a form in the presence of two witnesses. Once selection will be complete, then training process will start. We will also give them some mechanical training for minor trouble shoots. There are also plans for making a mobile unit for the help of these ladies in case of any emergency. Once we will sensitise them about all these issues then we will hand over to them the keys of the rickshaws.

Q: Tell us something about the details of rickshaw. How it is different from the rickshaws already on roads?

To keep things simple and easy for women we have asked the manufacturers to make some modification. For example, its side mirrors were small so these are replaced with bigger one; there is small fan and sunroof for better air system and its wiper is automatic.

Q: Will you give these rickshaws on upfront or on instalments?

We will not give rickshaw to anyone on upfront because in that way women will take the rickshaw and will not come back and someday her brother or husband will be driving that rickshaw. This will ultimately lose the control and we don’t want to lose control. The instalment will be very easy and the women will have to come once in the month and pay instalment and also share their experience – how much they earned and difficulties they faced during that month. This will further help us to solve their problems. That is the only way to make this project successful.

Q: What is the approximate cost?

The approximate cost of the present rickshaw is Rs. 275,000.

Q: What are the challenges in Rickshaw campaign?

The biggest challenge is to raise funds.