Stories

Kamla is a resident of Surto Oad village in District Umerkot.  Kamla’s father, Mr. Mukesh Kumar, is the sole earner for her family, and was scarcely able to earn enough to support his household of eight people.  Women in these villages in rural Sindh are largely dependent on male family members for financial and social support.  It is extremely difficult for them to overcome cultural and social barriers to earn an income.  For Kamla, who is living with a disability, those barriers are especially difficult: “A I’m a physically disabled woman, I can’t go out for labor in agricultural fields as most of the women do.”

In spite of these difficulties, Kamla is resolved to support her family and help them to build a resilient future free of any financial worries.  “I have the art of embroidery. I can do embroidery work at my home also, and I can help my family to reduce financial burden.”

She believes that lack of education, ignorance of health issues and gender discrimination are the major obstacles to women’s empowerment in her community. She stated that when she was informed that an NGO (Community World Service Asia) was establishing an embroidery center at her village, a ray of hope was rekindled for her. She already knew the art of embroidery, but her work was never acknowledged and she did not receive due wages for her laborious work.

Despite having no formal vocational training, she is very skilled in embroidery and produces high quality work.  However, as she has been unable to properly market her products, her work remained underpaid.  “After taking the artisans’ skill test, I was informed that I have qualified the test and team selected me for the embroidery learning center. I was really glad to hear this news and was highly excited that now my skill will be improved and my work will be recognized with fair wages.”

Kamla explained how participating in the project will support her to earn a real income from her work: “After a three-month course on embroidery, and then an additional three months for production, I will be able to get an idea about marketing those products and what are the rates of market.  Then I can assist my father in terms of contributing income.”

Her father will also be engaged in the project activities as a gender activist.  Kamla shared how he is working to promote gender equality in the community after participating in Community World Service Asia’s TOT workshop for gender activists: “Since the training, he is delivering lectures on a regular basis with my neighbors and my relatives and motivates them to educate their daughters as well.” She is quite hopeful that the difference between male and female which society has created will now be reduced; women are now talking about their health issues with their male counterparts.

For Kamla, the most important impact of the project has been that she is now empowered to support her family.  “Around the clock, I remained in tension, wondering when I would be able to do something for my family. Now I have trust in myself that I can also help my family financially. Despite my physical disability, I can also be independent and can contribute my due share for the betterment of both my family and my community as well.”

“My husband, Habib Rehman, was killed six months ago when the militants attacked our village Dara-e-Robat in Chardara District in Kunduz. His death left us alone and very vulnerable as he was the only bread winner of the family. After his death, the conflict increased and since I feared for my children’s and my own life, we took with us whatever we could from our house and fled to Kunduz City. At that time, we felt Kunduz City would be a safe haven for us to live in and to start rebuilding our lives but it did not turn out that way. Although it was extremely difficult for me and is considered culturally shameful, I resorted to begging on the streets in order to feed my children.”

Mazari, Habib’s widow, also started working as a maid for wealthier families in a desperate attempt to earn more income for her six children. After a few weeks of the displacement, organizations arrived in Kunduz and provided humanitarian assistance to the displaced communities. Among these organizations was Community World Service Asia who assisted Mazari’s family among others with the provision of two month food rations. “This was very helpful as my tension eased and I did not have to worry about providing food to feed my children and could instead focus on looking for a job. With the assistance we received from Community World Service Asia and other organizations such as UNHCR, UNICEF and NRC, we began to feel a sense of hope towards living a better life,” said Mazari.

“Soon, Kunduz City became a war ground as well. The militants attacked the city and took control, followed by intense battles between them and the armed forces. I was terrified. We hid in our homes, unable to go out as that could mean an instant for us. The shops in the city were all closed; there was no water nor food items to cook meals with. We were left hungry even though we had dry food rations. My children were also frightened, especially of the hammering sounds of weapons and bombs exploding, which continued day and night.”

