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Life was not easy for Indra, a mother of three children and married to a mentally handicapped man, Hoto Mal. The family lived with Hoto’s parents in the village of Kundo Meghwar, and Indra worked hard to support her family since her husband was unable to work due to his mental condition. Despite these difficult living conditions, Indra remained positive and hardworking since she believed that her situation was God’s will. She chose not to worry about anything but instead to accept everything as it came. Indra was content and loved her family.

Six months ago, Community World Service Asia started a skills-enhancer program of Embroider and Appliqué in Indra’s village, and it selected many women from rural villages in the district to become artisans in the program. Indra was amongst the women chosen. Through this program, women artisans are supported to become self-sufficient by teaching them embroidery and sewing techniques, linking them to the markets, and are also taught business tactics so that the women will sell their products at a market rate. Indra was already sewing women’s clothes, but she now has another platform through which she can enhance her handicraft skills. After being chosen as an artisan, Indra expressed,

I really feel proud of myself because now I can manage all my domestic expenses without any help and can give my children a better life. My aim in life is to educate my children so that they can live fulfilling lives.

Indra learned many new stitching styles such as the Hurmich, Kacho, Pako and Moti Taakna at the trainings, along with making trendier and subtler designs. She tried different color pallets and identified the ones that had the most demand. She is delighted and thankful that she was able to learn new handicraft skills through this program.

After enhancing her skills as an artisan through the program, Indra now receives product orders from surrounding villages and designers based in Karachi (through the project). Through the course of the trainings, she has established strong linkages with buyers in nearby villages and the local markets. This is where she plans to sell the orders that she is currently working on and also to promote her own private orders.

Indra has already received orders from local retailers and villagers. Once the trainings and the project ends, she also plans to introduce her own new products and designs to ensure that she provides unique and one-of-a-kind products to her clients.

Through these gained handicraft skills, women artisans like Indra earn decent incomes that are unprecedented for rural women. Besides acquiring skills, these trainings and classes are an imperative avenue of social interactions and much needed entertainment for these girls and women. Prior to her participation in the project, Indra was not allowed, and even did not get the time, to go out of her house or her village much. Now, she has made many close friends at the training centers and is looking forward to meeting them every time.

I feel much happier as a person now as I now have friends whom I can talk to, share my views with and also gossip with,

smiled Indra.

We artisans will use these lifetime skills to earn as much as possible. I really appreciate the positive and rare work environment provided to women like me. This type of environment will not only change the future for artisans like us, but it will also enhance the skills of and inspire other non-artisan women.

A stall showcasing antiques and cultural shawls which attracted many people at the festivals.

The Sindh Culture and Tourism Department organized a two-day “Thar and Parker Festival” at the historical Umerkot Fort from the 24th – 25th of March. The various arts and crafts of the culturally rich Thar were put on display on a number of stalls at the vibrant festival. Apparel, rillies, handbags, fancy clutches, jewelry and other handmade crafts were on display and for sale. The entertaining event featured cultural activities such as camel and horse races, folk musical concerts and standing stalls of delicious local food.

The festival was inaugurated by Syed Sardar Ali Shah, Minister of Culture and Tourism in Sindh. “This festival will show the more beautiful facets of our rich desert which has formerly remained hidden as the region has predominantly been known for its natural disasters and subsequent deaths of children,” announced Mr. Shah. He added that such events will bring back harmony and a cultural spirit to the region which has suffered consistently in the past. Dost Mohammad Rahimoon, MPA Sindh, also present at the inauguration ceremony added, “The festival will provide a forum to people to showcase their rich culture and traditions for the entire world to see.”

Local artisans of Umerkot, along with Community World Service Asia staff, participated at the event, showcasing and promoting their handicrafts from Umerkot and Thatta. A range of products including casual apparel, jewelry and other home accessories produced under the brand “Taanka” were exhibited for sale at the festival. A large number of people visited the stall and watched the artisans hand make some of the products “live”. Syed Sardar Shah, also paid visited the Taanka stall and appreciated the quality work of the artisans that stood out among the many stalls at the festival.

Women from near and far villages, attended the event and were very happy to see a large variety of cultural apparels and antiques at the stalls. Families enjoyed tableau and the many music and theatre shows being performed by local communities and theater groups. Folk musician sang and entertained audiences at the festival for hours and received much applause and cheers. The festival ended with sparkling, large fireworks on the second day, lightening the lives of the people of Thar with color, happiness and celebration.

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“From the Desert to the Ramp”, a short documentary developed by Community World Service Asia and PLUM Media Tank, showcasing the transformative journey of rural artisan women becoming the hands and heart of an urban fashion brand, was screened at an event titled “The Craft Journey”at the Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture (IVS) in Karachi last week.

The event celebrated the successful collaboration between Community World Service Asia (CWSA), the Danish Centre for Culture and Development (CKU), the Department of Textile Design at IVS, and the Women Enterprise Groups representing artisans from Umerkot and Thatta Districts of Sindh. It was this consistent year-long collaboration that made the journey of these artisans posible and conclusive.

Students and Faculty members of IVS, representatives from Community World Service Asia, Centre for Culture and Development (CKU), the artisans of Umerkot and Thatta participated in this event. They all witnessed the exquisite products that were produced through the mix of impeccable craftsmanship and design aesthetics of the merger between artisans and students.  Prominent fashion designers and popular fashion and home brands representatives such as Khaadi, Habitt, Tarzz, Nida Azwer Atelier, Mahwish Hassan and Saniya Maskatiya, attended the event.

