“Literacy unlocks the door to learning throughout life, is essential to development and health, and open the way for democratic participation and active citizenship.” Kofi Annan, Former General Secretary of United Nations

September 8th is celebrated as International Literacy Day marking the importance of literacy for individuals and communities worldwide. This year, International Literacy Day is celebrated with the theme “Reading the past, writing the future” on its 50th anniversary. UNESCO recognized the fact that reading and writing are amongst the most important skills children can learn in school. It is also important to know that not all children are fortunate enough to be educated. UNESCO reports that 1 in 5 adults in the world is illiterate and two thirds of these illiterate adults are women. Community World Service Asia is supporting women and children through their education and literacy programs in Pakistan and Afghanistan where literacy and development rates are at its lowest. The programs are heavily embedded with gender equality in determining access.

Basmeena’s story

In a small village in Behsood district in Afghanistan, Basmeena, an 11th grade student at the Bahrabad Girls High School, has stepped out of the conservative traditions of her community. She aims to make a difference and change the negative mind-sets of both men and women in the society she has grown in. “Personal growth is only possible when you look beyond the four walls of your home. Gaining exposure by moving freely in society, be that through school or at work, it is necessary to meet and greet new people from different walks of life to gain new perspectives and develop oneself as a human being”, affirms a confident Basmeena.

Basmeena participated in one of the Civic Education Camps conducted in some of the girls’ schools in Behsood District through Community World Service Asia’s Girls Education project. Attending the camp helped boost her creativity, build confidence and enhance her presentation skills. She interacted with students and teachers from different schools and communities, with some of whom she became good friends. Since most girls in these communities come from similar backgrounds, it is easy to befriend relatable individuals with whom one can share thoughts and ideas.

“I always felt I could be a leader, but this just remained a thought in my head.” Basmeena being a poised girl, was looking for opportunities to be able to speak up and let her voice to be heard by those who mattered and were capable of making a difference. She was able to find a slot at the camp, where she volunteered for the Mock Camp Elections as a Presidential candidate alongside two fellow students. Basmeena energetically started campaigning to gain maximum support and votes for the Election Day. “Since I love to talk, I did not hold myself back.” She delivered powerful speeches and acted as a dependable leader of her party. When the elections came to a conclusion, Basmeena was astonished to find out that she had won with majority votes in her support and has become the President.

Basmeena adds that after winning the election in the summer camp and being appreciated by the facilitators and participants for her capacity to deliver powerful speeches, she became more confident and hopeful. She searched for other opportunities to take part in where she could debate, speak, and represent the girls of her school in front of an audience. After taking her parents’ permission, she contacted the Girls Education Project (GEP) team and requested their support in talking with the school management regarding her membership acceptance in the school’s Parent and Teacher Committee (PTC). With the active correspondence of the GEP team, the school management was convinced and approved the membership of Basmeena to join the PTC. She was proudly introduced to the committee as the first student representative member of the PTC. “I am so glad for being welcomed as a PTC member, a formal platform where I can discuss issues faced by my friends and fellow students. Now I am officially a leader!”

26 year old Chandna from Village Nabisar says: The most beneficial feature of provided medical services is the free of cost treatment by a trained healthcare team and quality medicines given for free. Before Community World Service’s health project, we used to suffer because of the lack of Female Medical Officer in our area and we had to travel long distances for treatment and we also used to spend a lot on medication.

Community World Service Asia is operating three Rural Healthcare Units (RHU) in Hyderfarm Taluka, Nabisar Taluka Kunri and Dhoronaro in district Umerkot in Sindh. These healthcare units provide curative and preventive health services to the communities. The RHUs located in Hyderfarm and Nabisar also consist of an outdoor patient department (OPD) and provides free consultations and essential medicines to patients. Labour rooms are operational at all the three health facilities. The staff at these healthcare units include female medical officers, lady health visitors (LHVs), medical technicians and social mobilizers.

The health services at these RHUs focus primarily on reproductive health of women of child-bearing age. Disease Early Warning System (DEWS) and Health Information System (HIS) have also been established at two of these health facilities.

Sheherbano belongs to Haji Talib Bijoro, a small village in Thatta district, Sindh, Pakistan. At just 18 years of age, Sheherbano has already been working as an information secretary in her village, facilitating various NGOs who work with the community there. Passionate about working towards the betterment of her village, she spoke about her participation in the recently held three-day disaster risk reduction (DRR) training.

“In the beginning when Community World Service Asia came to our village, they discussed how they were going to work with us for the betterment of our community and our village. We learnt so many things about fires, storms, floods and earthquakes. They informed us about the different measures we could undertake to keep ourselves safe during floods and fires,” she said.

