Stories

Shahida Zaheer; Principal of Charbagh-e-Safa Girls’ High School

A student during a class in Teachers Resource Center

Science Laboratory of Charbagh-e-Safa Girls’ High School

 

Community World Service Asia has been working to promote education for girls in the rural Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan since June 2013.  In Nangarhar, like most of the country, the legacy of the Taliban combined with poverty, cultural norms, weak educational infrastructure and the challenging terrain present serious hurdles to access to education, especially for girls.

In order for us to be able to support girls in Nangarhar to realize their right to quality education, we work extensively with school faculty and teachers.  Educational professionals in Afghanistan face serious challenges such as insufficient training, under-resourced schools and overcrowded classrooms.  For women, socio-cultural constraints make it extremely difficult to work as a teacher.  Shahida Zaheer is an inspirational woman who has faced numerous struggles in her journey to becoming the Principal of Charbagh-e-Safa Girls’ High School and in making the attainment of education accessible for all.

Shahida explains that education was seen as a burden not just by the society but by students as well. The school only had one teacher who was responsible for teaching the whole student body. The school was not able to provide a good learning environment, as it not only lacked a supportive faculty and a set curriculum but where sports and other extra-curricular activities were not organized. Students were forced to attend school on the insistence of their parents and did so half-heartedly with poor learning outcomes.

Community World Service Asia has conducted training sessions for the school’s teachers and organized summer camps for the students as well as equipping the school with much-needed sports facilities. Because of the training programs, the teachers are more confident in their methods and use different approaches to make the learning process not only fruitful, but fun as well. The addition of a sports ground last year has further strengthened the students’ desire to attend the school. Along with learning in an engaging and stimulating environment, the students also get to play games of cricket and football. Shahida adds that that she is hopeful that their school sports team will soon be playing at the same level as teams from other schools, and will be able to participate in inter-school competitions.

Shahida talked about the role that the Shura (local decision-making and consultative group of influential community leaders) and Mula Imam (religious leader) have played in supporting the school. Because of external pressures and the prevailing view in society that education is not vital, many children were either not enrolled in school or were made to discontinue their studies. The Shura and the Mula Iman (who is also a prominent faculty member) have reinforced the importance of education, especially for girls, in the community, and the counsel of these respected figures has led to an increase in the number of the students enrolled. As some girls often get married before reaching the eleventh grade, they are often forced to leave school. However, with the intervention of the Shura and the Mula Imam, this statistic is also drastically improving with more girls continuing their education even after getting married.

Shahida is extremely proud of having gained the respect of the elders of the community. Even though she’s only thirty three years of age, she is successfully running the school and feels fully supported by the Shura, even commenting that her opinions hold more weight in their eyes than her male counterparts. Shahida believes that this is the true mark of the beginning of female empowerment in their area as women are now being given more concrete and responsible roles in society.

Although the school is now running smoothly, Shahida adds that there are still a few complications that are yet to be resolved. The school runs in two shifts  – male students come to the school in the second shift. Shahida feels that it is prudent to have segregation between the boys and girls as is dictated by their customs. She also stresses the urgent need for more equipment and material for the science courses being taught at the school. In addition, she feels the need for a more thorough training session for the teachers in subjects such as chemistry, biology and physics as those subjects are the ones that the students have the most difficulty in comprehending. Sanitation facilities are also needed for the school.

Shahida states that the women of Pakistan and Afghanistan should never underestimate their own worth.  “The women have made this school a functional and reputable institution,” she says. Shahida, who has brought about a wave of welcome change, believes that women can work in any field and excel at it.  Community World Service Asia looks forward to continuing its work with Shahida and her colleagues to ensure that the girls of Nangarhar have the opportunity to an education.