Many people, including women and children, were killed on the street that Mazari lived on. After three days of continued fighting, Mazari rushed to leave the war struck city with her children. The next morning, when the ongoing struggle seemed to have calmed, the helpless mother took the risk to come out of their shelter and started walking back to her own village. However upon reaching their village district, Mazari was informed that the situation there was still unstable and under militant siege. “I stood there confused and afraid, not knowing what to do next. After talking to the local communities there, I learnt that many people were migrating to Taluqan City of Takhar Province, which is the neighboring province to Kunduz. I was also given an address of a man who was transferring people to Takhar in his vehicle. I took my children along and stood at his door. I begged him to save children and me and to drive us to Taluqan. He finally agreed after pleading him for hours.”

Mazari has now relocated to Taluqan city. For the first two days, her children and her lived in a partially constructed house located inside a walled piece of land; mostly sleeping under the open sky. “The weather in Takhar is getting cooler especially during the night and it was becoming difficult to sleep and live in the open, especially for the children. I started looking for other displaced families in the city who would be interested in renting a house together. I found four such families from my own village and we finally found a house for all of us to rent out together.”

Even though the rent was not much, it was still expensive for Mazari to afford so she borrowed money from some relatives to contribute equally in the rent. The house they rented had five rooms so each family got a room. The tiny room in the house was home for Mazari and her five daughters and a son. As this destitute family fled Kunduz City in haste, they left most of their belongings in their house and did not have nothing in Taluqan. Neighbors and other displaced families sometimes assisted the families living in the house with food which all the five families shared, leaving insufficient amounts for each person to consume.

“We slept on the bare ground without any mattress or blanket. It was much better than sleeping in the open air but it was still quite cold. I was grateful to a kind family who gave me an old blanket, a quilt and a pillow which my children could take over them at night. We, the displaced community, approached the government but they did not provide us any assistance in Taluqan.  I am tired of running and I am fearful for my children and myself. Who will help us?” wept an exhausted Mazari.

Mazari is in contact with Community World Service Asia staff and has informed the staff of her return from Takhar to Kunduz city since now the government has taken back control of the city from the insurgents.  Upon return, she found the shelter she once lived in with her children before the Kunduz conflict completely destroyed. All of her belongings that she received from generous families and humanitarian agencies left there were burnt or looted. Mazari and her family, like hundreds other, are currently living without food and shelter in Kunduz city.

 

Ms. Kainat is a teacher at one of Community World Service Asia’s Adult Literacy Centers, equipping rural women with basic literacy and numeracy skills.

  1. How did you become a teacher?

It was my childhood wish to become a teacher, so after passing my Intermediate examination I started teaching in private schools. Then I applied in UNICEF for an adult literacy project, where I started to teach adult women, who had never been to school. That was the start of my teaching experience.

  1. Why do you think it’s important for women in rural areas to have literacy skills?

It is commonly observed that women in rural areas are not allowed to go outside the home, whether it is for getting an education or to do any job, although they may want to.  I think it is important for women in rural areas to have literacy skills, because if they are literate then they can participate more efficiently in any development activities of their area, they can be able to read and write the basic literacy words and numbers which are also essential for their life. Not only this, but if they start their own business, this literacy skill can build up their confidence and help out them to keep the balance record of expenditure, profit and loss.

  1. Did you have any concerns before your first class? What were your expectations?

Yes, I had just one concern about what their response would be, as they are going to join literacy classes for the very first time in their life, but I had some expectations that by utilizing my experience I would try my level best to teach them.

  1. What teaching methodologies do you use? In what ways do the students find these to be effective?

I teach students through different activities like playing games and role plays. I bring them on stage or give them space for discussion to build their confidence level. I also motivate them by giving small gifts so that their interest level can be enhanced and they can be more encouraged.

  1. What progress have you observed in the students?

Before starting the adult literacy course, they were facing difficulty even in holding a pencil, in recognition and pronunciation of words. They were very shy in asking questions or coming forward, but after attending the classes they have become confident, they take part in different project related activities like the celebration of International Literacy Day. They are able to read and write their name, small words and sentences. Now they easily recognize their Computerized National Identity Card by the numbers written on that. They read the expiry date before using any medicine and are familiar with the basic concept of adding and subtraction.

