A boxer turned fashion designer inspires others to escape violence

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As a child Wasim Soomro watched as famous fashion designers showed their creations on television. He enjoyed seeing their creative designs and envied their rise to fame and fortune doing what they loved.

“I used to watch famous celebrities become designers, flaunting their kurtas on TV. I told myself if they can do it, why can’t I? Lyari is famous for gang violence, but we don’t have any famous designers. I thought I should be the first one,” he said, clad in a blue kurta that he designed himself.

Yet for Wasim, fashion design seemed a distant dream. Born to a Sindhi family in the conflict-ridden neighbourhood of Lyari in Karachi, Pakistan, he had been surrounded by violence from a very young age. As violence peaked, gangsters regularly harassed Wasim and his family, often forcing them to pick sides between rival gangs. He recalls being approached by a gang to grant them access to his house so they could get a clear view of a rival neighbourhood to fire gunshots. Wasim and his family finally moved out from the area.

Wasim became a champion boxer and a student of civil engineering, pulling himself away from  gang violence but unable to fulfil his real ambition. Then, one day, he saw a Facebook ad that changed his life and that of many others. The PECHS Training Centre was offering courses on stitching and fashion design.

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These courses are offered through a partnership between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), vocational training centres and prominent Karachi-based fashion and garment manufacturing concerns to develop a training programme for disadvantaged and vulnerable youth in this large and violent city. The Youth Employment Project seeks to help build sustainable livelihoods, foster economic growth, and reduce susceptibility to violence by providing demand-driven skills to 13,000 Karachi youth by 2020 and encouraging them to find employment or start businesses.

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Seeing the ad immediately reignited Wasim’s long-held dream. He applied at once. Using skills learned from working for a community mobilization project, he persuaded a hundred other young people from Lyari and other vulnerable areas of Karachi to join the programme.

Today, Wasim is only 19 years old but runs a small boutique in Lyari, with several employees. Many of these are from other young women and men who participated in the training programme on his urging. Through this programme, he has beaten the odds to achieve his childhood dream – to become a fashion designer from Lyari.