" In the last 7 years, in the American media, I’ve heard 2% of the truth about Pakistan, 100% of the time."
Arsla Jawaid talks to Todd Shea, Founder of Comprehensive Disaster Response Services (CDRS), in this exclusive interview.
A musician by skill, Todd Shea is the founder of CDRS, which provides healthcare services and education to millions across Pakistan. He is also part of Sonic Peacemakers, a musical
collaboration between Pakistani and American musicians to promote peace prevents me, financially, from helping others. You will come across people like that in development work who will try to take advantage because it comes with the territory. I’ve learnt to deal with it.
There is a problem of negative perceptions both in Pakistan and America. As an American how do you correct that image? What do you say to people both at home and here?
When I was leaving for Pakistan, some of the people I told, emailed me back saying “Why do you want to go help people who are trying to kill us, be careful, etc.”
I tell people in both places to be careful of what you read in the papers and be careful about letting that be your only perception. I had learned long ago to believe the media only so much because I had been duped into believing propaganda. In the last 7 years, in the American media, I’ve heard 2% of the truth about Pakistan, 100% of the time. And here, I’ve seen the other 98%.
I often tell people on both sides that human beings are human beings and are far more alike than they are different. People also like having an enemy, leading to an “Us versus Them” factor. When they look at themselves as the US against Pakistan, they all feel like Americans. And the same is true in Pakistan.
America has a responsibility for some of the things that the average Pakistani has suffered. I don’t think America has been introspective enough to see that some of the things it has done in arrogance or abandonment or the simple act of being shortsighted, have caused so many problems.
What is your impression of Pakistan and its people?
They’ve been beaten up pretty good but they’re very strong. They are survivors.
As a musician, you also founded Sonic Peacemakers? Tell us a little about it and why you think it’s important for both countries?
It started organically. I started listening to some of the music here. My friends would play a tape of Junoon or some Qawwali or a Naat and I became enamored with it even though I couldn’t understand any of the words. I pulled out my guitar and learnt some of the words to “Dil Dil Pakistan!” At first, it was just for my own satisfaction to learn music that I had started to love but then I would play the guitar for the kids in medical camps and villages, and they loved it.
Sonic Peacemakers, is a musical collaboration between Pakistani and other musicians. We want music to be the catalyst and engine for providing resources and building bridges of peace and enhancing understanding. We believe that music can reach into people’s hearts. There’s a lot of Islamophobia and anger in the U. S and a mirror image of that is here. There is a lot to fight against and our weapon is music. We hope
Inshallah that we can overcome the hatred and misconceptions on both sides.