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Women were mostly busy with home chores, grass cutting and field work during harvest seasons and men were commonly engaged in agricultural activities and small local businesses,

shared Yar Mohammad, a forty-one-year-old resident and General Secretary of the steering Committee in Dibh village, Umerkot. Yar Muhammad is a teacher at a local school located in his village. He has been teaching since over a decade now and firmly believes in education being an important indicator for progressive change in communities and societies.

I strongly promote education in my house. My eldest son is completing his Masters’ degree from Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad and my daughter, whose younger than him, is completing her Bachelor’s degree in Arts, privately,

proudly narrated Yar Muhammad, “

Girls here continue their higher education but they do so privately; living in a conservative society, we do not send our daughters to far away cities alone. There are no colleges or universities anywhere near in the area that we live. However, seven of my children, including my four sons and three daughters have attended and continue to attend academic institutes, except for my youngest one, as he is very young yet.

In April of 2017, Community World Service Asia expanded their livelihoods project, supported by YCare and UKAID, to Dibh village in its third year of implementation. In a meeting with the elders of the village, the livelihoods team briefed the attendants on the project’s goals of enhancing the artisan skills of women and linking them with buyers and markets, increasing gender-based awareness and empowering women with decision-making capacities.

Being part of the initial meeting, and understanding what the project aimed to achieve, I thought of it as a very dynamic initiative for women as they rarely get opportunities of capacity building and exposure here. They naturally have a talent of stitching clothes and if this skill is further developed, they will be able to earn good money as well,

 expressed Yar Muhammad,

There were some men who did not agree initially as they believed it was against our cultural norms to allow women to work openly and travel to other cities for exposure. However, as an elder of the village, the people trusted my decision to invite this project in the village. Most importantly, men in the village collectively thought that this initiative will improve the standard of living of the people here.

A Steering Committee consisting of fifteen members was initially formed as the first step towards implementing this project in Dibh. The committee members included eight men and seven women Mandar, Yar Muhammad’s brother, was elected as President and Nasreen, a residual of Dibh, as vice president of the committee.

In our first joint meetings, we learnt about the basic rights of women which we were unaware of before. Inadvertently, we discriminated against women and overlooked the countless contributions they make in our households. All the members actively agreed to promote women rights and to involve them in decision-making processes of the village. These meetings are often conducted once a month but if there is an important issue to be resolved then we come together after 15 days as well.

A vocational center was successfully established in a room in one of the houses in Dibh village. This room was voluntarily contributed to be used as a vocational centre by one of Dibh’s residents.

Some men opposed the idea of skill building classes and discouraged establishing the vocational center. The steering committee held meetings to change the minds of these men and to persuade them towards supporting this development and positive change for the village people. As a result of the steering committee’s relentless efforts towards raising awareness on the rights of women and the benefits of the project, twenty-eight artisans successfully enrolled for classes at the vocational center and are enthusiastically working and learning there currently,

 added Yar.

Moreover, we also invited other community members from neighboring villages to join the center and informed them about the skill building component in the livelihoods project. We held a meeting with the residents of Bheel, a Hindu community, to encourage them to send their women at the center for skill building as well. Today, four artisans from Bheel attend the center as well.

Nazia, Vice President of Steering Committee, happily shared,

I am an artisan in the vocational center as well. We have been earning a good income from the orders we receive. Seeing our confidence and vocal skills in the decision-making processes, men have started to trust us more. Many of us run the budget of our households as the men give the monthly budget in our hands and trust us to manage the expenditures accordingly. The women have become so responsible and are able to save most of their earnings. They are also able to purchase gold jewelry and clothing for themselves and for their daughter’s dowry. For the healthcare of women, most of the men pay for the medical expenses. The women prefer to keep their savings for times of emergencies.

Kiran, an Enterprise Development Officer at Community World Service Asia informed us, saying,

Dibh village has had the highest earning through orders in this year of the livelihoods project. They have earned approximately PKR 400,000 (Approx. 3500 U$D) since the establishment of the center which was in May 2017. The artisans in this village are very hard working and fast in their stitching skills.