Talking about the precautionary measures to take during disasters, Sheherbano said that while she and her fellow villagers were previously unaware and uninterested, participation in the training had changed their perspective and they had become interested in learning about preventative measures.

“In case of a flood, as soon as we hear about it on the radio news, we should take the elderly and the children of our village to a safer place. I also learnt that we should keep our valuables with ourselves and in case of an emergency, we should find a place which is above the ground level to keep ourselves safe,” she added.

Sheherbano is eager to spread this knowledge with her family and friends in neighbouring villages as well. She said that weddings or other village ceremonies are good opportunities for her to tell her friends about her learning at the training conducted by Community World Service Asia staff in Haji Talib Bijoro.

When a fellow villager told Sheherbano about a fire that broke out in their village, she shared her knowledge on the actions and precautionary measures one should take as she had learnt during the DRR trainings. She shared the causes behind fires breaking out and spreading fast and how to effectively and immediately contain it with her neighbours and community members.

Shanti, 30, is an artisan from Kharoro Charan village in Umerkot, Sindh.  Embroidery has been a part of her life from a young age. “I learned embroidery skills myself because my mother died when I was just a child,” Shanti proclaims. “I enjoy this work because it is in our culture, and our community is known for this work.”

Traditional handicraft skills are a daily feature in the life of most rural Sindhi communities.  “Embroidery  work is a good source of income for our people and many love to wear embroidered clothes in all seasons in our country,” Shanti believes. “Our handmade craft is demanded in the market, and fortunately we are very rich in this skill.”

Shanti joined Community World Service Asia’s training centre because she wanted to see her embroidery to be used in new and different designs and products which could be sold in the urban market.  She wants to be able to provide for her family and cover the costs of health care and education for her children.  “When my children ask for new clothes for festivals, I am not able to  fulfil their wishes,” Shanti admitted dismally.

Through the project, Shanti has been able to work with design and textile students from Karachi, and learn new skills to further enhance her inborn talent and develop exciting opportunities.  “I did not know about color combination before I met with the students.  They taught me about the usage of color, which colors look better in craft.  Moreover, I got more ideas on new designs, and now I am trying out those designs in my embroidery and stitching”

Shanti enjoyed working with the students and sharing her traditional embroidery skills with them. “The students are very kind and they respect our culture, and have taught us how to work on new designs very well” she says. One of Shanti’s most memorable experiences was visiting Karachi and participating in a design workshop at the Textile Institute of Pakistan campus. “I have never been to any school before, so I was very happy to  visit such a big school,” she added. Shanti hopes to provide better education opportunities to her children  with the additional income she will earn through craft making. “My children will get admission in big schools, and I am already working on orders to be able to achieve that.  Maybe I can start my own enterprise someday!”

Kanwal, 20, is an artisan from Thatta in rural Sindh.  She is one of eight family members, who struggle to make ends meet with an average monthly household income of around Rs. 7,000 (approximately DKK 448).  Most of her family members work as laborers in the field. “Low income has always remained an issue in our family, and often it caused conflict among family members,” she explains. “Because the income is low and the family is large, it is always difficult to pay for clothes, meals and other things.”

Kanwal is the only member of her family who is learning a new skill to earn an income.  “I feel peace of mind while doing embroidery.  Basic stitches, such as running stitch, I learned from my mother and grandmother.  Right now, I have learned some stitches like mirror work, hormuch and filling stitch at the VTC [Vocational Training Center], and embroidery finishing.”

Traditional Sindhi crafts are extremely important to the people in the region.  Kanwal explains that wearing these traditional handicrafts gives people pride in their identity.  Through her involvement in the project, Kanwal can share this artistic heritage through different designs.  “It is my passion to continue working in this project and improve my skills,” she says.  Working with design students of the Indus Valley School in Karachi, has enabled Kanwal to explore a range of new skills and abilities.  She has learned about product ranges, color palettes, different types of material, measurements, pinning and tracing. “It was a good opportunity for me,” she says.  “I really enjoyed [the students’] company and working with them during the design workshop.  I very much liked the institute, it was big and neat.  It seems like a dream that a visited there.”

Kanwal’s favorite experience from the project so far has been participating in the Danish Embassy’s “Innovative Denmark” event, where she showed visitors how to do traditional stitches and shared her skills.  “It has really helped me in raising my confidence,” she says.

Kanwal’s family is also excited about her participation in the project, and are confident that she will be able to earn an income with her developed skills.  An alternative source of income is vital to these communities, who are so reliant on agriculture, an increasingly fragile sector.  She explains the importance of extra income for her family, who are affected by frequent flooding in the area.  “In crop season, I have to work with my family members for twelve to sixteen hours daily under frequently harsh and unhealthy conditions to earn some money and store something for the following year to survive, which is now becoming challenging because of flooding.”

