Stories

Zakira shares her artistic skills

“May I come to this room and learn what you are teaching?”

Eight-year-old Zakira became the youngest participant at a recent teachers’ training workshop held by Community World Service Asia at Qala-e-Shikhan Girls’ High School in the Laghman province of Afghanistan.

During the workshop, the facilitators introduced the teachers to the concept of nature and nurture by asking them to think about students that they liked and students whom they found difficult, and to explore the reasons behind their feelings.  Zakira shared that the classmate she most admired was a girl who always helped the other girls in the classroom.

The daughter of a mason, Zakira is the seventh of eleven siblings in a large family which struggles to make ends meet.  In spite of her difficult circumstances, Zakira inspired the team with her energy and interest in learning.

“I will become a teacher and teach children,” she shared.

Although she is not yet able to write, she participated in a poetry competition which was included in the workshop.  The team recorded her ideas and awarded her a runner-up prize for her imaginative verse.

“If I were a bird, I would fly, and when I got tired, I would sit on a tree with peace,” Zakira recited.

Community World Service Asia hopes to support Zakira to fly as she pursues her education, and looks forward to seeing where she lands.

Students and teachers participated actively in a walk/rally, in district Sujawal, organized by Community World Service to mark the importance of Global Earth Day.

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Every year, Global Earth Day is celebrated across the globe to call for action against harmful environmental practices and to help spread awareness about protecting the Earth’s natural environment. To mark the importance of this day and the cause it represents, Community World Service Asia, with support from Christian Aid, pledged to plant 4000 trees in various localities of districts Thatta and Sujawal in Sindh. The team collaborated with Plan International, Action for Humanitarian Development (AHD) and Voice of Youth Group to make this possible.

Titled ‘One Family, One Tree,’ the campaign ran for an entire week  (18-22 April) and was inaugurated by chief guest Mr. Abdul Latif Brohi, Assistant Deputy Commissioner , who planted a tree at the DC office in Thatta. Over the five days of the campaign, trees were planted by men, women and children in schools, government offices, roadsides and villages. Youth volunteers and teachers also participated in the activity.

Community World Service Asia, with the support of the ACT Alliance, has been working to respond to the needs of families affected by severe flooding in 2015.  District Sujawal, in the Sindh province of Pakistan, has been faced with many serious health risks in the aftermath of the flooding.  Access to health facilities and services is a major issue for the community, as the nearest government health facility is at least five kilometers away.  With high levels of poverty, unreliable income sources and the losses faced by families as a result of the floods, the cost of transport and treatment can be an insurmountable obstacle.

Stagnant water and poor shelter conditions result in widespread incidences of malaria, diarrhea, fever, scabies and other skin diseases.  Families who have been displaced by the flooding, as well as young children and the elderly, are especially vulnerable to these illnesses.

Community World Service Asia has been working directly with communities in the Union Councils of Bello and Bijora in District Sujawal for many years, and has developed strong relationships in these areas.  In order to meet the urgent health needs of these communities, a seven-month project was initiated in August 2015.  Mobile health units enabled vulnerable groups such as women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities to access health care in their own villages, and have consultations with doctors.  A total of 12,793 patients were examined by doctors in this seven-month period, which enabled health issues to be properly identified and addressed.  Essential medicines were also provided to patients, which eased the financial burden of health needs and ensured that patients were able to receive the treatment they needed.

In such situations of uncertainty and insecurity, pregnant women in particular are faced with specific risks and challenges.  A Lady Health Visitor and a doctor were also available to provide vital ante- and post-natal care services to 388 women.

As well as responding to current health needs, 362 awareness-raising sessions on health and hygiene were delivered to 8,378 community members in order to prevent the outbreak of illness through improved knowledge and practices.

Community World Service Asia is committed to the accountability of all its interventions, and works to ensure that our projects are implemented in a way that is inclusive and participatory.  A key method for engaging and empowering the communities we work with is to form village committees, who play a vital role in liaising between the communities and the project teams, identifying relevant issues and mobilizing the community.  In seven months 24 village health committees were formed in Union Councils.  We are also committed to ensuring that the voices of all affected people are heard, so half of these committees are women’s committees, and are dedicated to highlighting and addressing the needs of women in the area.