  1. Has anything surprised you?

I was surprised when some of the women told me that initially their men were not allowing them to join the Adult Literacy Centre.  The men were discouraging them, but in spite of that, the women did not leave their hope to learn literacy skills and didn’t say, “Sorry, but we can’t join the ALC.”  They tried to motivate their men by telling them the benefits of the centre, and they continued their classes.

  1. What motivates you to teach these students?

These women have never been to school, but they know the value and importance of education. Whatever homework has been assigned, they try to complete it and also ask to extend the ALC classes to learn more and more. So their level of interest towards getting knowledge and learning to read and write motivates me to teach them.

  1. How do you hope that your classes will help them in the long-term?

I think that their level of interest for learning will help them to learn by themselves even more. Also, literacy skills will help them when they go on to use their vocational training [provided by Community World Service Asia] to support their livelihood.  They are also sharing the information and the knowledge which they learn from ALC classes with their children and family members.

  1. How do you think these classes benefit the community as a whole?

The community has become more aware of the importance of girl’s education.  The Village Organization has taken initiative to increase the enrolment of girls in the village school, women are now allowed to come for literacy classes from neighboring areas. The Village Organization is also planning to promote girls’ education in their surrounding villages.  In this way, the establishment of adult literacy is gradually bringing change in the community.

Fareed, seven years old, was brought to the center for the first time by his grandmother for a chest infection.  His Grandmother said, “I bring him here because I trust the services of MNCH centre.”

Zameer, five years old, was also visiting the center for the first time due to a chest infection.  The team examined and treated him, and advised him to come for a follow-up visit in three days.

Kasbano, nine years old, came to the center after suffering from suspected malaria for four days.  The team confirmed the diagnosis and provided her with medication.  Malaria is a widespread problem in Thatta, exacerbated by recent flooding.

Zulakhan, 40, came to the center for antenatal care.  As well as providing pre- and post-natal services, the team promotes awareness of the importance of continued check-ups for the health of new mothers among the community, and the number of women who come to the center for these check-ups has increased significanty.

Hakeema, 75, came to the center for a muscular-skeletal issue.  The MNCH means that women have access to health care services locally.  For elderly women in particular, the ability to reach a doctor when they need one without the time, expense and risk of travelling outside the village to the district hospital is integral to quality of life. 

Sodi, 45, visited the center to treat an intestinal ulcer.  Poverty and poor sanitation increase the likelihood of the bacterial infection associated with the development of intestinal ulcers.  These can be effectively treated with medication, but can be extremely dangerous if left untreated, underlining the importance of access to local health facilities for women like Sodi.

The field team in Thatta recently participated in a photography workshop, and has shared these portraits of patients at the Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health Center, funded by Church of Scotland, using their new skills.

“Floods make the poor, the poorest” – Mai Pathani (Gotkhi, Sindh)

Mai Pathani is a 50 year old housewife from the village of Nehal Chachar in Union Council (UC) Qadir Pur in Gotkhi, Sindh. Her husband is a barber named Khawand Buksh. The couple has four daughters and three sons together.  Mai Pathani has kept two goats to contribute to the household income since her husband’s income alone is insufficient for the family of nine.

CO-PIC-00034-15 (1)Before the floods hit their village this year, Khawand Buksh provided hair cutting bservices to the village residents and in return each of his clients paid him with wheat grains after each harvest. Some of his clients in the village also offered Buksh’s family food supplies.  However, this support was inconsistent.

Despite living in poverty and on limited resources, Mai Pathani’s zest for life was alive. She celebrated Eid with her neighbors and relatives in the village with enthusiasm not knowing the day to follow would leave her house and her village under water. Mai Pathani and the rest of the villagers were completely unaware of the coming rains when all of a sudden heavy showers started pouring in and within minutes flood water had entered the village.

The residents of Nehal Chachar were informed by authorities that the water level in their village would not rise and they could stay in the village without any worry. There had not been any major flooding in the area since 2010 so the villagers were quite confident about the safety of their village. However, on the night of 18th July, 2015, following Eid day, heavy showers of rain lasted the whole day with water overflowing from Indus River entering the village and submerging it completely. Mai Pathani’s family among many other villagers rushed to leave the flooded Nehal Chachar in the midst of the night. By this time the flood waters had risen up to five feet inside their homes.