The village of Dibh faced severe water scarcity and supply issues as there was no direct water to the area. 

Women had to walk half a kilometer to fetch water from a well. All villagers saved money to construct a water pipeline, which enabled a direct water supply to the village. Now, the women do not have to travel long distances to fetch and carry the heavy containers back home. The members of the committee also work together in resolving other similar matters of residual families; but only when the concerned family requires the support of the steering committee,

 shared Yar Mohammad.

Living in a Muslim community, it is not easy to raise voices regarding social issues, especially, concerning women as we were told by Yar Mohammad.

With the support of the elders of the village however, we were able to organize gender awareness sessions and theater performances. The performances have brought about great change in the rigid mind-sets of the villagers. Awareness was raised regarding the importance of education, especially for girls, and discouraged the tradition of early and childhood marriages. There were many families in Dibh who did not send their children to schools. As a result of the theater performances, I am happy to add that all the young girls in my village attend school regularly now.

Earlier, most young girls were married at the age of fifteen years or whenever earlier a suitable proposal came for them. Parents rarely considered the age difference or the young age of the girls.

The burden of responsibility put on the young lives weakened their health and energy level. The continuous gender sessions helped build awareness and discouraged early marriages. Many people today still live with a very rigid mind-set and do not agree for women to work side by side with men. I think women should be able to work but within certain limits. I do not agree with the empowering of women concept as it is in the west, but they should not be kept locked in houses either. They must practice their right to be educated, to grow as a person and to develop their skills and knowledge,

confessed Yar.

In Dibh, decision-making processes were run by men. Women were less vocal and were dependent on the men to make the final decision in any matter, event or conflict. Meetings with steering committee members have built the confidence of women to speak up and share their opinions with the group.

Women need a platform and a source of encouragement to come forward. Today, gladly, men and women hold joint meeting to resolve the matters of the village. Moreover, women are now more confident and motivated towards life. They take the matters of their health more seriously as compared to before. Before this initiative, the women often adopted traditional remedies to cure health issues. But this has changed. They attend the nearby health facility to avail professional advice by the lady doctor and get proper treatment,

narrated Yar Muhammad.

We did not speak much before. Most of our days were spent in home errands and taking care of children. During the harvest season, women were engaged in field work for as long as eleven hours a day. It was a tough job and we hardly earnt a maximum income of PKR 200 a day (Approx. 4 U$D) and really not worth the hours spent in the harsh conditions in the fields,

said Nazia.

Sariyat, an eighteen-year-old girl’s parents did not agree to send her to the vocational center. As an unmarried young girl, her mother thought it was better for her to be engaged in home chores,

Nazia further narrated. The women members of the committee, including Nazia, met with the family to convince her parents. The family agreed. Sariyat joined the center as a member of the Women Enterprise Group (WEG) and is now working hard on the orders she receives at the center.

We are currently saving money as a committee to purchase a water machine for our village. This will benefit the village immensely as it will provide water to the village frequently. I have great hope for the development in our village. The skill development training has given our women a platform to further continue their work and support their families in future,

shared Yar Mohammad.

The artisans from Dibh have worked on many orders they got from buyers in Umerkot city, local markets and on Nida Azwer’s, a famous urban fashion designer, order. This WEG has received really good feedback from buyers as the work pace and quality of work has been market competitive,

shared Kiran on a positive note,

I gave them an order which was a month’s work of embroidery and stitching. The artisans collectively worked so fast that they completed the order in seven days. I was surprised to see the end product as the artisans never compromised on the quality of the handicrafts. The artisans aim at completing their orders soon so that they can receive other orders. They are truly ambitious and progressive.

The 2016-17 annual schools census report for the province of Sindh, launched by the provincial education department, encompasses an array of parameters that assess academic standards, enrollments and other services of schools in Sindh. One of the many interesting features of the report is the statistics it shows on the number of government schools in the province, which indicate a yawning variance in the number of primary and  higher secondary level schools. According to the census, 89.9%, of the total 42,383 schools in Sindh provide only primary education.

