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) are part of the international, month-long photo-gathering event that 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 begins, “contacted me about it and we have been planning it since 2012. We wanted to organize this in the past year, but due to some unforeseen circumstances, we could not. We just got our user group recognition approved this year and we thought that it would be a very good opportunity to have this competition as a first event.” As for Rabia, Saqib contacted and asked her if she would be interested in working on Wiki Loves Monuments Pakistan. “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 project itself.” Both women are determined to preserve Pakistan’s culture digitally and make the first Wikimedia Loves Monuments Pakistan a tremendous success. Samar credits Saqib as the founder and the glue that keeps the user group together. “He is dealing mostly getting finances, getting resources and keeping us all together.” Being more technical, it is Samar’s role to create lists and pages on Wikipedia. Rabia is credited with dealing with media relations ( i.e. communications and public relations liaison and Facebook page moderator for WLM Pakistan). Karthik, as part of the International Wiki Loves Monuments team, has brought his experience over from Wikimedia India, fostering a bilateral collaboration between – traditionally – two rival countries.
“They [Indian Wikimedians] have collaborated with us on topics of mutual interest.” 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 haven’t met these people and, all of a sudden, become your friends.” The collaborative nature of Wikipedia has strengthened ties personally, as well as illuminated mutual bonds between India and Pakistan, especially on articles where both countries share a common nexus. “Together, we worked on a topic related to Independence Day. 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 a Fulbright master’s scholar in water resource engineering at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, is currently living in Islamabad. She grew up in a small family with well-educated parents; her mother was involved in the IT sector, which provided her with an environment where she was exposed to computers 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 significance 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 how Pakistani’s themselves engage with their 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. Unfortunately, people in Pakistan do not care about their history too much,” she laments. She hopes WLM Pakistan will change that. 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 within 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 Muslim Empires. All of these empires left some remnants after them, so there are so many sites here – literally 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. This is 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 their cultural significance, but also to show them to the rest of the world.” She’s also looking forward to all the new media that is 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 those 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 a nation to participate – let alone donate – pictures for WLM? “I think,” Rabia says, “that the way you convince people is by stressing that it’s 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 know and I say ‘even if you submit one photograph… you don’t have to submit tons of them, just one would do, 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 with the 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 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 Wikipedia page 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 relates to Pakistan’s postal system.” And with all this amazing knowledge, she created the Wikipedia article. “People in Pakistan don’t really use history; I want to get them more interested in history 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 a well-known fact that a majority of Wikipedia editors are men, 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 of our society, it is made up like this. You will not see many women participating in such activities in real life and this Wiki world is a 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. Samar is pragmatic about her criticism as to of why people do not contribute to Wikipedia. “Wikipedia is giving you free knowledge, why wouldn’t you care? Why shouldn’t you share your knowledge when you are gaining from others?” 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