Khawand Buksh’s limited income did not allow him to afford renting a boat to carry his family members along with their household essentials out of their plummeting village to the emergency evacuation area at Qadir Pur Band. Inevitably, the family took the risk of sailing out of the village on a large sized frying pan despite the continuing heavy rains and strong winds. Buksh’s family had used the same transport method to float out of their village during the 2010 floods as well. It took them almost an hour to reach the Loop Bund via the frying pan.

Watching an entire family floating in just a frying pan surrounded by nothing but water was quite terrifying for onlookers. However many could not see how Mai Pathani’s family was barely floating economically and socially as well. The family did not own any land or any sustainable assets to ensure their dietary sustenance. To add on, barbers and their families are often socially marginalized in communities in this area; the rigid class system denies such families an equal right to education and participation in social and political spheres.

Mai Pathani’s house and their preserved stock of 480 kgs of wheat had been washed away by the floods. Agricultural and domestic assets of other villagers who often supported their family were also destroyed. Temporarily living at a shelter in Qadirpur Bund, Khawand Buksh sometimes travels to the nearby town to find some clients for his barber service. If fortunate to find clients, he earns PKR 50 a day.   Earning this amount and sharing the meal bought by it with other affected families means that his own family hardly consumes a nutritional meal. The family is desperately struggling to make ends meet.

Previously when the floods had not yet hit this peaceful village, Mai Pathani’s family at least took two meals in a day; both the meals consisted of either pulses or vegetables but were sufficient for their family.  Since the advent of the floods however, the family’s meals reduced to one a day as pulses and vegetables were scarcely available.  Being a woman and coming from a socially marginalized background, the floods and the ensuing displacement has exposed Mai Pathani to not just apparent risks as food insecurity but also to many protection issues.

Being in a displaced setting, Mai Pathani and her two adolescent daughters have to wait the whole day to use the temporary constructed latrines.  They have to wait till its dark and there are no men around the latrine area. Pathani and Buksh’s youngest son used to attend school but since the village was hit by the floods, his education has been put on hold too. As a responsible mother and a devoted wife, Mai Pathani’s hardship and sacrifices do not end here. She first feeds her seven children and her husband and eats only if there is any food left over after they have consumed their meal.

Mai Pathani’s family was among the affected communities supported by Community World Service Asia’s Emergency Humanitarian assistance project for Floods Response in Gotkhi last month. She expressed that the food assistance by the organization has made a positive (suthu) impact on their lives. Before the emergency assistance was provided to them, the family only got to eat rice twice a week if lucky.  Whereas since the support from Community World Service Asia, they are eating rice more often in a week. The quantity and quality of their daily meals has since then improved as well. Now they have more supply of pulses and wheat bread which makes up a more nutritional meal for the family.

The Buksh family, more popularly known as “the floating family” now hope to return to their village and their home within the next two weeks. They are hoping the flood water levels will recede by then.  The committed Mai Pathani plans to help her husband in reconstructing their house once they return to their village. They are optimistic that they will reconstruct the house after a month once the land is fully dry. Though, belonging to a socially marginalized family, Mai Pathani and her husband do not have very high hopes for a drastic change in their life after returning home.

While other villagers will start sowing seeds in their crop fields, the floating family will wait for the harvest of the other farmers to share a small portion of their crop produce with them in return of Khawand Buksh’s barber services. Till then, Mai Pathani worries about the availability of sufficient food for her children. The worried mother envisages that if her children, including daughters, were equipped with some skills they would not have to depend entirely on the crop yields of others. Instead the family would earn and provide for themselves living in their own village.

Written By: Muhammad Fazil, Edited By: Palwashay Arbab

Shaink Bund is the central bund (levee) that protects the Qadir pur union council from the threatening flood waters. Qadirpur Union council is a part of district Ghotki in the Sindh province. As the water levels rise, the water from the Shaink bund flows to the other two bunds, Loop bund and Qadirpur bund. There are around thirty five villages located in between Shaink bund and the two bunds. When water in the Shaink bund overflows to the other two bunds, the villages located in between are heavily flooded. The residents of these villages struggle to survive by seeking immediate refuge at the Loop and Qadirpur bunds.

