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Flying Kites of Hope in search of missing children

In March 2016, a family on a weekend excursion to a park in Mehmoodabad in Karachi found themselves in the midst of a crowd and were handed a free kite and string. The kite was emblazoned with a black and white photograph of a small child. Several people seated at a table held up yet more photos. The family learned it was an event organised to help find missing children.

A few days later the family called the telephone number printed on the kite.

“We came to your event and we think one of the children whose photos we saw is working at a hotel in Sohrab Goth.”

It turned out that the little boy had been reported missing from Shah Faisal Colony several months earlier. According to Mohammad Ali, President, Roshni Helpline, “that was not even our intention. The point of Kites of Hope was to raise awareness about missing children; we ended up actually recovering three.”

Kites of Hope is a CSR initiative suggested by Y&R Singapore to their Pakistani counterparts, Spectrum Y&R and is aimed at raising awareness about missing children. Spectrum Y&R contacted Roshni Helpline as they are the only organisation in Pakistan working on the issue.

Roshni Helpline took root in 2002, when Ali led a search for a six-year-old girl who had been assaulted and then strangled to death. Seeing how the matter had been shrugged off by the law enforcement authorities, he “realised this was a serious problem that no authority was taking seriously.”

According to Ali, between 3,000 and 4,000 children mysteriously disappear from Karachi – a city with more than 110 police stations – every year and the process of making out a missing person’s report at those stations is of no use.

Ali explains that “at an average police station, there are about 26 daily working registers to record various tasks. Register number one is the FIR book and according to Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, any entry in the FIR book is a cognisable offence. It must be investigated and can lead to a warrant, an arrest, or even a surprise raid. It’s a very important book. On the other hand, the second book is the roz naamcha (daily) diary, where the police log day-to-day activities at the station. Entries in the roz naamcha are non-cognisable offences and the police does not investigate or prosecute unless the area magistrate gives explicit instructions to do so. It is in that second book, the one which requires no action, that the police file reports of missing children.”

To counter the disinterest of the concerned authorities, Roshni Helpline established a network of shopkeepers, paan waalahs, imams and even khwaja sirah (transgenders) street entertainers through which details of a missing child could be shared over as wide an area as possible – and in as little time as possible. As Ali points out, “when a child is reported missing, the most important objective is to get the word out.”

According to Kamal M. Jafri, HR Manager, Spectrum Y&R, the core purpose of Kites of Hope is exactly that: get the word out.

Azmeena Afreen, Creative Manager, Spectrum Y&R, clarifies that “a great deal of the information about missing children is restricted to the affected families. We wanted to spread awareness of this problem among a wider cross section of society.”

She adds that as kite flying is part of Pakistan’s traditions, “we took a cultural symbol and turned it into a social vehicle.”

As a messaging tool, the kite works in two ways. The first, says Jafri, is that, “a kite is not flown only once. It’s in the air, the string cuts, it falls to the ground. Someone else picks it up and begins to fly it. It keeps changing hands, keeps passing the message on.” The second is the physical reach; if flown high enough, a cut kite can land several kilometres away from the originating location.

The campaign took very little time to take shape. “Everyone was so jolted by the stories we heard from Roshni Helpline that the entire agency pitched in,” says Afreen. “And almost all of Spectrum Y&R was present at the event,” adds Jafri.

The agency printed 2,000 kites with photos provided by Roshni Helpline and both Ali and Jafri agree that this was one of the more difficult tasks. Firstly, the pictures were printed in black and white due to the low resolution of the original photos; secondly, in low income areas parents often don’t have photos of their children. When they do, it is usually a group shot where their child is a small, blurry face in the crowd.

To bring people to the event, banners and billboards were put up in the area around the park and an announcement van did rounds of the streets. The agency created a website and a Facebook page through which invites to the event were distributed; they also produced a campaign case film as well as a widely-shared video that showed how easy it is to snatch a child off the streets of Karachi.

As it was the first event of its kind for both Roshni Helpline and Spectrum Y&R, a few mistakes were inevitably made.

“It wasn’t a controlled environment,” says Ali. “There weren’t adequate security measures in place; we had some communication gaps with the volunteers; information didn’t go to entirely the right audience – there were some attendees whose focus was not on the issue, but on the fact that the kites and string were free.”

The success of the event, however, outweighed any shortcomings, so much so that a second event – at least double the size of the first – is scheduled for later this year. Similar events are being planned for other cities of Pakistan.

Overall, Ali, Afreen, and Jafri are pleased with the outcome.

“Before Kites of Hope, our Facebook page had about 500 likes,” says Ali. “Now we are at nearly 10,000. People are discovering us. The BBC covered us. Voice of America interviewed us. An international charity is helping us develop an app. Donors are seeking us out. Our bank of volunteers is growing. The event has been an enormous help in highlighting the issue of missing children, an issue that was until now badly neglected.”

courtesy : dawn news

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