A sister holding her baby brother while waiting to see the doctor at the BHU in Kuzkhana

In response to the 7.5 magnitude earthquake that struck the Hindukish mountain range on October 26th this year, affecting thousands of people in northern Afghanistan and Pakistan, Community World Service Asia set up a mobile health unit in district Shangla.  The Mobile unit started its activities on October 30th and continued operation as a static Basic Health Unit in Kuzkana, Shangla, after two weeks and still operational.

In its thirty two days of activities till December 10th, the Health Unit days catered to 4090 earthquake affected community members in its Outpatient Department (OPD),of which 2271 patients were women and infants, and 1820 men and children.  A total of 1033 laboratory tests were conducted to diagnose illnesses among affected communities in the mobile Laboratory and BHU.

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Community World Service Asia conducted a six week residential training course on Proposal Writing in collaboration with Indus Consortium (IC). This course aimed to give participants the knowledge, techniques and tools used for writing winning project proposals, allowing participants to gain analytical and practical skills on project proposal writing. It was conducted at the locations Murree and Islamabad from September to November 2015.

The first part of the Proposal Writing course was held in Murree, and was attended by seventeen participants (13 Men & 4 Women). It entailed a variety of learning methodologies to address different learning styles through various interactive discussions, group work, case studies, quiet reflection and detailed lectures.  The course enhanced the knowledge of the staff members of IC partner organization on the topic of Project proposal writing and its implications on the effectiveness of project. At the start of the training a pre-test was conducted to gauge participants understanding upon the topic.

During the course the participants were divided into sub groups, which remained intact till the end of the training. However, temporary groups were made for completion of the given assignments. This combination of temporary and permanent groups allowed the participants to have more interaction and learn from each other to the maximum. Review of the previous day was an essential component of the training.

A salient feature of the training was that it demanded active participation of all participants, making the learning a two way process. All the participants were lead through proposal writing stages practically and made to play vital role in success of projects.

Essential and regular feature of the training was trainer’s evaluation by the participants. These exercises were aimed to judge the understanding level of participants and their needs, monitoring the sessions, maintaining a regular feedback and to gauge the level of learning taking place. A special effort was made to introduce new methods and tools of evaluation and warm up exercises (ice breakers and energizers) to keep the interest of the participants alive and to familiarize them to the maximum number of methods and tools.

The second part of this course was provision of technical support to all training participants.  In the first part four groups were formed to develop their proposals. In the second part they were provided with an opportunity to seek technical support from Resource Person Mr. Waqar Haider Awan. All groups finalized their proposals with the technical on-line consultation

A lessons learned event was conducted in Islamabad in 4th November 2015 to share their Proposal Writing experiences. Participants shared that gathering correct information for the proposals was a great challenge; however they relied upon data / information provided by the state department/s and authentic sources.  Developing LFA was another challenge which they overcome through online consultation and group coordination. The biggest lesson learned was working in groups as a team. The participants were able to identify five proposals which if submitted could land them further projects upon approval.

 

Mir Hussain, a twelve year old resident of village Sher Muhammad Hallo in Thatta distirct encountered a foot injury while working in the agricultural fields. He accidently injured himself with his crop cutting spade while at work.  Mir Hussain’s injured foot bled heavily and the pain he was suffering was excruciating.

“I could not see my son in pain and bleeding that much. I was very worried as my husband was at work at the time and there is no hospital near our village”, expressed the worried mother of Mir Hussain. The mother was soon told about a Mobile health team that was present in the area, upon advice from fellow villagers and members of the Village Health committee, she immediately took her son to the Community World Service Asia Mobile Health team where Dr. Mujahid Ali Shah examined  Mir Hussain’s injury. Dr. Mujahid attended to his wounds immediately, first cleaning the wound and then stopping the bleeding by pressing it with a gauze bandage. When the bleeding ceased, the injury was properly dressed and Mir Hussain was given an antibiotic and pain killer for further relief. Mir Hussain’s mother was instantly relieved of her worry and expressed gratitude to the doctor and the mobile health team.