Mae Husna is a 45 years old mother of six living with her ill husband in village Nihal Goth, situated in the middle of the bunds. Her family is among those who have been displaced to the Loop bund for safety.  Nihal Goth, situated at a 500 meters distance from Loop bund is only a kilometer away from the river bank which is why it is among the most affected villages as the bund overflows. Most of the houses in the village have sank to almost 90 percent under the flood water. These houses have become unfit to live in even after the water levels go down.

Remember the horrifying day of when the flood came, Mae Husna mournfully narrated the experience,

“The water levels had started increasing on the night before Eid. The water had started flowing into our house heavily so we had to leave our house soon after offering Eid prayers early morning. Our only aim was to save our lives and leave everything else and our home as it was. We were given no early warnings about the floods.”

Her husband being unable to work due to his illness, Mae Husna is the sole bread winner for the family. Of her five daughters, three have been married off so they live on their own with their husbands while the younger two daughters have been sent to a relative’s house to be in a safer environment. The mother could forsee the protection issues her teenage daughters would have had to face in such uncertain living conditions at the embankment.  Having no biological son of her own, Mae Husna adopted her only son from her relatives who is with her and her husband at the Loop bund these days.

The flood affected communities in Qadirpur UC are facing grave water, sanitation and health and hygiene issues. They have no food to cook for themselves or utensils to cook with. They are living without shelters. Drinking water is brought from a two kilometers distant village. Diseases such as   diarrhea among children, malaria, high fever and skin infections have been reported at a rise.

Community World Service Asia along with its local partner in Sindh, Transformation and Reflection for Rural Development (TRD) have identified and selected hundred most vulnerable flood affected families taking refuge at Loop bund in district Ghotki. These selected families have been distributed one month food rations. The food package has been designed for a household of six members, which is the average household size in the province. The items in the food package include 65Kgs of wheat flour, 15kgs of rice, 8 kgs of pulses, 4 kgs of sugar, 6 liters of oil, 800 grams of iodized salt, 400 grams of black tea leaves and a match box.

Based on the selection criteria of the most vulnerable families, Mai Husna and her family has been selected for the emergency food assistance. After receiving the food ration she expressed,

“Life cannot be the same all the time, but it is good that an organization such as Community World Service Asia is here to help troubled people like us in such difficult times.”

Written by Neill Garvie

Photo credit: Saleem Dominic- Community World Service Asia staff

Yesterday, with my Pakistani colleagues, I visited the river banks/bunds of the Indus River in Ghotki, Qadirpur, Upper Sindh, where more than 5,000 families are stranded. The day was hot, maybe 40 degrees or more, with harsh sun and wind.

The stranded people are small-scale farmers reliant on their landlords and mostly indebted to money lenders. Their lives are hard, now made impossible. They had left their homes in the middle of the night as flood waters consumed their homes, taking their livestock, buffaloes and cattle.

Some men had stayed behind to protect what was left: submerged houses surrounded by stinking rank water, black and green, with all sorts of debris around. They burned tree stems cut for firewood to enable them to boil the water from the flood to drink.

The women had moved further along the bund (embankment or levee) with their children and what household items they had, their simple cooking utensils laid out on the riverbank. They had no privacy, no toilets, nothing. Many have no shelter except for their clothes and some sheets for protection from the baking heat.

Men sat looking helpless and in their eyes I saw bewilderment and sadness; what could be their next move but to wait? I sat with a group of men my own age, looking tired and haggard. They told me that they had been reduced to drinking the flood water.

We looked out at the sea of flood which stretched as far as I could see; it could be weeks before the water subsides as the ground is saturated.

I listened to the people on the bund and put myself in their shoes. I held back my tears and said that I was so very sorry that this had happened to them again. They are very poor people without hope, fearing what lies ahead.

They are the same people who suffered in the 2010 floods. The water level here is just one foot lower than it was at the height of the 2010 floods and more flood water is expected in the next two or three days.

Children however played in the flood water, sharing it with the buffalo that are defecating in it. Sugar cane and all other crops have been wiped out and standpipes and water pumps are now submerged by over nine feet of flood water.

