I recently worked with Graeae and British Council on a project in Karachi. The aim was to work with teachers from deaf and blind schools and with local artists to explore inclusive theatre making whilst at the same time exploring future collaborations to set up a specific training programme for young deaf and disabled students who want to pursue a career in the arts.
As I sit on the 10th floor of our hotel, on the last day of our trip, and look out at the sprawling city of Karachi before me I have come to see this vast city and the Pakistani people in a new light.
Before I left I had a very western preconception of Pakistan, it can’t be ignored that we are bombarded daily with scare stories of a lawless country, that dislikes our western ways, but after spending two weeks here this couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes there is a lot of crime but I am in the largest and most populous metropolitan city of Pakistan with an estimated population of over 23.5 million people, all from different culture and religions in a density of more than 6,000 people per square kilometre it makes Karachi the 2nd-largest city in the world and therefore the crime is relative to its size and situation.
From the first day we were welcomed with open arms and open hearts, for the artist and the teachers we worked with the ideas of inclusive practice were new and (unlike many I have trained in this subject back home) they immediately saw this as a creative opportunity rather than an obligation.
For some of the artists this was their first opportunity to work collaboratively with deaf and disabled students and teachers, as well as being the first opportunity for teachers and students to work with professional artist. Together we explored a shared understanding of the Social Model of Disability and the only thing preventing them working inclusively were the unseen barriers that we as a society construct.
There were some unique challenges to working in Pakistan, of course there were security issues but at every step of our trip we felt safe by the precautions that were placed upon us by British Council. This was at some time frustrating when wanting to explore but we were never allowed to travel unaccompanied and then only to places that had been cleared by security first.
The other challenges were multiple translations from English to Urdu to Pakistan Sign Language accompanied by audio description in English and Urdu… and then back again, a culture that surrounds the established way of teaching or working with deaf or disabled students, even though all embraced the idea of the social model of disability we were never going to change those habitual behavioural patterns in 2 weeks and finally the heat. OMG I wasn’t prepared for the heat.
For the first week we worked in a very welcoming school but with regular power cuts and no air con in the space meant the working conditions became unbearable at times ( I would like to state that May is one of the hottest months and the locals were even saying it was far too hot) but this did mean that we would teach outside under the shade of a few trees and a cool breeze, which also allowed the resident goats to join in. For the second week we worked within the British Council compound we had air con but sadly no goats.
Our time in Karachi has only begun to scratch the surface, the next phase is to return later this year to put into practice the theory behind this trip through creating an inclusive Karachi version on The Iron Man. This process of will also explore how inclusive practice can be implemented within the Karachi arts scene and school environments. The longer term aim is supporting the setting up of a specific performing arts training programme for Deaf and Disabled young people as a final step toward making existing performing arts training assemble to all.
I feel the ‘Karachi Inclusive Model’ that is being created has great potential to be a model for British Council to implement in other countries as a way to work at grass roots level with local artists, teachers and students facilitating an understanding of the role Deaf and disabled people can play both in their societies but also within the arts whilst at the same time having the ear of the influential and therefore making it a richer experience for all.