Schools that provide education beyond primary level only amount to 6%, i.e., 2,241 schools in the entire province. More specifically, there are 1,719 secondary schools and 291 higher secondary educational institutions in Sindh. The Umerkot district only hosts 141 middle to higher secondary schools, while there are 1,887 primary schools in the district; providing education services to 92,416 students in the district. In comparison, the students from class six to college level total about 25,000, which is less than 30% of the strength at the primary level.

Education in Umerkot:

The Sindh government has recognized over 42,000 schools in Sindh. It is difficult to manage and supervise all the schools and to ensure that they all provide quality education with their limited resources. However, the education department is involved in various reforms to upgrade the education system in Sindh,

shared Muhammad Luqman Noori, District Coordinator, Local Support Unit, Education Department. Luqman Noori has been working in the education department since 2013. He confirmed that the Sindh government had initiated an Education Management Surveillance System. In this system, the data of all the school registered in the district is collected and saved online. The system is updated annually and most of its data is currently available online.

Moreover, a model school concept has also been introduced to ensure the effective manageability of over 40,000 schools in the province. According to this model, the education department has identified 4,560 schools; those that have a reasonable enrollment, more than two teachers and at least two to three rooms in a building. The education department is working actively on further improving the infrastructure and education quality of these selected schools to gradually improve the education status in Sindh. Out of the 4,560 schools, 151 schools are established in Umerkot.

To promote girls education, a stipend system is introduced for girls studying between grades 6th to 10th. All girl students are entitled to a stipend of PKR 3500 per annum, upon enrollment in any local village school. This activity has encouraged girls to continue their studies through middle and high school. Despite these reforms and other initiatives undertaken by the education department, there is still a long way to go to meet international standards of education in the province.

The ratio of school going girls in the city is higher as compared to that in interior villages of Umerkot. The main reason for the low number is cultural and social barriers. There is a lack of awareness and the rigid mind-sets of rural villagers do not allow girls to be independent and bold which they think they will get with being highly educated,

expressed Dwarko Mal, District Education Officer, Primary School Umerkot.

Dwarko further explained the common practice of early age and child marriages prevalent in many of the villages in the district and other areas of the province. With such customs still predominant, young girls are burdened with countless household and family responsibilities, leaving no time or priority to education and other ambitions.

Majority of the girls here only study till 5th Grade also because there are hardly any  elementary and high schools in many of the villages here. Parents are very reluctant to send their daughters to travel long distances to attend middle or high school due to security and cultural issues. Some parents believe that the sole purpose of a young girl’s life is to be married and to take care of her husband and children. There is a dire need for awareness building for parents to overcome such thinking and allow girls to avail higher education.

 Dwarko also pointed the overall shortage of girl schools, especially in the rural areas of Umerkot, as a major contributing factor to low girls enrollment in the area. Additionally, the over numbered vacant teacher positions have lead to a high shortage of teachers in the existing primary and high schools.

When teachers are retired, their vacancies are rarely filled. For this reason, some schools do not have appointed teachers.

The Girls’ Education Project:

The Girls Education projectⁱ (GEP) was initiated in Thatta and Umerkot districts of Sindh, Pakistan, in 2016, with an aim to improve access to and quality of education for girls.

The GEP team was in close coordination with the Sindh Education Department since the initial stage of the project. We have been involved in all stages of the project; selection of teachers, selection of schools, participation in training events and summer camps. One of the most productive activities were the teachers’ trainings conducted under the project. Not only did they train the teachers on new teaching methods, they monitored the performance of the teachers and the schools to effectively evaluate the impact of the new learning and how it is benefitting students and schools. The teaching material provided in the trainings to the teachers also motivated them to continue applying the new initiatives that they had learnt. The learning kit included colored chart papers, stationary, a dictionary and a globe. Most schools in rural areas lack resources, hence these learning kits encourages teachers and students towards being more motivated and creative,

 narrated Luqman.

Dwarko Mal and Luqman Noori were invited to some of the closing ceremonies of the teachers’ trainings. At these events they observed the increased confidence and innovation of  teachers during group presentations and practical activities.

