Habib University recently organized a concert as a convocation present for the first ever graduating class of 2018. Not only did the concert feature the phenomenal Strings band, it was also made inclusive for deaf and mute individuals of Pakistan. I happened to attend this concert, and what I experienced blew me away.
The first thing I noticed when my eyes finally adjusted to the blinking lights was that I could not spot deaf and mute individuals.
Initially, my heart skipped a beat. Deaf models from Amir Adnan’s ramp walk opened the show with the national anthem, moving their hands skillfully as their expressions portrayed complete ease and confidence. But, I couldn’t spot the deaf and mute kids. As I stepped into the crowd, that’s when it hit me.
The kids had blended in with the Habib University students, so much so that you could not tell them apart. The sight of beaming smiles all around instantly warmed my heart.
When Strings came on stage, you could see the deaf and mute kids nudging each other with beaming eyes and wide smiles.
The excitement was palpable as Strings started with their first song. On the far right side of the stage stood an interpreter, waving her hands along with the music as she interpreted songs for the deaf kids. I noticed that there were lots of light blinkers and vibrations set up near the stage. That’s when I realized that this was probably there to help the kids connect with the music and chaos around them.
The deaf and mute community can’t hear but they sure can interpret with sensations.
The inclusion was largely possible because of ConnectHear who used the tagline “Deaf and Proud,” making the night a success.
ConnectHear is a startup company incubated at The Nest i/o. It aims to bridge the gap between the deaf and mute people and the society at large. They are setting up a sign language interpretation system, using interpreters who will cater to deaf and mute individuals. Moreover, they are also in the process of developing an application to convert audio to sign language using the Pakistan Sign Language.
MangoBaaz got in touch with the team at Habib University who helped organize the event and asked them the idea behind this concert.
“Well, the initial idea was to celebrate the convocation,” says Atiq Khan, one of the members on the organizing committee. “We wanted to include deaf and mute individuals as they are always neglected. When I was in the States, I would go to a lot of concerts. Austin is, as you know, a music city. I used to see interpreters on stage translating songs for the deaf individuals and that’s where the idea came from.”
Atiq went on to talk about the struggles faced by the team.
“Money is always a problem. This was the first time something like this was happening in Pakistan and we wanted to make sure that there was no barrier between the deaf individuals and the Habib University students. Since it was a student run event, we needed to get sponsors to get the money rolling. It was stressful because we only managed to get them on board 2 weeks before the event, and without them, the concert would not have been possible.”
Another member of the organizing team, Hafsa Niaz sheds light on the hard work the interpreters had to go through to pull off the concert.
“While we were attending interviews, trying to convince more sponsors to help us with the event, the interpreters were given a list of songs for the concert. They only had a couple of weeks to learn a total of 22 songs. Some had never heard the songs and had to start from scratch. Perfecting the songs over a period of a few weeks is a lot harder than it looks. However, it was totally worth it.”
“After the concert, with the help of the interpreters, I asked the deaf individuals how they felt. They beamed at me and said that they had never been to a concert before.”
“Today, they felt like they were truly a part of it. That’s when I took a real sigh of relief and realized that we’d done it.”
Habib University catered to 300 deaf and mute individuals but Pakistan has about 9 million deaf individuals, according to ConnectHear, waiting to experience magical nights like these.
Habib University’s main aim was to spread a message across the globe, especially across Pakistan, to increase inclusivity and take into account neglected communities who often face backlash and discrimination.
Currently, Atiq Khan is in Nepal trying to get more big brands on board with the idea of inclusivity.
As of now, those brands are trying to work out the intricacies in order to get the idea expanded to wider platforms. The Strings concert created a stir in the music world. Different companies are now uniting to introduce the magic of music to deaf and mute individuals.
A big shout-out to Habib University and ConnectHear for managing to pull off such a huge student-led initiative
Even though concerts are always happening in Pakistan, there are limitations due to which certain people are deprived of the enjoyment. However, with different companies uniting to take into account the needs of the deaf and mute community, we believe that soon no one will feel as if a certain place is not for them.
As I think back to that night, I can’t help but feel like I was a part of something huge. The experience was awe-inspiring and I truly hope we see more inclusive initiatives like these in the future. Let us know what you think about this in the comments below.
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Cover image via Muhammad Hamza Alam