This project, which is supported by the Danish Centre for Arts and Culture and the Danish Embassy in Pakistan, is supporting artisans like Kanwal to enhance their opportunities and protect themselves from such financial shocks and is empowering them to combat poverty for themselves and their families. Under the project, rural artisans are working in collaboration with design students of renown design institutes in Karachi, Pakistan, to learn contemporary designs and stitching techniques to cater to the trending market demands as well.

What is the project?

The project aims to support families affected by recurrent floods who have been left with food shortages and minimal income opportunities as agricultural gains have been washed away.

Target groups:

  • Vulnerable households frequently affected by the floods
  • Flood-affected women engaged in kitchen gardening and other income-generation activities
  • Small landowners (who own up to six acres of land) and sharecroppers who have lost their crops during the recent and previous floods
  • Flood-affected landless labourers
  • Socially and religiously marginalized disaster-affected communities
  • Direct Target Groups: 1,535 households (including 625 women-headed households), or 7,675 individuals
  • Indirect Target Groups: 300 households, or 1,860 individuals who will indirectly benefit from the rehabilitated agriculture infrastructure

Achievements so far:

  • Introduction of IRRI-6 rice crop, a saline tolerant crop which will eventually increase resilience of rice planted in saline-affected fields and protect farmers from damage and loss of crops
  • Each family received three 20kg bags of certified rice seed
  • Each family received one 20kg bag of organic fertilizer, sufficient for cultivating two to three acres of land
  • Orientation on integrated crop management techniques and disaster resilient farming techniques for affected farmers
  • 600 women-headed households received kitchen gardening seeds and tool kits
  • Cash grants and disaster risk reduction sessions support local resilience and capacity to effectively cope with the future disasters
  • Promotion of women’s empowerment and food diversity through kitchen gardening

Community World Service Asia is working with communities in rural Sindh to empower women.  With support from UK Aid and Y Care International, we are training women in vocational and literacy skills to improve their opportunities and combat poverty.  However, in order for women to be able to fully realize their potential, their rights need to be recognized, supported and upheld in their homes and throughout the wider community.

We are working to promote gender equality by highlighting some of the key issues which affect women in this area, including domestic violence and child marriage.  Theater is a powerful tool to approach these difficult topics, as it provides entertainment, can reach a large number of people, and can engage an audience in themes which are relevant to them, overcoming limitations such as low levels of literacy.

More than 60 community members, social workers, civil society activists and students came to watch a performance which was organized and held by local gender activists who are being trained and supported to raise awareness of gender issues through the project.

The play followed the story of a character called Neela, who was married at the age of twelve.  Although the legal minimum age for marriage in Pakistan is eighteen for boys and sixteen for girls, poverty and insecurity mean that many girls are married at a young age.  Through Neela’s character, the audience saw the impact of a decision made by her father, without the involvement of Neela herself or any other family members.

Neela was forced to drop out of school before progressing on to grade six, so that she could go and live with her new husband and his family.  In her new home, she experienced domestic abuse, both physically and mentally. When Neela returned to her parents’ home, the performers stopped the play and invited the audience to decide how to address the situation. This kind of interaction is extremely engaging for the audience and helps them to relate the themes of the performance to their own situations.  The audience suggested that Neela should file a case in court under Sindh’s Child Marriage Act.

The play was able to share the reality of gender inequality with the audience, and to highlight the violations of rights that are caused by practices such as child marriage. Ms Lachmi, one of the performers, explained the importance of highlighting issues relating to gender justice in the community.

“We women should be strong. We are not only the machines of producing children, but all women can stand with men shoulder to shoulder.”

Community World Service Asia’s Capacity Institutionalization project (CIP) continues to provide trainings and technical assistance resources that caters to the requirements of civil society organizations. In an effort to build the capacity of local humanitarian and development organizations and to expand the use of evidence-based practices, Community World Service Asia hosted two networking events in Islamabad and Lahore in the month of June.  Participants from different organizations shared their learnings, success stories and future implementation and partnership ideas in this event.

The first networking event took place in Lahore. Representatives and participants from various organizations attended the session and explored new possible partnerships. Organizations of the same professional community got to know more about each other’s’ work, upcoming trainings and how to participate in them, areas of priority and published work.

The second event of the same nature was held in Islamabad with the aim to promote the trainings the organization offers on various topics on organizational development and humanitarian quality and accountability at national and regional levels among the aid sector in Islamabad.