Community World Service Asia is working to enhance the livelihoods opportunities of rural artisan women by linking them with students from design institutes in Karachi.  The artisans and students are collaborating to produce innovative designs which combine traditional handicraft skills with the demands and trends of the modern urban market.  The initiative, supported by the Danish Center for Culture and Development, aims to connect these rural artisans to an urban customer base in order to develop a profitable and sustainable source of income.  The project also provides students with an exciting opportunity to share their skills and knowledge, and learn about the cultural and artistic heritage and value of these handicraft traditions.  This month, we spoke with Zehra Ilyas, a fourth year design student at the prestigious Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, to hear about her experience of the project so far.

Q: Why do you think there is a need for such a program that connects women in rural communities with young women like yourself studying design in urban centers?

A: We, as design intervention students, are taught how to sustain crafts that exist in our country and how to help their revival in a way that the livelihoods of the people who are working in rural areas can be improved. We are also benefitting from them in that these types of embroidery are not available all over the world.

Q: What do you feel that you are gaining from your involvement in the project?

A: They [the artisans] are producing a different type of embroidery that no other part of the world can produce. It’s a great thing to have that sort of craft revival in your own country so that you can get linked to your roots and you can do something different from what is already being produced. More specifically, I would like to point out that in a time when there is so much mass production, if there are hand-embroidered products, that of course creates an impact.

Q: As a designer, what have you learnt from the artisans?

A: It was a very humbling experience.  We think that we know everything, but when we meet them, we know that there is so much more to learn, not just because of the embroidery that they are doing, but the fact that they are very experienced with their embroidery. We feel like we know it and that we can just draw it, but there’s more to it. The way they are so patient with it, they are so good with their work and are extremely disciplined with it.

Q: What were the main challenges that you faced while visiting the artisans in their rural village?

A: Language was the biggest barrier. Secondly, there were time constraints as one or two hours are not enough with each artisan. That was one problem but they were so hospitable and nice. There were no other issues as such besides language and time.

Q: What do you think is the importance of empowering women – especially in a country like Pakistan where we are still struggling to provide basic rights to women?

A: Pakistan, being a third world country and the education level being so low, making women independent should be one of the biggest aims of the country. When we look at how women are oppressed it’s very important to make them independent. Teaching them how to be independent, I believe, that is a very big step. It gives them confidence to deal with people and situations. If I give them an order and ask them to produce something in a given time frame, it develops them in a different way.

Q: What other projects or brands have impacted your interested in a project that encourages collaboration between rural and urban communities?

A: Well, FnkAsia [a brand which sells women’s clothing and accessories] collaborates with a group in Chitral. It’s a good brand and the products are expensive. The thing is that the products are being sold and the artisans are being paid. That is the basic aim.

Q: What did you learn from them?

A: Patience. I am not a very patient person and even though there was a language barrier, the artisans were so calm and relaxed with us.

 

 

 

Community World Service Asia is working to empower young women in rural Sindh through improved earning opportunities, literacy skills, and enhanced awareness of gender equality.  Kaveeta is eighteen years old and lives in Walhar village in Umerkot, where the project is being implemented in partnership with Y Care International and UK Aid.

She is engaged in the project as an artisan and an instructor at the Adult Literacy Center.  Currently, her entire household subsists on around Rs. 6,000 (approximately US$57) a month. “Lack of income means doing everything the hard way,” she explains. “We are struggling to get food.”  For Kaveeta and her family, meeting the basic needs of nutrition, health and education is a constant challenge.

When Community World Service Asia initiated the project in her village, a local steering committee was formed and the members met with the community to tell them about the project and encourage them to participate.  Kaveeta was already experienced in appliqué work, and wanted the opportunity to polish her skills.  At the Vocational Training Center, she has learned about working in a group to improve the quality, as well as about different color combinations, finishing and packing products, pricing, and how to negotiate with suppliers.

Due to Kaveeta’s skills, she was selected to produce handicrafts to be displayed and sold at the Daachi Foundation Exhibition in Lahore in November 2015.

“That was a great experience,” she shares. “Our trainer told us that we have to prepare quilts for the exhibition and we had just fifteen days to complete this order.  At first I was nervous and thought, ‘How can this order be completed in just two weeks?’ But when I started to work in the group, we completed the order on time and realized the importance of group work. That was the first time we prepared quilts with modern designs, that’s why I was very excited.”

Kaveeta received payment from Community World Service for her contributions to the exhibition.  As she continues to earn an income, she hopes to one day open her own center where she will teach others what she has learned through her participation in the project.

