SHANIERA AKRAM’S EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW FOR BEKARACHI
While most people know Shaniera Akram as the wife of our cricket legend, Wasim Akram, what they do not know is that she is an exceptional human being. The CEO of one of Pakistan’s biggest NGOs, an influential celebrity, a cricket enthusiast, Pakistan’s bhabi, and a family-oriented woman, Shaniera Akram has done what many can only dream. BeKarachi sat down with Shaniera Akram to have a heart-to-heart chat with her about her driving force, her ambitions and her social work.
Most people in Pakistan know and love you as our Bhabhi. Who they do not know much about is the real Shaniera, her hobbies, her inspirations, her interests. Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself?”
I think, with me, what you see is what you get. I’m not an overly complicated person; I’m rooted, I want to be happy, I want everyone around me to be happy, I feel what other people feel, so if someone is negative or toxic, It will bother me. If someone is hurting or suffering, I will too, I can’t stand by and watch someone doing something that is not right or harmful, I have to speak my mind. I’m proud without being self-absorbed, I respect myself but I never take anything too seriously, I can laugh and cry in the same minute and I always wear my heart on my sleeve. If you can make me laugh then we will find friendship, I hate fake or manipulative people and I will always stand up for the underdog. Never take my kindness for granted and my attitude depends on you. Hope that helps you sum me up (laughs).
How do you manage your work and home at the same time?
I think when you are a mother your work and home is kind of the same thing. Except work will always finish for the day whereas being a mother and a wife is a 24/7 job! A wonderful job. But if you are talking about when my husband and I have events or interviews or travel, we have raised our children to be quite independent and they understand when we have things we have to be doing. They know we love them very much and we all look forward to being together when we come home. It’s about quality time, not quantity.
What were some of the challenges you faced moving from Melbourne to Karachi?
This interview is not long enough haha. Obviously, there were cultural differences but we got through them. One of the hardest things to adapt to was the meal times, in Australia we eat dinner by 7.30 PM and usually sleep by 10. Here people start to leave the house at ten and eat about 11 PM or later. That took some getting used to.
If you were to describe Karachi to your friends back in Australia, what would you say?
Karachi can make you fall in love and break your heart, all in one day!
What do you think Karachi can learn from Melbourne and vice versa?
I think Karachi has a long way to go, but we are getting there slowly. We need to clean up a lot of the city and spread the love. People from Melbourne are very loving towards their city. A stranger will pick up someone else’s rubbish if they see it on the ground. We look after each other in Melbourne. I’d like to see Karachiites do more for their city, be proud of it, and everyone should do their bit to care for it and stop blaming each other. I also would like to see better road safety awareness implemented.
What is the one thing you miss the most about Australia?
My family. I miss them every day.
How do you think Aylia’s childhood differs from your own, given that she is growing up in Pakistan?
We try to live a half-Australian half-Pakistani life at home here. We are up early, we all eat together if we can, we eat healthy, and we play in the sun, swim, and laugh. We try not to absorb too much outside influence. We embrace the positive aspects of both the countries. Aiyla and our boys will grow up with the best of both worlds.
How do you think cricket fans in Australia differ from those in Pakistan?
(Laughs) We are much more passionate here in Pakistan. It’s electric. I love it.
How do you beat-the-heat in Karachi?
I embrace it. I’m a very outdoor person. I’m often sitting in the sun even on the hottest day in the summer. I run on the beach and in the parks and I swim almost every day. It’s a land of constant sunshine; it’s absolutely heaven for me.
What is the sweetest and the meanest thing you’ve heard about yourself on Twitter?
The sweetest definitely the fact that people call me “their Bhabi” and I never gets sick of hearing that. I now get called Gori Bhabi which I think is both hilarious and awesome. I love how people relate to me and embrace me without even really knowing me. Pakistani people are just beautiful. Not that I get a lot of mean comments and if I do I don’t really read them but the meanest would be that Wasim should have chosen a Pakistani woman not a gori. Which I think is just all kinds of wrong and not fair on Wasim. He married me because he loves me not because of the colour of my skin or the country I was born in.
