Citizens deliver on Project Clean Up promise

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Sept 24, 2012.

Islamabad – They arrived at the scene with trash bags, brooms, paint and good intentions.

Around 100 students, young professionals and members of the civil society showed up in front of Islamabad’s Serena Hotel on Sunday to take part in the Project Clean Up for Peace, a one-time initiative taken to clean up the mess created by three days of violent protests against the controversial film Innocence of Muslim and fix damaged property.

The clean up project was initiated through the social media efforts of Islamabad resident Faran Rafi. It was carried out in several cities simultaneously.

Participants swept the part of Khayaban-e Suharwardi in front of the Serena Hotel and the adjacent green belt with brooms. They picked up the trash and other items damaged during the protests from the road.

Talking to the Express Tribune, Rafi said, “I’m surprised that so many people have turned out for the event. I had not expected there would even be an event when I first tweeted about the clean up.”

On Friday, protesters had set fire to a duty room in front of the Serena Hotel, which belonged to the DSP of the Islamabad Traffic Police. Project Clean Up participants removed the ash, soot and debris from inside the room, and painted the walls of both the room and a nearby police check post which was also affected by the protests.

Some participants carried placards and posters highlighting the message of peace in Islam.

Inspector General Islamabad Police Bani-Amin Khan also visited the area and appreciated the effort.

“We are very encouraged that the civil society has come out today on its own to help the police,” Khan said.

Around 1 pm, the participants moved to the Jinnah Avenue near Parade Chowk in a bus provided by the Islamabad Police. There, they cleared the debris left by protests from the road and painted the road barriers which were battered during the protests.

The participants held a brief candlelight vigil near the Blue Area and observed a minute of silence to honor those who lost their lives during the protests.

A five-member group also went to the Polyclinic Hospital to enquire after the health of a policeman who was injured in the protests.

Rafi thanked all the people who showed up for the event.

“You have proved that Islam doesn’t promote or provoke violence. I wish such violent incidents don’t happen again, but if the country needs us again, I hope you all will be here to help,” he said, addressing the crowd after the candlelight vigil.

Rafi said he hoped people who protested this week would also realize their violent actions are not the way to register a protest with the international community.

Earlier, promoting a positive image of Pakistanis and emphasizing the power of an individual’s efforts toward creating change seemed to be the common mantra among the participants.

“We want to show that there are good people in Pakistan who want to improve things in the country, not break our own property,” Ayesha Gohar, a graduate student, said.

“It’s great that the organisers were able to mobilize a significant number of people in two days,” Taqi Haider, an ACCA student, said. “If individuals play their part, it could lead to collective gains in the society.”

Moonis Bilal, who works at Telenor in Islamabad, said, “This effort might not be much, but we should do whatever we can to present a positive image of our nation.”

Some of the participants thought the event should become a regular activity.

“This initiative should not end today,” Sofia Mir, a student at Rawalpindi’s National College of Arts, said. “Pakistanis have the spirit to bring about change, but unfortunately it keeps dying down. We need to keep up our efforts and revive our spirit from time to time.”

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