“Teaching adults is special for me,” she says. Kaveeta’s affinity for teaching motivated her to volunteer as an instructor at the Adult Literacy Center, where she helps her fellow artisans to develop literacy skills. “I enjoy this work because I want to teach all the women of my village.  They are interested in learning.  It is a big achievement that artisans learned to write their names.”

Through her participation, Kaveeta is building not only her handicraft skills, but her confidence as well.  She has high hopes for her future and for the future of the women in her village.  Community World Service Asia looks forward to continuing to work with her and to realize those hopes.

At school, girls are not only able to study but participate in extra curricular activities and sports as well.

Community World Service Asia works with a number of schools in the provinces of Nangarhar and Laghman to support girls’ education. 

Community World Service Asia is supporting the right of young children to play sports by providing sports equipment to partner schools. Without equipment at school or at home, these girls have never been able to play sports before. 

At school, girls are not only able to study but participate in extra curricular activities and sports as well.

Students use cheap and locally available material such as beads to develop practical skills such as counting.

A student shows a multiplication problem that she has learnt to solve.

Teachers encourage practical exercises in class along with lectures so that students learn and understand mathematical concepts easily. 

Girls who would otherwise be involved in household chores learn to read and write.

Creating child centered classrooms builds the confidence of students and helps them learn in an interesting and effective manner.

Community World Service Asia works to build the skills of teachers, equipping them with new and innovative techniques to deliver engaging lessons. 

Community World Service Asia has established five Teachers’ Resource Centers to provide teachers with materials to help them deliver classes like Science effectively.  Subject-based trainings also support the improvement of teaching for these technical subjects.

Community World Service Asia is working to promote and improve education for girls in Afghanistan. Our initiatives aim to support and encourage the enrolment of female students in schools, whilst also building the capacity of teachers so that the quality of education is enhanced.  We also provide school kits, build playgrounds and distribute sports equipment so that students have the chance to learn and play. We work with teachers to address gaps in civic education so that students become more aware and empowered, and are able to become active and engaged citizens.

Co-curricular activities, such as summer camps and life skills classes, support the students to build confidence and learn new and relevant topics.

Community World Service Asia is pleased to announce the launch of an exciting pilot scheme to strengthen our monitoring process.  Starting with two of our projects which are being implemented in rural Sindh, Pakistan, the Frontline SMS system is being introduced to engage our stakeholders in our monitoring.

Project participants, including members of local steering committees, community gender activists and lead members of our Women’s Enterprise Groups have been provided with mobile phones and a credit allowance of PKR 100 (approx. US$ 1) a month to report activities directly and instantly to the field team.

The award-winning system assigns numbered codes from 1 to 9 to different activities or incidents.  Steering committee members, for example, can report the absence of a teacher by simply sending a text message with the number 3; gender activists can report that they have held a household meeting by texting the number 4; and the sales and marketing agents of Women’s Enterprise Groups can report that they have received an order by sending the number 7.

Crucially, the system enables people with low levels of literacy to be included and communicate instantly with the team.  Community World Service Asia looks forward to using this innovative application of technology to further empower our project participants by involving them in this important part of monitoring.

Community World Service Asia, with the support of Christian Aid, is working to empower women in rural Sindh, Pakistan, by supporting them to earn an income through traditional handicrafts skills. Mithal talks to us about her involvement in the project.

Name: Mithal
Age: 37 Years
Village: Phull Jakhro
Occupation: Tailor, House wife, Artisan

Q: How much did you earn before becoming involved in this project?
A: Before, my monthly household income was around 1,000 – 1,500 rupees [approximately US$10 – 15].  I earned by sewing the clothes of villagers.

Q: How has this affected your life?
A: It was not enough income for me as i have a son.  Complete responsibility for him shifted to me after the death of my husband. So it was difficult to manage the household expenses.

Q: Tell us about how you learned these skills.  Do you enjoy doing this kind of work?
A: Before joining the Centre, I was familiar with some of the traditional skills which I had learnt from my mother. Yes, I enjoy doing this work, because for me it is like my ancestors’ custom, and I have to keep it alive by making embroidery which I know on different products.

Q: Why did you want to be a participant in this project?
A: Before this project, in our village, there was not any kind of literacy or vocational centre where I could learn both literacy and more embroidery skills. So the interest to learn more made me able to participate.

Q: What new skills have you learned at the centre?  How do find the teaching style?
A: I learnt more about ralli (traditional quilting) making designs and appliqué work at the centre. The teaching style of our instructor is very motivating.