You’ve previously mentioned that “My powder bathroom is like the Taj Mahal”. Can we hope to see Shaniera Akram as an interior designer in the future?
(Laughs) Actually, Wasim built and designed that powder room and he is the man behind the magic. We both love collecting things from around the world and for some reason it always ends up in the powder room. It’s a very beautiful space. I don’t think my forte is interior design but I will be doing something in the not-so-distant future.
Since you are learning Urdu, what is your favourite phrase in Urdu?
“Muhje bhook lagi hai…”
What is your favourite place to visit in Karachi with your family?
We love eating out! We love trying new restaurants and I love tasting all the desi khana. ‘Okra’ and ‘Kolachi’ are two of our favourite places to eat out.
You are an amazingly active social worker and the CEO of The Akram Foundation. What inspires you to get up every day and do such good things for people?
I can’t sit by and let something suffer if I can help. My only problem is that I can’t help everyone. There always one problem after the other. Our foundation is trying to focus on long-term help for people by setting up hubs in which people can contact for help. But in the meantime, we have an awesome team, and we all come together for charity drives, giving out food, water, mosquito repellants, and bed linens to help out the people in Karachi who are less fortunate in hopes that we can make their day a little better. I love seeing all the happy faces when I come to visit, may it be a school, hospital or just the neighbourhoods.
The Akram Foundation has done a lot of work to uplift Pakistan. What is the one cause which is the closest to Shaniera Akram’s heart?
I want to focus on road safety. I feel very passionate about this, and I think we can save a lot of lives just by creating awareness about how to respect the road and minimise death or injury. Most accidents could have been avoided if the driver wasn’t speeding or concentrating or even wearing a seatbelt. I also feel strongly about child safety and wellbeing. I would like to work closely with mothers and children.
You recently brought up the issue of pollution at Karachi beaches. What inspired you to start the #CleanUpKarachi campaign?
Yes, I feel very strongly about this, but I need the government’s assistance to help setting up proper garbage utilities and disposal. I have realised that more bins are not going to help the cause initially. I can clean up every day, but it will only be dirty again tomorrow. So I have to start by teaching people to care for their city and helping people do the right thing by throwing their rubbish in the bin not on the streets. Or even taking it home with them and properly disposing it. Teaching families and children to respect our city. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.
#CleanUpKarachi is taking off. What would you like to say to your supporters in this regard?
Send me an email at email@example.com or go to our website www.theakramfoundation.com and register to be a volunteer to help out when we have our campaigns. And in the meantime, you can do your bit by teaching you friends, family or colleagues to do the right thing and put their rubbish in the bin.
A lot of schools in Karachi conduct beach clean-up drives. How is #CleanUpKarachi different from those? Would you like to reach out to those schools and work together for this cause?
Yes. If you are involved at a school and would like my foundation to visit for a #CleanUpKarachi day, please contact us. I believe the children are the future. If we can teach them about the importance of cleanliness, rubbish disposal and recycling, then Karachi has a bright future ahead.
If you were to become the mayor of Karachi for a week, with absolute power, what would you do?
I would go crazy because I couldn’t fix everything in one week that I wanted too. You would have to employ me for at least a year (laughs).
Are there any upcoming projects that are in line? If yes, can you provide us with some insights?
I promise to be the first to let you know when we start our new campaign. In terms of personal future plans, yes there is always something on the horizon. What would life be like without things to look forward too?
What message would you give to the youth of Karachi?
Don’t always follow advice if you know in your heart it’s wrong. Be true to yourself. Be a good person. Look after your family; don’t let anyone take advantage of you. Turn a negative into a positive. Don’t lie especially to the ones you love. Eat healthy, sleep at a normal hour and don’t ever get on a motorbike without a helmet!!
The Akram Foundation (TAF)
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Courtesy – BeKarachi.com
BeKarachi is a platform which aims to highlight the rising stars of Karachi. BeKarachi aspires to become the largest platform which unifies budding talent and inspiring entrepreneurs to help motivate others, ultimately showcasing the best in the city. BeKarachi is also a business directory which highlights the local vendors and businesses that are reshaping the City of Lights.