Meet young activists making Balochistan better

In September 2020, when Bill Gates included Sikander Bizenjo, a Pakistani from the southwest of Balochistan, on his list of unsung heroes of the coronavirus pandemic in a Twitter post, Bizenjo was overwhelmed. The 31-year old had no clue that the philanthropist consistently ranked among the world’s wealthiest would praise him one day. Bizenjo who works for a private organisation in Karachi cofounded the Balochistan Youth Against Corona (BYAC) with his friend Banari Mengal, initially for the provision of food supplies in the peripheral areas of Balochistan. Supplies were short because of lockdowns and implementation of corona SOPs. At the time, all Bizenjo knew and cared about was helping the people of Balochistan, who at best had food only for four days in their homes and their poverty would only get worse during the pandemic, because of life coming to a halt as workplaces shut down and supplies stopped because of lockdowns.

During the pandemic, villagers approached Bizenjo for help, as they needed basic groceries. “In certain areas of the province, the government had blocked roads for virus control, and there was no transportation coming in from the metropolitan cities,” says Bizenjo. With their friends Yasir Baloch and Khalid Ismail, Bizenjo and Banari arranged food supplies for people, protective kits for frontline medical staff and doctors, and laptops and internet services for students to take online classes. “When we provided protective kits, masks and sanitisers to the young doctors who went to different areas of Balochistan to treat Covid patients,” he says, “a specially written thank you note accompanied the protective kits as a mark of appreciation to keep them motivated.”

Next, the BYAC team started building up a network, which soon emerged as ‘Ground Champions’. These were youth volunteers from across Balochistan who shared details about themselves and their area and it wasn’t long before a Whatsapp group was created where the influential youth of Balochistan along with students from different universities of Balochistan were added. They would update Bizenjo and his team on the requirements in a particular area of the province and through pin location, it was easy to reach the exact corona affected area with supplies.

“It was amazing how all of us met on that group,” says Bizenjo. “In the beginning we contributed our own funds for two drives, after which everyone put their trusted in us and wanted to help for the cause. Shumaila, our very first volunteer is always ready to go anywhere and do anything for BYAC.”

From the remaining funds initially collected for covid effected areas, libraries were set up in Panjgur, Dasht, Kohlu, Kharan, Khuzdar and Nal areas of Balochistan to help create an awareness about the pandemic and how to utilise lockdowns and time at home. This time, the success of their library campaign won them appreciation from the eminent writer Paulo Coelho in his tweet on August17, 2020 “Send books to Balochistan, they’re building reading rooms”. The campaign also generated funds to support students who were dropped out because they couldn’t attend online classes without laptops or who could not afford university fees.

“The purpose behind BYAC was to help the people of Balochistan in whatever way we can,” says Mengal. “After the devastating floods this year, Balochistan was screaming for help so we organised some drives for floods affectees in Makran.”

Khalid Ismail, a civil engineer by profession recalls how people would welcome them with hot cups of tea or glassfuls of lassi, as a token of thanks for helping them in their hour of need. “From the pandemic to the recent floods, we have faced a lot of difficulties, but our friends and donors have put their trust in us always with funds and goods for helping those in disaster zones,” he says.


Yasir Baloch, a doctor by profession shares how being a part of BYAC has altered his way of thinking. “The last few years have taught me so much more then I could have ever imagined,” he says. “I have become a firm believer of ‘the sky is not the limit’. When we started BYAC, we could not anticipate how much we would grow as a group, but our common denominator was Balochistan, even though its massiveness as a province was one of our biggest challenges. Getting to remote areas was not easy, but our pool of volunteers and representatives from most of the districts, made it possible. The severity and magnitude of flood damage was another challenge.”

Currently being trained abroad as an internal medicine resident doctor, Baloch helped BYAC by starting a fundraiser worth $20,000. “The response from our international donors has been phenomenal and in less than two weeks we’ve reached 95% of the fundraising goal. We look forward to new challenges brought by the recent floods and to troubleshoot our way through them, with the eventual goal of making Balochistan a better place,” Baloch adds.

The team has deep memories of Mr Farooq known as Babu, a differently-abled BYAC team member who recently passed away in a traffic accident. Babu knew every local language of Balochistan and had travelled so much that when the team found it difficult to reach the affected area, Babu would help with his exceptional ability to remember routes. “He was with us from day one of our Covid campaigns and would always be ready for work,” says Ismail. “Every week he would call and ask me about our next destination for campaigning. We cannot forget him and his efforts in helping us accomplish our goals.”

Post-pandemic, while the acronym remains the same, the BYAC have renamed themselves as Balochistan Youth Action Committee to take on fresh challenges and work for the uplift of Balochistan. The founding members had identified more issues in Balochistan that need work, such as climate change, health and education, but the catastrophic floods in Balochistan this year diverted their attention. “Our volunteers would wade in chest deep water to reach the villagers, and sometimes we would have to drive in heavy rain to reach the flooded area as soon as possible,” says Ismail. “It was incredibly motivating to see our ground champions always full of energy while carrying out dreadful tasks without showing stress or discomfort as though it was a picnic or an outing they were on.”

BYAC is open to all kinds of donations from anyone, from a single rupee to a single book, a packet of biscuits or a bag of sugar. More than Rs40 million had been collected from the pandemic days till the recent floods and used for various projects, some of which are still underway such as climate change campaigns, tree plantation activities in Quetta, Mastung, Dasht and other areas of Balochistan, new libraries and health facilities for flood affectees. “We want everyone to be part of our team and help us with initiatives that will save Balochistan from drowning,” says Bizenjo. “The team hopes that people will continue to trust BYAC as we work on a long term solution for floods, although it requires a significant amount of funds.”

Gates was spot on when he said these heroes represent the best of who we can be. Their efforts to solve the world’s challenges demonstrate our values as a society and they serve as powerful examples of how to make a positive difference in the world. And for the BYAC team, that was just the beginning.

Mujtaba Javaid is a freelance writer. All information and facts provided are the sole responsibility of the writer

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