Belonging to an underprivileged family, Mir Hussain shares a home with his eight siblings and parents. His father is a fisherman who goes fishing to the nearby lake on a daily basis.  In the summer of 2015, their house and village was severely affected by the floods that hit parts of Sindh.  “All the residents of our village were moved to safer areas when the flood was approaching. We were moved to embankments as well. No one has assisted the flood affected villages with medical aid since the floods hit us. Community World Service Asia is the only organization that came to our medical assistance. It will take us two to three months more to further settle back into our normal lives”, narrated Mir Hussain’s mother.

The Health unit established by Community World Service Asia in Thatta, has so far conducted 5,745 medical consultations. Two hundred and seventy Ante-Post Natal consultations have been delivered, while 148 hygiene sessions have been conducted. Two village health committees consisting of twenty four members have also been formed under the current project.

After completing training, participants receive an emergency kit, including a radio, a torch, a safe documents bag and a battery cell

This month, Community World Service Asia has conducted disaster risk reduction sessions for 150 men and women from six Community Organizations in the hazard-prone area of Thatta, Sindh province.  Community Based Disaster Risk Management trainings are conducted through our innovative Mobile Knowledge Resource Center, which engages community members in disaster preparedness skills.  These trainings are bringing vital knowledge to vulnerable communities, and empowering them to build their resilience:

“It was great and fruitful training for us because we never received any training about DRR by presenting simulation models, we never knew about our village’s vulnerabilities, historical hazards, evacuation and emergency equipment.”

  • Gul Hassan, member of Rahim Dino Thaheem Community Organization

“The early warning system is a very informative method to mitigate any future disaster.  It will help us with updates of natural disaster.  The phone number provided to us it will help us to remain in contact with government body and NGO. We never know before where we get updates.”

  • Yar Muhammad, member of Haji Talib Bijoro Community Organization

“I would like to thanks Community World Service Asia for coming here and conducted training especially for women, because we are neglected at any walk of life.  I learnt how to take safety measure in a fire disaster; I know about the reason of fire and how to keep away unused grass from kitchen surroundings.”

  • Ms Meemi Member, member of Basar Charan Community Organization

A workshop on “Introduction to NGOs” was held from 19th to 22nd October, 2015 at O’Spring Estate Murree, and was designed to enhance the knowledge of interested aid workers on the basic tools and techniques required to operate in the aid sector. The workshop was facilitated by our consultant trainer, Syed Moazam Ali and our in-house trainer, Arshad Hussain.

In Pakistan Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) play a vital role in providing indispensable services to diverse  communities across the country. Thorough planning during the initial process of setting up an organization is crucial to develop an effective and professional organization that is able to meet the myriad of challenges it may face in implementing its programs.

Small-scale civil society organizations (CSOs) and NGOs often recruit professionals who are comparatively new to the field and are looking to  gain more experience. While they are well aware of the local context, it is often observed that they are not fully oriented on critical knowledge and skills that are required to plan, implement and assess projects in the humanitarian and development sector. Due to limited funding and human capital, organizations are unable to provide detailed orientations or capacity building opportunities to its staff. Responding to this growing need of CSOs and NGOs, this four day training session was organized to build the capacity of the individuals working in the sector and equip them with the tools and techniques required for effective programming and expanded outreach to their targeted stakeholders. The training provides a multidimensional experience of learning through theory analysis and a behavioral study of different age groups.

The training focused on:

  • Enabling participants to improve their understanding of the definition of an NGO and their history, mandate, and scope of work within Pakistan
  • Enabling participants to share their experiences and acquire new skills pertinent to the NGO sector. Particular attention was paid to the emerging needs of communities and other current development issues
  • Learning the history of humanitarian assistance and several recognized standards ensuring quality and accountability when responding to an emergency.
  • Learning of the ethical and moral responsibilities of NGOs.