The training provided a professional and comfortable environment to both men and women participants. Teachers delivered presentations with confidence and the response of other participants was very encouraging. The new teaching techniques adopted by teachers have created student-friendly classrooms where students participants openly without any hesitation,

 said Dwarko Mal,

The new methods of teaching through practical activities will inspire students towards learning as children learn fast when they enjoy studying.

We now support and welcome initiatives focused on child-centered education. The learning outcomes of this method are great  and we have witnessed the growth in teachers and students after the camps and trainings. Enrollment has increased in targeted schools and students are more regular. Teachers have become more observant and friendly towards the students. The traditional role and mind-sets have changed and new teaching techniques have resulted in positive outcomes. The behavior and attitudes of teachers have become child-friendly which has encouraged students to perform better in classrooms. Teachers are now playing a supportive role rather than an authoritative,

added Luqman positively.

This project does not focus on girls’ schools; but it focuses on girls as individuals and productive minds.

The most beneficial aspect of the project was that it included both girls’ and boys’ schools,

 added Luqman excitedly,

I encourage initiatives as these that support communities by providing resources, services and opportunities instead of just giving cash assistance. The money is mostly taken by the parents and not utilized as planned. The resources, skills and opportunities provided through this project directly affect the students which results in increased learning, increased enrollments and healthy student development.

Steps Ahead

The new management appointed in the education department is in the process of hiring Early Childhood Teachers (ECTs). Only women are encouraged to apply for the position. Advertisements have been published with the intention to hire professionally qualified ECTs. This is a positive change and a step forward to implement the early childhood education law in Pakistan,

proudly added Dwarko Mal.

According to Luqman, the teacher trainings have to be a continuous process.

Time and teaching methods are changing frequently on national and international levels. With time, more innovative and unique teaching methods and tools are being introduced. For this reason, the trainings of teachers become mandatory to sustain the quality of education.

 Through the project we have seen that extra curriculum activities motivate students to attend schools and retain an interest in education. Local academic competitions and events such as camps, art or debate competitions, allow students to groom their personalities and exhibit their talents.  However such opportunities are rare in rural villages of Umerkot.

Extra-curriculum activities will encourage students to come to schools and will make parents proud to see their children involved in local or even national academic competitions. All of this requires resources though, which many of these local schools lack. The procedure of accessing resources and support from government funds is very lengthy and time-consuming. Therefore, i will request for organizations to support schools with our coordination and collaboration. If the government and humanitarian organizations work together, change will come fast with fruitful outcomes.

ⁱ Improving Access and Quality of Education for Girls in Thatta and Umerkot project is implemented by Community World Service Asia and supported by Act for Peace.

The Government Girls High School(GGPS) of Abdul Wahid Colony is one of the few functional girls’ schools in Umerkot district of Sindh province in Pakistan. Established in 1991, the GGPS Abdul Wahid Colony branch has a total student enrollment of one hundred and twenty-one. With poor school facilities, a crumbling infrastructure and not enough classrooms, the learning outcomes of the school were justifiably low. Sami, Head Master at the GGPS Abdul Wahid Colony shared,

Due to a lack of interest in learning, students were mostly irregular in attendance and results were disappointing at the end of the academic year. In an attempt to upgrade education levels and improve and transform teaching methods, we have engaged with various organizations which has increased enrollment and students’ interest in learning here.

Three teachers, Naheed, Tania and Sakeena, from the GGPS Abdul Wahid Colony took part in a series of Teachers’ Trainings in 2017 and 2018 under Community World Service Asia and Act for Peace’s Girls Education Project. Naheed also participated in the Masters Teachers’ Training in February 2018. As an indicator of progress and as a result of the capacity building trainings, Sami shared an example of Tania’s two students of class five.

Students who were previously disengaged and irregular have been participating in class very actively since the teachers’ training and the new methods introduced in the classroom.

Ayesha, a nine-year-old student of class five, wants to grow up to be a doctor and provide medical treatment to people of all ages.