People have no option but to drink the flood water option unless they can find water or someone can provide it. Disease, diarrhoea or cholera threatens. Cattle do not have fodder. It’s desperate and chilling.

The Pakistan army has been protecting and fortifying the bund where people were stranded with huge rocks, many transported in tractors and overladen trailers. One tractor and trailer was so heavy that it destroyed a bridge designed for donkey carts.

But the flood water is seeping through the bund and the added rocks may not do much to stop more flood water. It will come, because up country the heavy rain continues and it will all enter the Indus and be deposited in Sindh. If the Sukkur barrage (or dam) gives way, then millions of people will be affected by the flood as they were in 2010.

In Ghotki, some people had received tents from the Pakistani government’s Provincial Disaster Management Authority. Others have started to help with food and drinking water.

But the stranded people will have many more needs and face another uphill struggle to piece their lives back together. They are resilient and have faith, yet they also live beside a huge river which is mostly dormant but which wakes to become an ocean when the monsoon is cruel.

Our Pakistani brothers and sisters will survive but they now face a struggle that few of us can imagine.

Neill Garvie is Christian Aid’s Emergency Programme Manager for Pakistan and wrote this piece as he was visiting Sindh this week.

The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) is an initiative of the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to bring the global community together to commit to new ways of working together to save lives and reduce hardship around the globe. It will be the first global summit on humanitarian action of this size and scope and it will be held in Istanbul at the end of May 2016.

Community World Service Asia held community level consultations in Pakistan and Afghanistan that aimed to gather perspectives on how to take steps towards disaster mitigation in the future, emergency response and recovery, and to share the collected viewpoints ahead as recommendations to the global actors participating at the Summit. The consultations were also directed towards measuring the level of humanitarian assistance offered by the aid groups as well as any indicators of employment opportunities created for the affected communities.  Conducted by Community World Service Asia, these sessions were divided into two categories, one for Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the other for community representatives in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Attempting to amplify the voices of communities in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, Community World Service Asia reached people from a varied demographics for these consultations. These consultations helped in identifying individual and community needs at the time of emergency and the groups that are most effective in meeting the needs of a community during the crisis. Three focus group discussions (FGDs) and fifteen consultations were successfully completed in the month of May in KPK and Sindh provinces of Pakistan. While in June, two FGDs and six Individual consultations were conducted in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan.

These consultations are helping to prepare for and prevent future emergencies, and are planned in close coordination with UNOCHA and the National Humanitarian Network (NHN). The recommendations collected from these consultations are submitted to be included in the final report of the Secretary-General and will set the agenda for the summit. Community World Service Asia will also be contributing messages from the community to the ACT Alliance WHS film which is to be aired at the WHS Global consultation in Geneva in October, and will actively be participating in the Summit in Istanbul in May 2016 as well.

Community World Service Asia’s Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health (MNCH) center, funded by Church World Service Global and the Church of Scotland, serves a local population of approximately 20,500 in Union Council Bijora, Thatta, in the Sindh province. The remote, rural area is affected by a lack of health infrastructure and services. A lack of female doctors and health practitioners, as well as cultural norms which pose barriers to women travelling, mean that women are particularly under-served and that their health issues remain a serious problem.

The MNCH center provides easily accessible and affordable health care to the local community, which not only enables women to avail vital services, but alleviates the financial burden of expensive travel to the nearest hospital, which can cost families around Rs. 1,000 (USD 10). A key component of the project is community mobilization, which promotes the engagement and ownership of community members. Through the formation of male and female Health Management Committees (HMCs), we are able to build trusting relationships with communities, which are essential to effectively address key health issues. The HMC members conduct basic level awareness raising sessions on hygiene practices, common and seasonal diseases such as malaria, and family planning.

The HMCs also play a vital role in sharing information among men and women in the community regarding the health services available at the MNCH, including more in-depth awareness-raising sessions. In addition, HMCs provide transport to patients in emergency situations, identify current health issues and report them to the project team, as well as supporting the team with the management of medicine stocks. This participation is essential to Community World Service Asia’s vision of empowered communities. HMC members demonstrated their strong sense of local ownership by sharing their hopes for the MNCH center in ten years’ time: a “first class” facility for the community.