Photographs: Asghar Khan
Volunteering for common causes has been an important feature of life for communities of the mountainous Gilgit – Baltistan region. For centuries the men and women have sacrificed their resources, time and thoughts for collective good, enabling the society to progress in economic and social domains.
The formation of Ismaili Volunteer Corps in Hunz, Gilgit and Ghizar , in my opinion, immortalized the institution of volunteerism by providing it the organizational structure hitherto unknown. One of the first such groups to be formed in Hunza Valley was the Ismaili Volunteer Corps, Gulmit.
The need for establishing the volunteer corps emerged in 1960 because His Highness the Aga Khan IV, Shah Karim Al – Hussaini, Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, was visiting the region. The volunteer corps were formed to coordinate and manage the preparations for the visit. It was a historic visit because never before had any Ismaili Imam visited the region.
The Ismailis of Hunza, Ghizar and Gilgit traditionally celebrate the first visit of their Imam to the region by holding festivals across the region from October 20 to October 26.
A recent ceremony held in this connection at Gulmit, the head quarter of Gojal Tehsil, was dedicated to the pioneers of Ismaili volunteer Corps. Speakers paid glowing tributes to the men and women who sacrificed physically and materially for common well being and established a strong social institution that has played an important in regional progress.
Many of the founding members are not alive today but their services were remembered with reverence and tokens of appreciation were awarded to their family members. Former office bearers of the Ismaili Volunteer Corps Gulmit were also presented with certificates as a token of appreciation.
For the Ismaili Muslims volunteerism is more than community participation and collective progress. It is an element of their faith.
Princess Zahra, daughter of His Highness the Aga Khan, in an address at the International Association for Volunteer Efforts (IAVE), 1998, explained volunteerism as means for actualization of the Islamic ethics of ” inclusiveness, of compassion, of sharing, of the respect for life, and of personal responsibility for sustaining a healthy physical, social and cultural environment.”
In her address Princess Zahra also counted “generosity of material resources, of time, of thought and knowledge” as fundamental aspects of the Islamic concept of volunteerism.
Princess Zahra had further said that appreciating and acknowledging volunteery services increases the level of efficiency and satisfaction obtained from work. “When volunteers are taken seriously,” said Princess Zahra, “the quality of their contribution and their own sense of satisfaction literally soar.”
In this scenario the appreciation ceremony provided an opportunity to the people to thank and praise the volunteers for a job well done and a life well spent.
For more photos click on http://pamirtimes.net/photos-50-years-of-ismaili-volunteer-corps-gulmit/