This week’s hero is a sad example of how great work often goes unnoticed until it is eclipsed by tragedy. Perween Rahman was a Pakistani architect. She left her potentially lucrative career at a young age to join the Orangi Pilot Project, a group founded in the 1980s to address sanitation, health, and housing issues in Karachi.
The largest city in Pakistan, Karachi has boomed from under 500,000 to over 18 MILLION people in five decades. Much of that insane growth has been the rise of slums and squatter villages. Unscrupulous developers, capitalizing on the rising value of property, would sell small plots to poor families. This land had no structures and no connection to basic infrastructure. As a result, most of the city lives in horrific conditions–thank you, neoliberalism.
The Oragni Pilot was established as a local power program, using microfinance and local organizing to get residents to create innovative solutions to their own problems–good social work. It has been enormously successful in raising the standard of living for hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis. Over time, it has expanded to apply its model to rural health and sanitation and other research and application projects. After several years of work with Orangi, Perween Rahman became its director.
Sadly, this great humanitarian work ran against powerful developer interests and crime cartels that profited from property turnover and sales scams. Rahman and her colleagues frequently received threats but carried on for the greater good. On March 13, at the age of 54, Perween Rahman was shot four times in the chest and neck; she died on the way to the hospital. This woman dedicated her life — literally — to improving conditions for others against great odds. We should all celebrate her work and honor her sacrifice, taking it as an inspiration in our lives.