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Nargis Latif – Putting Sustainable Goals in Action

Compiled by Pirah Aijaz

Nargis Latif is a passionate Environmentalist from Karachi- who came up with a novel idea of recycling solid waste and turning it into home shelters. She has been using plastic to construct homes, a reservoir, and a mobile toilet in Pakistan. Apart from this, she has worked on a variety of projects.

Latif is a woman who started with nothing and managed everything on her own. Her consistency and passion for her goals are what make her a real inspiration to many.

The globally recognized, Nargis Latif has been doing a fantabulous job since she started her venture as an environmentalist with ‘Gul Bahao’ – an NGO which aims to focus on a sustainable tomorrow. Gul Bahao focuses on a clean atmosphere and a clean environment

An internationally recognized Environmental NGO, which is based in Karachi, Sindh, Pakistan. It has received several international honors and much recognition for its work on Environmental Research in Pakistan. Alongside this, it has also provided practical solutions for low-cost housing, water sanitation, and garbage disposal.

However, it’s a huge honor that we at Fempreneur approached Nargis Latif as its “Fempreneur of the Month”. She has told us about the obstacles she has overcome, the challenges she encountered, and the milestones she achieved so far.

Let’s meet her to get to know more about her!

Could you tell us a bit about yourself, where did you study and how did you begin?

I was interested in agriculture and wanted to go to Faisalabad for my studies, but during those days it was uncommon to educate the girls in another city. So, as a second choice, I enrolled in the Faculty of Science (Botany) at the University of Karachi.

Later on, I faced a lot of challenges in my personal life and struggled hard with the blues, when I suffered some complications during childbirth. That was a tough time for me because I was fighting for life and death. The doctors had given up, on me. And my husband and children were worried that, I was about to die.

I had complications during labor, and despite being admitted to a reputable hospital in Karachi, the doctors there were unable to diagnose my problem despite their suspicion that it might be blood cancer.

“I can’t even start to tell you how much pain I was in; it was unbearable,”. I prayed a lot and finally, God answered my prayers and miraculously I recovered. This was the time when I committed to doing something for the betterment of our society.

What’s the story behind your social organization? How did you prepare a team for this noble cause?

“Gul Bahao” was started 22 years ago. Considering the need for research, I came up with a unique idea of turning solid garbage into homes. And I started working on it. Gul Bahao aims to focus on a clean atmosphere and a clean environment. It’s not only about recycling, yet reorganizing the disposal.

Initially, I started working with a team of seventy rag pickers, with whom I went for collecting raw materials and utilizing them with some new products. Alongside this, I looked for available resources and improvised them for other projects.

We would love to know about your social organization ‘Gul Bahao’. Could you please tell us what it means and what is the concept behind the name?

Gul Bahao (Spread The Fragrance) stems from two incidents in my life. Following the birth of my third child, I suffered immense trauma and illness and I vowed that if God relieved my misery, I would take a keener interest in social work.

After a few years of my recovery, I got into a dispute with a garbage collector beneath my apartment who insisted on burning trash outside. At that time, I decided to do find alternate solutions for this issue. Learning that the cost of clearing up a single garbage site was pretty steep (Rs 4,000 back then), I took to scouring libraries for better options and eventually came to the realization that facilitating garbage disposal was not just a day’s work; it entailed a lifetime of commitment. “I realized I would have to sacrifice my cozy, comfortable family life for it.”

What inspired you to become a Changemaker for the poor community of Pakistan?

With a population of approximately 24 million in Karachi-generates 12,000 tons of solid waste each year, 40 percent of which ends up on city streets. Solid waste can cause infectious diseases. Considering the worst situation, I developed a campaign to execute the idea of recycling and reorganizing disposals.

After a year of research, I created the Gul Bahao through which I worked on various projects but ‘Chandi Ghar Housing’ has become a strong support for the poor community as it provides shelters and has saved many people who lost everything in the earthquake in 2005 in Pakistan.

We’d like to know what challenges you faced during the early years of Gul Bahao.

It has always been challenging to take the first step toward a venture, but the best part is that I didn’t give up and worked hard to fulfill my goals. Since the day I started Gul Bahao and research activities, I didn’t look back and kept my spirits high.

We’d like to know what challenges you faced during the early years of Gul Bahao.

We work on the concept of the 3Rs, Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Our slogan is, ‘Karachi’s gift to the world,’ and we want the Americans, Japanese, and Chinese to follow the new solutions we have come up with.

You have done several environmental projects, which have been your most successful so far?

We have worked on a diverse range of environmental projects including, ‘Rozgar La Mehdud’, ‘Research Centre’, ‘Produced Animal Feed’, and many more, but ‘Chandi Ghar’ have been one of the most successful projects so far. Our project ‘Chandi Ghar Housing’ provides swift and reliable shelter.

Gul Bahao Research Center: what was the thought process behind its establishment?

In 2004, a research center was established on government-owned land. Now, the research center is full of unorganized stacks of plastic – raw material, and paper glasses. All these things are useful for starting any project.

It is located on 2,000 square yards, a plot in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Karachi from where I started & researched with the help of young students who have passed their matriculation and intermediate exams.

How do you define your greatest personal achievement throughout the Gul Bahao journey?

I received global acclaim, and won several awards including Ashoka membership in 1997, which is given to the world’s leading social entrepreneurs, to name a few. But what’s satisfying my soul is that I kept my promise to God and got huge applause from across the world while setting up my identity with a kind act of social work for the improvement of our society.

You’ve achieved immense success with Gul Bahao through which you have been acclaimed internationally. How do you feel about achieving such success?

I always feel grateful for what I have achieved so far in my life. I’m blessed I’ve achieved milestones. It’s been an interesting journey as it relates to my passion for becoming an environmentalist. And after tiresome efforts, getting lasting success is indeed a big win for me.

She is such an exemplary lady who came out of her comfort zone and lived such a struggling life to achieve her goal for sustainable tomorrow. Wish her the best of luck for plans as she depicted the concept of sustainability in a true sense.

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