My favorite subject is Mathematics as I enjoy the way Miss Tania teaches the students through different activities and practical exercises. Initially we only solved sums on the board and learnt our lessons according to the chapters given in the textbook. Mathematics became more interesting when Miss Tania introduced diverse activities. I understand Mathematics well and now I am really good at solving equations. We use low cost material in learning addition and subtraction, multiplication and division. Miss Tania uses matchsticks, buttons, beans, balls and many other small things to solve equations which make learning fun and easy to understand,

shared Ayesha. Ayesha was a quiet student in class, but confidently participated in extracurricular activities. According to Sami, as Tania introduced new teaching methods involving role play, story-telling and group activities, Ayesha became more interactive and vocal in classroom sessions as well.

The teachers have become friendly in classrooms. They involve students in different activities making learning simple and enjoyable. Our classrooms are more child-centered now; focused on learning through activity and being friendly towards students,

narrated Sami.

Kashi, another grade 5 student, wishes to become a Police Officer when she is old enough and defend her country from criminals hurting the people of Pakistan.

Education is important if I want to become a police officer in future. As an educated professional, I will be able to serve my country in a better way,

 confidently added Kashi. Kashi’s favorite subject is Science.

Miss Tania conducts group activities which makes it easier to understand. In a recent classroom session, while learning about States of Matter, Miss Tania drew a circle on the floor. All the students were called inside the circle. Since the circle was not very big, we were standing very close to each other. Miss Tania explained that we are in a solid state where molecules are close together. She then told us to move a little away from each other, to demonstrate the liquid state of matter.

Likewise, she explained the gas state by spreading us all around the classroom, far away from each other. She teaches us through story-telling as well. For many students, science is a difficult subject, but through interactive activities, science has become easy and interesting to learn.

Kashi and Ayesha were excited to talk about the concept of “Morning Meetings” recently introduced by the trained teachers in GGPS Abdul Wahid Colony.

These meetings are conducted every morning. As a result, the school has become a fun place as all students know each other better. In the morning meetings, we share and learn something new about other students’ nature or daily routine. We share our likes and dislikes, our stories of previous days and what new we will learn in school that day. Through this interactive daily exercise, we have made more friends than before. Now we have friends from other classes as well,

 happily expressed Kashi and Ayesha, smiling at each other,

Moreover, our classmate Vaijanti, attended the summer camp. She shared her experience and learning with us. We also keep our classroom clean. Students have responsibility to keep their tables and chairs organized and the monitor supervises to maintain cleanliness in classroom. It is motivating to come to a clean classroom everyday

Kashi was not a regular student. Her parents switched her schools often.

I did not enjoy school a lot that is why I did not attend school regularly,

 expressed Kashi. Kashi initially was enrolled in GGPS Abdul Wahid Colony in class one with her elder sister, who was then in class four. She left and joined a boys’ school after a year.

Kashi was encouraged to join GGPS Abdul Wahid Colony when she saw her cousin, who studied in the school, engaged in artwork at home. She further shared her study routine inclusive of role plays, story-telling and morning meetings. Kashi came back to us in 2017 in class four and since then has been regularly attending school.  Her performance in class is outstanding and the teachers commend her work and participation in class. It is therefore important to engage students in practical exercises. It’s a child’s nature to pick fast when they enjoy studying,

 mentioned Sami. 

Keeping schools clean can help prevent students from falling ill and reduce absenteeism, giving students a better opportunity to stay on track with the curriculum. According to researches, people are generally happier and more productive in a clean work environment.

The students of Miss Tania are very enthusiastic about studying and learning new lessons every day. They proactively encourage other students to keep their classrooms and the school area clean. It is a pleasure seeing how responsible the students have become after the teachers’ training. This positive change shows how important it is to have trained and well-equipped teachers in schools,

 said Sami.

A Creative Art Competition was organized in Umerkot on May 12th this year under the Girls’ Education project. The activity aimed at strengthening creative skills of students by providing them a competitive platform to present their artistic abilities. A total of forty-three students and fourteen teachers from eleven different schools participated in the competition. The competition activities were categorized in three segments; Oratory skills (Speech, Poem recitals and skit performance), Creative Visual Arts (such as Drawing & painting) and Innovation, in which any new teaching methodology was introduced through a demonstration.

