Wikimedia Blog/Drafts/WLM Pakistan
This was a draft for a blog post that has since been published at https://blog.wikimedia.org/2014/07/03/wiki-loves-monuments-pakistan-for-the-first-time/
Pakistan As You Never Nave Seen It Before: Wiki Loves Monuments heads to Pakistan
In the English language, there’s an idiom that says a picture is worth a thousand words; but for the active organizers of the first ever Wiki Loves Monuments Pakistan, pictures are worth so much more.
Set to begin this September, the recently-recognized Wikimedia Community User Group Pakistan, led by Wikivoyage administrator Saqib Qayyum (User: Saqib)- who was featured in a prior blog post back in February about his journey across Pakistan, Samar Min Allah (User: Samar), Rabia Zafar (User: Rzafar) and Karthik Nadar (User:Karthikndr ), is part of the international, month-long photo-gathering event to document monuments from across the globe, Wiki Loves Monuments . The goal is to upload these photographs - freely-licensed - onto Wikimedia Commons and subsequently Wikipedia. This year, Pakistan has the opportunity to participate in this multi-national competition. The primary organizers of WLM Pakistan have varied interests, yet share similar goals of preserving the proud cultural heritage of Pakistan for future generations.
Samar and Rabia both recall how they first got involved with organizing WLM Pakistan: “Saqib,” Samar says, “contacted me about it and we have been planning since 2012. We wanted to organize this in the past year, in 2013, but due to some unforeseen circumstances, we could not. Then, we got our user group approved this year and we thought that it would be a very good opportunity to have this competition as the first event.” As for Rabia, Saqib contacted and asked her if she would be interested in working on Wiki Loves Monuments Pakistan as well as working on the lists. "So basically, I initially started editing the lists that were going to be used for the photographs, and I slowly moved on to helping them work on the actual project itself.” Both women are determined to preserve Pakistan’s culture digitally, and make the first Wikimedia Loves Monument Pakistan a tremendous success.
Samar credits Saqib as the founder and the glue that keeps the user group together. “He is dealing with mostly getting finances, getting resources and keep us all together.” Being more technical, it is Samar’s role in creating lists and pages on Wikipedia. Rabia is credited with dealing with media relations ( i.g. communications and public relations liaison and Facebook page moderator for WLM Pakistan) and Karthik, part of the International Wiki Loves Monuments team, has brought his experience over from Wikimedia India, fostering a bilateral collaboration between two, traditionally, rival countries.
“They [Indian WIkimedians] have collaborated with us on mutual interest topics.” Samar says. “For the first time, I have had some really good friends from India. And all of a sudden you get so close. It’s like you have haven’t even met these people and they become your friends.” The collaborative nature of Wikipedia has strengthened ties personally, as well as illuminated mutual ties between India and Pakistan, especially on articles where both countries share a part of. “Together,” continues Samar, “we worked on a topic related to Independence Day of Pakistan. We worked together to make it a GA-Class article, as well as articles on the Punjab province, languages, history, political leaders. There are common interest topics in both of our countries.”
Samar, a civil engineer and Fulbright master’s scholar in water resource engineering at University of Michigan Ann Arbor, is from Islamabad and grew up in a small family of well-educated parents. Her mother was involved in the IT sector, providing her with an environment where she was exposed to a computer at an early age. In 2008, while in her teens, she became a volunteer editor on Wikipedia. However, her first experience was - like so many other new editors - not encouraging. “My first edit was immediately reverted, so that scared me off for a little while,” she recalls. Fortunately, Samar returned to editing Wikipedia, primarily focusing on her intense interest in archeology, specifically archaeological sites and monuments of national and cultural heritage in Pakistan.
Rabia is also passionate about the preservation of Pakistani culture, a culture that has taken thousands of years to embellish itself so uniquely, but more into the how Pakistani’s interact with history.
“Pakistan,” she says, “has seen all sorts of contacts with people and has seen a lot of different historical figures visit and has been a part of various empires. I think over the years, this mixing of people and this mixing of history has resulted in a population which is very diverse in many ways- ethnically, religiously, etc.” This rich state of cultural flux has produced a plethora of beautiful sites that Samar is determined to document, initially via photography, and then onto archiving in Wikimedia Commons for all to see.