A total of seventeen participants took part in this Training on ‘Introduction to NGOs’. Sixty five percent of the participants were men while thirty five percent were women. All the participants of the training were employed for working at the grass root levels which made this training even more important and significant for them.

The main target of the workshop was to institutionalize aid organizations on the basics of the sector, therefore presidents of two of the village organizations, set up by Community World Service Asia in one of the communities it works in, also participated in the training so that their perspectives, being the most important stakeholders, were also taken in.

From the beginning till the end of the workshop, the  trainers kept participants involved through interactive and innovative teaching methodologies. Their expertise and knowledge on the subject was thorough. Content brainstorming helped encouraged by the trainers helped in developing constructive discussions during group activities. Methodologies like presentations, debates, role play, videos and group activities used by facilitators were proved to be effective yet entertaining for the participants.

A participatory approach was adopted by the trainers as they provided equal opportunities to participants for taking in their feedback on individual basis in the various sessions conducted during the four days. One of the outdoor activities, the recycle exercise, was one that the participants particularly enjoyed as it not only enhanced their knowledge on the subject but also energized them. Participants learned a lot from outdoor activities which emphasized on environmental sustainability, behavior of donor and on being environmentally friendly.

The trainers noted that the level of understanding and participation of participants was exceptionally high which indicated that the training had been successful in achieving its goals. Before the training, participants confessed that they were curious about what the content of the training would be but later expressed they were satisfied as they felt that the training fully met their needs. They were all certain that they would take all that they had learnt through this workshop with them to improve existing policies and procedures in their organizations.

Participants Voices

Asif“I came here with the goal to learn about project planning, rules, policies and procedures. I have learnt a lot in terms of project planning. The topic, organizational development was new for me. ” Mohammad Asif Imran

Abdul Saeed“From a learning point of view, topics like Introduction to NGOs and History of NGOs were new for me while topics like Project cycle ,Vision, mission, objectives, and mandate were very informative because I had no clarity  on these subjects before the training. Though a project cycle already exists in my organization, I would like to implement the learnings of this training by further improving our project cycle and will focus more on objectives.” Abdul Saeed

Faisal“The term SWOT analysis was new for me. I appreciated the session on the ethical and moral responsibilities of NGOs and I would like to implement these moral values in our organization.” Faisal Naeem

Shumaila“Through this training, I have gained more clarity about the vision, mission, objectives and mandate of NGOs. The training topic was very educational for me and the discussion on development was also quite enlightening.” Shumaila Abbasi

Mohammad Khalid, 49, has been temporarily displaced to Kabul and is living in the city since a month with his wife, five children and his brother in a one-room mud house. Without a source of income even, the family is living in deplorable conditions. Khalid pays a monthly rent of AFN 6,000 for his current residence and cannot move freely in the city due to the threats to him and his family.

Khalid and his family lived in village named Saripul, located in Kunduz province. Before the conflict erupted and the family among many other was forced to run away to safer cities, Khalid was reasonably well off  financially and lived happy and content life with his father, brother and his wife and children. He served as the head of the Village Development Council (CDC) in Saripul, however being associated with the government for work on village development programs proved to be dangerous for him as well. It led him to be on the hit list of the anti-state militants active in the area.

Since April 24th 2015, the ongoing conflict between the Afghanistan National Security Force (ANSF) and Armed Opposition Groups (AOGs) intensified in the North, Northeast and East of Afghanistan- especially in Kunduz, Takhar, Kunar and Saripul provinces. The conflict resulted in  thousands of families being displaced from Kunduz, Takhar and Nangarhar provinces. Mohammad Khalid and his family were among the many displaced from Kunduz to Kabul.