Q: How much money have you earned through your handicrafts since becoming involved in the project?
A: I have earned 3,000 rupees [approximately US$30] since i have been involved in the project.  Orders were made within my village, and my friend made the order for me.  The order was for four embroidered shirts, and it took me one month.

Q: What was it like for you to fill these orders?
A: It created a hope for me that slowly, but now, it is going to be a source of income generation for me.

Q: What did you do with the money you earned?
A: I gave 1,000 rupees to my mother who is also a widow, and ill.  I gave 1,000 rupees to my elder brother. The rest is spent on food and clothing.

Q: What do your family think about the money you have contributed to the household?
A: I am a widow and stay with my elder brother and mother. My brother has his own family to feed, but he supports me too. He was also ill, so when I gave him the money, he became happy and felt proud of me.  I am very happy to feel that I can also contribute for my household.

Sindh is known as the “breadbasket of Pakistan”, as the agricultural sector in the province directly supports around three quarters of the country’s population.  However, due to heavy rains, cyclones and sea intrusion, leading to rising water levels, as well as the flat topography of the land, the area is extremely vulnerable to flooding, and has suffered extensively from the effects of flooding, which causes extensive damage to the lives, health, livelihoods and homes of millions of people living around river embankments in low lying areas.

Community World Service Asia has been working to meet the urgent food needs of families displaced by flooding and residing temporarily in underdeveloped areas of Sajawal district.  The floods not only washed away their belongings, but also destroyed standing crops, leaving them food insecure and vulnerable to malnutrition and illness. To address the critical food insecurity faced by these families, Community World Service Asia provided food assistance through the distribution of wheat seeds to enable the affected farmers to sow for the coming cropping season. Each of the 1,470 farming families was provided with 100 kilograms of wheat seed, to cultivate two acres of land. The harvest from this crop would enable the families to meet their food needs until the next harvest.

Monthly food rations were also provided for a period of five months while waiting for the harvest. Rations were distributed to 2,100 families, including 70 kilograms of fortified wheat flour 70, six kilograms of pulses, five liters of oil and ten match boxes. All packages adhere to international standards to ensure that the needs of vulnerable people are respected and met.

Community World Service Asia believes in incorporating sustainability into its relief efforts, and in developing the long-term resilience of the communities with which we work.  This initiative therefore included the training of 1,470 farmers on integrated crop management, a holistic approach to sustainable agriculture based on indigenous knowledge, and the training of 419 community members on disaster risk reduction practices.

As part of the capacity building on disaster risk reduction, a tree plantation campaign, titled “One Family, One Tree”, has been initiated to protect the community from soil erosion, which exacerbates the risks of flooding.  The campaign supports the government’s efforts to minimize the threats posed by climate change and future environmental hazards, and was welcomed by the community.  With support and facilitation from the district administration and the Social Forestry Department, some 2,200 saplings for Eucalyptus, Bakine and Neem trees were provided at subsidized rates of just PKR 2 (approximately US$ 0.02) per plant.

Community World Service Asia is delighted by the enthusiasm and commitment to the campaign, and will continue to support efforts for a green future for Pakistan.

Haseena, a 28 year-old-artisan woman, belongs to the village of Dadu Panwar near Thatta. She started working after the floods in 2010. Haseena says that prior to joining the center established by Community World Service Asia, she did not know many types of embroidery stitches. She says that it was at the center that she and her fellow artisans learnt how to read and write their names.

“We used to give our thumb prints but now we are able to sign.”

Haseena feels that it was through the continuous efforts of the vocational teaching instructors and designers that opened up various aspects of local craft.

“We went to Karachi for a training. Previously, we didn’t know which products would be made out of our samples but once we went to Karachi and saw the market, we found out what our embroidered samples were being used for. When we went to the market again, we saw bangles, earrings, and bags that had been made out of embroideries similar to ours. If we work more passionately, we will be able do well,”

she says. 
Now that the center has been reestablished, Haseena says all the women in the village are very excited at the prospect of learning new skills and going to Karachi.

“We are very happy and are hopeful to learn further and move forward in life. If we get money from our orders, then we will spend that money in educating our children, running our homes.”

She feels that it should not only be the man’s responsibility to earn money for the house.

“This skill that we are learning will allow us to be independent and not rely on anyone else for financial support,” she adds.