Pakistani Christian turns trash into art

Decorations show the importance of recycling in a nation with shores that are littered with plastic refuse
Pakistani Christian turns trash into art

Shehzad Harrison (left) and Abdul Rehman posing with handmade wind chimes. (Photo by Kamran Chaudhry/ucanews.com)

Shehzad Harrison, a Christian in Muslim-majority Pakistan, urges friends and relatives to retain empty milk cartons, cigarette packets and used motorcycle air filters.

This is because the former visual arts teacher uses them to make bags, floor cushions, wind chimes and various home decorations while promoting the importance of recycling.

Motorcycle repairs shops are among his sources of free raw materials.

His bestselling product is a 'God bless our home' wall hanging made from ice cream sticks.

Some customers consequently recite these words as part of their daily prayers, said the 44-year-old who plans to sell the plaque during the annual National Marian Shrine festival in Mariamabad village of Punjab province.

Sign up to receive UCAN Daily Full Bulletin
Thank you. You are now signed up to our Daily Full Bulletin newsletter
The theme selected for this year's associated pilgrimage, starting on Sept. 13, is 'St. Mary the woman of dialogue'.

"My mission is to sustain an eco-friendly business," said Harrison, who lives in Hamza Town, a Christian locality in the major city of Lahore.

Pakistan, which produces some 30 million tonnes of solid waste annually, is facing serious environmental problems as well as the impacts of climate change.

The nation uses up to 55 billion plastic shopping bags a year. Sixty-five percent of garbage that litters beaches along Pakistan's coast is comprised of non-degradable plastics that are rapidly destroying marine habitats, according to the World Wildlife Fund in Pakistan.

Harrison — a member of Bethania Lutheran Church — was only 12 when a visiting German missionary enrolled him in handicraft classes at a local church. At the age of 15, he was teaching others about recycling by turning waste into art.

Most of his students were drug addicts, prostitutes, family members of prisoners and patients diagnosed with depression.

He also focused on providing a form of "psychological therapy" to members of low-income families who were struggling to survive.

"A simple thing like drawing a perfect circle can heal their inner complications," he said. "Many of them are now earning independently."

Harrison taught at an International Baccalaureate school until his contract expired last month.

One of his Muslim colleagues set up a Facebook page entitled Anokha Kaam (Marvelous Work) that highlights his handicrafts.

However, he cannot access many potential customers because he does not have a smart-phone. Not having packaging complicates marketing as does his lack of a motorcycle. But he does have a sales team comprised of a Christian widow and a Muslim youth.

One of Harrison’s admirers is 24-year-old Abdul Rehman.

He earns more than 1,200 rupees (US$7.52) a day selling handmade wind chimes in Liberty Market, a trading hub in Lahore.

His father, a drug addict, left the family when he was in grade eight.

Rehman dropped out of school to help his housemaid mother and took jobs ranging from decorating cars for weddings to working as a waiter in small restaurants.

“Now I can earn a profit by simply standing in a crowd and holding up my art," Rehman said.

"The six hours duty in the evening gives me enough time to make my own products in the morning.

"Harrison is like a father figure to me. Working with scrap has taught me that everything in life has its value."

 

 

The challenges

Pakistan's government claims that the rights of religious minorities are fully upheld in the conservative Muslim nation. Christians, however, insist that they have long faced deep-seated prejudice and institutionalized discrimination.

Most of the country's four million Christians languish in grinding poverty, reduced to lowly menial jobs such as garbage collecting and street sweeping. Many better-paying jobs and government positions remain inaccessible to them.

Most of the sanitary workers employed by the Lahore Waste Management Company are Christians. Earlier this month, the Pakistan army withdrew a sanitation job advertisement with a 'Christians-only' prerequisite for applicants.

© Copyright 2019, UCANews.com All rights reserved
© Copyright 2019, Union of Catholic Asian News Limited. All rights reserved
Expect for any fair dealing permitted under the Hong Kong Copyright Ordinance.
No part of this publication may be reproduced by any means without prior permission.