Explaining the reason and circumstances that led to their displacement, Khalid said that when the conflict broke out in Kunduz, the anti-state groups started targeting the people who were in favor of the government and their development programs in  the area. The militants killed his father as they raided his house in search of  Mohammad Khalid, but found only his father at home.  Khalid’s brother was also injured in the struggle at their house. After this incident,  Khalid decided to move his family to a safer city immediately, subsequently moved to Kabul as that seemed to be a comparatively secure place. He rented a taxi costing him AFN 25,000, which in normal circumstances would cost no more than AFN 3,000. He took a long route to travel to Kabul passing  through a rough and hilly terrain as the main routes were cordoned off by the militants and coming across them would have meant a certain death for Khalid and his  family.

“I do not know what is left of our house and our belongings since we left everything behind without having any time to think or to collect anything. The situation is so terrifying that at this point i cannot even think of going back.”

There has been news that the security  situation in the area is improving and things are getting back to normal. Khalid is contemplating to move back since living in KAbul is unaffordable for him, but he will move to some other town in Kunduz and not his hometown since that would be too big a risk to take.

Khalid and his family have survived with the money that they had for the last fifteen days but now they are running out of money , thus are totally dependent on  the humanitarian response that they are receiving from the government and other humanitarian organizations.

Community World Service Asia has distributed two month food packages to 370 conflict affected families in Kunduz. Mohammad Khalid was also among the beneficiaries. “At the moment we are totally dependent on humanitarian assistance, and for people like me, who cannot freely move due to the security issues, it’s a great support which we can  never forget,” expressed Mohammad Khalid.

Note: Tragic events such as the death of Mohammad Khalid’s father and the injuries inflicted on his brother have terrified the family to an extent that the family did not allow the project staff to take their photos as they had feared that they would be tracked down by the militants if the photos were published.

Community World Service Asia has been working to promote quality and equality in education in Afghanistan since 2009, providing continuous professional development for teachers and access to education for girls. Strong relationships have been built with the schools and communities in Laghman and Nangarhar provinces, which have been extremely important in creating a supportive environment for education projects.  However, government authorities in Afghanistan are often skeptical of NGOs and INGOs, due in large part to the country’s experience of improperly and ineffectively implemented projects.  It is therefore difficult for organizations to obtain government approval for their work, and many projects face criticism and obstacles which impede progress.

Community World Service Asia endeavors to work alongside and in partnership with the local government, supporting its policies, strategies and priorities.  We ensure that we meet regularly with relevant government authorities to keep them informed about our work, and this has contributed to good relationships between us as an NGO, and the government in Afghanistan, which has been supportive and appreciative of our efforts and work.

Earlier this year, the head of NGOs Coordination at the Provincial Education Directorate in Nangarhar resigned. His replacement, Mr. Baheer, was reluctant to authorize a subject-based training workshop for Math teachers.  He was concerned that the workshop would be a waste of the teachers’ time, as he perceived such trainings to be conducted in order for organization’s to meet their targets, not to effectively build the capacity of teachers.

Community World Service Asia therefore invited an official from the Education Directorate’s Monitoring and Evaluation Department to attend the full five-day training, and invited Mr. Baheer as a chief guest on the final day. He was then able to witness first-hand the impact of the training on the participating teachers.

Sayed Anwar, a trainee, was asked by Mr. Baheer to share his feedback on the training.  “I really enjoyed the training and would definitely say that this was the best training I have every attended. I had attended different trainings, but still had lots of challenges in Math subject.  This training, besides solving these challenges, provided me with the opportunity to learn different teaching methodologies which can be used to teach Math. I always thought that the only method for teaching Math subject is lecturing, but now I have learnt different methods which will definitely help in conducting effective classes for my students.  I would really like to appreciate Community World Service Asia’s efforts and support on building teachers’ capacity and improving education quality.”

After attending the workshop, observing the training and listening to the comments and feedback of the participants, Mr. Baheer left with a much more positive view of Community World Service Asia’s work to support the professional development of teachers.  “I have visited a few training sessions conducted by different organizations and, honestly saying, they were just waste of time.  I was thinking that Community World Service Asia’s training would also be the same, but, as far as I saw, from the training room and the satisfaction of the participants, I believe it was a good training and you have really worked hard to make it happen.”  As well as demonstrating the quality and effectiveness of our trainings, Mr. Baheer’s comments highlight the importance of working in cooperation with government officials, and including them in our work so that we can continue to serve communities.