Participants Tête-à-Tête

FarkhandaDr. Farkhanda Ather – Mercy Corps

“This was an interesting event, which provided an opportunity to know the local NGOs as well as the diversified scope of work of Community World Service Asia”

NobaNoba Anil- Community Advancement Society

“This networking event was very useful, because it gave us a chance to interact with different organizations. These kind of networking events are beneficial for developing relationships between humanitarian organizations.”

mahrukhMahrukh Saleem – Plan international

“We got to find out a lot of helpful information regarding trainings today. This will  help us in enhancing the capacity of our organization’s staff. Moreover, the  event was very interactive and it provided an opportunity for organizations at all levels to get to  know each other.“

Hafeez AhmadSHafeez Ahmed- Human Rights Commission of Pakistan

“The session on Community World Asia’s work, domain and focus areas was quite an informative one. It is good for new learners as well as for those who are running their own CBOS and NGOs to get this sort of information. Vital information about upcoming trainings, their procedure to participate, very important themes like project management and financial management were covered. This session serves as a key for new avenues of development especially for those who are eager to do something in future.”

TariqTariq Rahim- ACF (Action Against Hunger) International

“It is a great experience of working with Community World Service.  They always bring us together and provide us with an opportunity to sit together and share ideas.  The event was a successful platform for networking.”


Strengthening financial management skills in small-scale organizations

A proper understanding and application of financial concepts is becoming essential to professionals working in the nonprofit sector as donor agencies increasingly prefer organizations that have good financial management systems in place. Held from 10-13th of May in Peshawar, this three-day training is the second of its sort specifically designed and organized by Community World Service Asia to strengthen the financial management skills of participants belonging to small-scale organizations. The training aimed to equip participants with knowledge and skills to help them utilize financial management tools efficiently. It was attended by a total number of 23 participants comprising of six women and seventeen men from nine organizations.

The training imparted specific skills on the fundamentals of financial management such as developing effective financial policies and internal controls, streamlining accounting system as per organizational policies, preparing budgets, preparing financial reports as per donor requirements as well as facilitating audits to ensure transparency.

Masood Ahmed, the trainer, helped the participants in developing projects and consolidated budgets using activity-based budgeting techniques, simple cash flow forecasts and learning to use them. The significance of financial policies and procedures was highlighted.

Participants got a clearer understanding of the financial management roles and responsibilities of board members, managers, finance team, and program staff. They became better aware of the importance of budgets in planning, control, and decision-making, the key components and language of accounting systems and the link between budgets, accounting records, and financial reports. One of the participants Shahzad From SSEWA PAK said, “The resource person had full command on the topics discussed and had a grip on the entire session.” Another participant, M. Akbar from Dehi Ijtimai Tarqyati Social Workers Council (DITSWC) said that he appreciated the resource person’s way of handling participants working in both finance and programs and found the session inspiring.

Furthermore, brainstorming, individual exercises, lectures, role-plays, group work, interactive discussions, power point presentations were conducted while handout materials were distributed and discussed with all participants.

Twenty members of sixteen Village Disaster Management Committees (VDMCs) established by Community World Service Asia in rural Sindh visited the Pakistan Meteorological Department in Karachi this May.  The members of this hazard-prone community, which is regularly and severely affected by seasonal flooding, were able to observe the ways in which the government department processes and responds to information on weather, climate and geophysical phenomena with the aim of ensuring safety in the air, land and sea. They also observed how these measures mitigate the impact of climate change on agriculture, the main source of employment and income in the province of Sindh.

Chief Meteorologist, Abdul Rasheed, and his colleague, Sarfaraz, introduced the visitors to the effects of climate change, weather forecasting and early warning systems for heavy rains, heatwaves and flooding.

“It’s a matter of great pleasure for us that Community World Service Asia is taking such brave steps to educate communities at a grass-root level,”

Rasheed shared. “The role of DDMA [District Disaster Management Authority] should be strengthened to reduce disasters at the local level, however our unconditional support is always there.”

Gul Hassan, a VDMC member, added,

“It is a good opportunity to learn how government machinery works. We would also like to request the Chief Meteorologist and his team to educate us in the villages.” 

Hanif Nooh Waliro, another VDMC member, said,

“We have learnt a lot; although the presentation was quite tricky, visiting observatory stations was very informative.”

With support from Christian Aid, Community World Service Asia is working to empower local communities to take action so that they can protect themselves from the impact of natural disasters.  Activities such as this visit enable community members to learn about the causes of natural disasters and the mechanisms which are in place to anticipate them. Such activities build links between government departments and local organizations which contribute to effective coordination for preparedness.