The primary objective of this collaborative project was to empower marginalized women artisans towards taking an active role in decision making and represent themselves with the indigenous craft tradition of their region. The project also aimed at establishing sustainable linkages between the artisan community and the urban markets to maintain a continuous chain of demand and supply meeting current market trends, while upholding the handicraft identity. It also aimed at empowering the rural artisans to take control of their own business, thereby creating a strong, mutually beneficial professional relationship.

During the span of 12 months, various collaborative design workshops in selected villages of Umerkot and at the IVS campus in Karachi were conducted. They covered extensive data collection of artisans and various embroideries practiced in the region, initial sampling, designing of a cohesive project range, procurement of raw material, execution and finishing of the first collection of over 800 apparel products.

In a span of 40 days, 679 women artisans created masterpieces of art and skill combined for distinguished Pakistani designers within demanding deadlines. They worked tirelessly to produce 1700 products that are true specimen of tradition-meets-modernity. To introduce these handcrafted masterpieces to the fashion industry and clientele, a brand Taanka  at the reputable fashion platform of Pakistan Fashion Design Counsel (PFDC) in Lahore was launched, followed by a Craft Festivals, to further promote the brand and the Sindhi folk culture and handicrafts, was held at Dolmen Mall in Karachi.

A very significant step towards providing an entrepreneurial platform to the artisans has been establishing the link with well known designers and fashion brands through meetings and exposure visits. These experienced designers have been evaluating the skill and potential of the groups of artisans and planning possibilities of future long term collaborations with them. These meetings were arranged at Indus Valley School of Arts & Architecture through their Textile department where meetings between artisans representing WEGs in Umerkot met with Rizwan Beyg, Wardha Saleem (popular and very high-end fashion designers) and the crafts brand Tali, to have one to one sessions.

This collaboration has concluded with a new beginning for the artisans to emerge as successful entrepreneurs and showcase their brilliant skill under the brand TAANKA (Visit Taanka’s social media page to see the products produced and available for sale and order @ https://www.facebook.com/TaankArt/ )

The massive earthquake that struck at a frequency of 8.1 on the Richter scale shook Pakistan, Afghanistan, Northern India and Tajikistan on October 26, 2015 is said to be one of the strongest earthquakes to ever be experienced by these countries. According to the US Geological Service, the earthquake was 196 kilometers (121 miles) deep, and the epicenter was 82 kilometers southeast of Fayazabad, Afghanistan, in the district of Jurm, in the Hindu Kush mountain range.  The massive disaster has so far claimed 326 precious human lives in Pakistan and Afghanistan while more than 1,800 people are reportedly injured and counting as the reports are still arriving. The number of casualties is expected to increase since many of the affected areas are still cut off from any means of communication. Roads, mobile networks and basic infrastructure in many of the affected areas have been disrupted.

Pakistan: The Northern part of the country has been most affected by the earthquake. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) is the worst affected province in Pakistan where 252 human lives have been reported lost so far.

Affected Districts in KPK No. of Casualties
Shangla 48
Chitral 32
Bajaur 25
Lower Dir 22
Upper Dir 16
Lakki Marwat 22
Tor Ghar 19
Kohistan 11
Buner 9
Peshawar 4
Charsadda 3
Mardan 3
Nowshehra 2
Malakand 2
Swabi 2
Mansehra 1
Hangu 1

A total of 1,500 people have sustained injuries and more than 2,000 houses are reported as completely or partially damaged across the province. Thousands of the affected communities are spending their nights in the open grounds in near freezing temperatures and are reluctant to go back inside their homes in the fear of another earthquake and its aftershocks.

Afghanistan:  The epicenter of the 26th October earthquake was in the Badakhshan province in Northern Afghanistan. The region has been severely affected hit the devastating earthquake and has claimed a reported 115 human lives leaving 500 people injured so far.  The number of casualties is expected to rise as communication links with most of the affected areas are still cut off.

Affected Provinces in Afghanistan No. of Casualties
Kunar 20
Nangarhar 15
Badakhshan 12
Takhar 12
Laghman 5
Nuristan 5
Parwan 1

A reported 2,135 houses have been completely and partially damaged across the country.

Response by Community World Service Asia: Community World Service Asia has mobilized its emergency response teams for Rapid Needs Assessment in Shangla, Kohistan, Buner, Malakand and Swat in Pakistan and in Badakhshan, Laghman, Kunar and Nangarhar in Afghanistan.  This needs assessment is planned in close coordination with district authorities as well as with other relevant stakeholders to devise a coordinated response plan to assist the affected people. We are closely monitoring the situation and will plan a response based on the needs and gaps identified.

Contacts:
Allan A. Calma
Deputy Director
Disaster Management Program
Email: allan.calma@communityworldservice.asia
Cell: +92 301 5801621

Muhammad Fazal
Associate Director
Emergencies/DRR/Climate Change
Email: fazil.sardar@communitryworldservice.asia
Cell: +92 332 5586134

Nejabat Khan Safi
Associate Director
Disaster Management Program
Email: nejabat.safi@communitryworldservice.asia
Mobile: +93 799 326 628

Palwashay Arbab
Head of Communications
Email: palwashay.arbab@communityworldservice.asia
Ph: +92 42 3586 5338

Sources:
www.pdma.gov.pk
www.bbc.com
ANDMA
www.samaa.tv
www.tribune.com.pk