An 8 year old Kainat was spotted during our visit to DHQ Alpuri. She was injured when we met her as she was held by her father, who supports a family of nine including his wife, his father, two sons and four daughters. Kainat’s family are residents of the earthquake affected village Maal of UC Kuzkana, District Shangla.

“We were all sitting in the kitchen after having lunch when the earthquake hit with full intensity. We rushed and evacuated our house and gathered in the fields outside. I was looking around at the shaking houses, mountains and trees as the earthquake continued. Then, all of a sudden, our house started to collapse around me, giving me no time to move. A wooden beam fell on my leg while at the same time some pieces of stones hit my grandfather,”

narrated Kainat’s as she recalled her experience during the devastating earthquake.

Kainat’s father added, “Nearly fifty percent of houses were destroyed in our village but the neighbors whose houses survived showed great solidarity and immediately started helping those families affected. They  helped us to rescue my daughter and my father from the rubble and quickly moved them to the hospital. We reached RHC Karora in a state of emergency, where, after being provided with first aid, we were referred to the Swat Hospital, as Kainat’s leg was broken in two places and my father was severely injured. We received a thorough treatment at the Swat Hospital; my daughter was discharged but my father is still admitted there.”

Upon inquiring about the current needs of those affected by the earthquake, he replied that the affected communities are currently seeking shelter under polythene sheets in open fields as the other villagers help in providing them with food and comfort to the best of their abilities. The weather is becoming extremely cold. Tents, blankets and food items are most needed for families like Kainat’s to survive and recover.

“I have nothing left to lose any more.”

Sartaj Bacha is resident of Village Syedano Kalay in Tehsil Barikot, district Swat and was living quite a content life with his wife and five daughter. Despite not earning very handsomely since he was working on a daily wage, his life in his three room mud house was comfortable. Every morning he walked to work.

“The pouring rain on the day of the disastrous earthquake proved to be a blessing in disguise for my family and myself as I was home with them since I could not go to work due to the continuous rain. As the trembling of the earthquake began, I ran to take my four daughters and wife out of the house to a safer location but in haste I forgot my youngest daughter, Sania, two and a half years, sleeping in bed.”

Sania was buried under the debris of the fallen roof and the panicked parents could hear her helpless cries from beneath the rubble. With the help of his neighbors, Sartaj instantly reached out to Sania after digging her out from the rubble. She was dug out of the rubble uninjured miraculously. “Had I been not at home, I would have lost any one of my family members,” expressed Sartaj, holding Sania in his arms. “I thank God for sending rains as my family’s savior”.

“Even though I lost everything, I have my family with me.” Sartaj and his affected neighbors are living with their relatives in their house in a nearby village. The affected communities in this area have not yet received any immediate support from humanitarian or government agencies.  Most of the community members are being supported with food assistance by their relatives from the winter food stocks that they were holding. That stock is also being depleted quickly since it is feeding more than its intended recipients.

Sartaj Bacha expressed that he has not yet thought of any recovery or rehabilitation plans yet. All of his family’s belongings have been lost with the earthquake. Earning opportunities in Swat have diminished greatly since it has been affected by disasters one after the other- growing militancy, military operation followed by 2010 devastating floods and now this massive earthquake.

Community World Service Asia’s team is currently doing the needs assessment in district Swat, Shangla, Malakand, Buner and Kohistan districts. The initial information received from the field team indicates that winterization support, food and health support are direly needed by the communities. Community World Service Asia will start its interventions within this week for the affected people to cover the gap identified during the assessment.

Collected by Waheed Murad, Community World Service Asia Staff