“Pakistan has a very old history - some 7,000 years - back to the Harappan culture in Mehrgarh. After, there’s the Indus Valley Civilization. Then, of course, we have the Hindu Empire, the Sikh Empire, the Mughal Empire, and various other Muslim Empires. All of these empires left some remnants after them, so there are so many sites here - literally in thousands.”
With so many rich cultural sites juxtaposed amongst the relative political instability in Pakistan, the Pakistani government currently has a very incomplete list of all the heritage sites within the country. Nevertheless, Samar has taken up the challenge of helping record these sites, one of the objectives Samar hopes to accomplish with WLM Pakistan in September. “We are documenting them right now on Wikipedia, like I said there are literally thousands of sites here, but unfortunately many of them are not well-known, even by the locals. We are not only trying to make local people realize our cultural significance, but also show this to the rest of the world.”
She’s also looking forward to all the new media to be uploaded.
“For me, it’s all about the getting those photographs,” she stresses. “Because, when I create new articles or when I am working on those topics, I never find these images. So I’m really looking forward to being able to gain some media which will be able to support these articles.”
However, Samar, as well as the rest of the user group have a daunting challenge ahead of them: how do they encourage of nation to participate - let alone donate pictures for WLM?
“I think,” Rabia says, “that the way you convince people is that it is just one or two photographs, that’s it. I think you might actually be able to motivate people to help you out and do it.”
“I’ve talked to a couple of people that I’ve known and I said ‘even if you submit one photograph… you don’t have to submit tons of them, just one would do, but just that one is more than what we have right now, so it would be something.’” The smallest effort can make a world of a difference, especially for WLM Pakistan coming up right around the corner.
In addition to receiving help professionally by reaching out to the Pakistani press and aid of a photographer who is currently helping them out, Rabia hopes that spreading the word of WLM Pakistan will catalyze more Pakistanis to become interested in their rich history and cultural heritage.
This especially is a labor of love for Rabia, history is her passion. Originally from Karachi, Rabia, currently an academic coordinator, holds an undergraduate degree in Political Science from an American university, and a Master’s degree in History from a UK institution. She currently also edits another Wiki for the Families in British India Society. She started editing WIkipedia back in 2007, helping create history articles. Her history concentrations include the British era of Pakistan from 1839 onwards, and mail. “I am a postal historian,” she proudly identifies.
The postage stamps and postal history of Pakistan on Wikipedia can be described as Rabia’s sole production (she’s also writing a book on the postal history of Karachi). “I’ve done research in the national archives in the U.S. actually and the libraries in Britain for that book. So, I have all of this material which related to Pakistan’s postal system.” And with all this amazing knowledge, she created the Wikipedia article.
“People in Pakistan don’t really use history so much; I want to get them more interested in history as an aspect because I feel it is an interesting subject. People are like ‘Oh, you just learn about it. It’s the same dates going from grade eight maybe until you graduate. It just gets so boring. Anything I can do to change this perception, to have people care about their own history, I will do.”
It is not unknown that Wikipedia editors represent a majority of editors, a fact that surprises both Samar and Rabia. For Samar she believes women in the west should be more active.
“From Pakistan there are not many women who are actively contributing, that is reflective… our society is made up like this. You will not see many women participating in such activities in real life, and this Wiki world is a simple reflection of that. Internationally, I just never understood why women from the Western world, which is considered much more developed and much more advanced, are not so active. I don’t understand why they are not part of this movement.”
“I don’t know why men are more interested in it than women. I seriously can’t tell you why,” Rabia affirms.
With its great cultural heritage and with the support of a determined set of individuals, Rabia is confident in WLM’s success in attaining photographs, and proving that Pakistan has what it takes to compete come September.
“Let’s just put it this way, we’ll give people a run for their money”.
Michael Guss, Communications volunteer for the Wikimedia Foundation
Interview by Victor Grigas, Storyteller for the Wikimedia Foundation