Students practiced very hard for the competition. It was the first of its kind and all teachers and students were excited to be participating in the event. Four students participated from our school participated in the event. Kashi and Ayesha were among the four students,

 narrated Sami.

I drew a beautiful scenery and Ayesha drew a Jug and a glass of drink. There were many students from different schools at the event and everyone was creating exquisite artwork. We did not know that our art piece will win a price. To our surprise, we won the third price in the art competition. We were full of joy to hear our names called out on stage,

expressed Kashi with great excitement.

Ayesha also took part in the Recitation competition. According to Sami, Ayesha delivered her recital with complete confidence and motivation.

I enjoyed reciting Naatii in front of an audience on the stage. I saw some girls go before me who were nervous. I was surely not nervous at all,

 concluded Ayesha excitedly.

DurationJul 01, 2015Jun 30, 2018
LocationDoronaro, Hyder Farm and Nabisar of District Umerkot
Key Activities
  • Support to three of six Rural Health Centres (RHCs) in Umerkot, each with a catchment of 95, 700 community members, through provision of free of cost basic Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health (MNCH) services.
  • Extensive antenatal care provided to women visiting the three RHCs and follow-up postnatal check-ups conducted after safe deliveries.
  • An active Disease Early Warning System (DEWS) which assists doctors to identify and raise disease alerts at district level.
  • Our Health Information System (HIS) also helps early detection of complicated cases which speeds up referral of cases of women diagnosed as having high risk pregnancies to higher level hospitals for further treatment.
  • Training and building capacity of Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) on early detection of high risk pregnancy, safe delivery of babies and distribution of safe delivery kits to 12 TBAs.
  • Family spacing advice and family planning options are provided to women in thirty villages. As a result, we are witnessing lower cases of mothers having babies within one year of delivery.
  • Health education sessions targeting school-going children within nine schools in the RHC catchment areas have been conducted
  • Close coordination and partnership with other healthcare practitioners in the district. For example, we are conducting nutritional assessments for mothers and children under the age of five and referring those identified as suffering from malnutrition for further treatment and food supplement provision.
  • Participation of project staff in organizational capacity building initiatives such as Leadership trainings, Do-no-harm mainstreaming in disaster management; quality and accountability training where staff are reviewing the Standard Operating Procedures during Health Emergencies; and online competency trainings on report writing and communication skills development.
  • Support to district-wide government health initiatives such as polio vaccination campaigns and safe pregnancy initiatives as well as hosting of health-related celebrations such as World Health Day, World Disability Day and International Women’s Day.
Participants55,620 Individual

My husband, Kewal, a gender activist here in Kharoro Charan makes me very proud and I am happy to be his wife. Kewal has brought a positive change in so many people’s lives here,

shares Patu, beaming with pride. Patu, 39 years old, has been married to Kewal for twelve years.

All was not well in their marriage of twelve years though. Kewal had been an alcoholic for many years of their marriage. In fact just uptil two years ago, he had been an irresponsible husband and father and often physically abused Patu in his drunken state. Kewal worked as a carpenter through which he earned a menial income of PKR 250 per day.

He spent most of his income buying alcohol. He eventually stopped working and spent his days drinking. It was difficult to make ends meet as we had to feed three children, run the house and meet other urgent expenses ,

 added Patu.

My wife praises me a lot now. She did not praise me like this before this project,

added Kewal laughing. Before this women economic empowerment, supported by YCARE and UKAID, came to Kharoro Charan of Umerkot in Sindh, forty-year-old Kewal acted imprudently and wasted many hours of the day doing nothing.

I used to drink in the morning, afternoon and at night. I never dreamt about a better life, education, health or of any other facilities for my children. I never thought about the future.

In May of 2016, Community World Service Asia, the implementing organization for the project, identified Kharoro Charan village as part of their livelihoods’ interventions in Sindh, Pakistan. To ensure community participation at every step of the project, a Steering Committee consisting of members of the village, was set up. In one of the committee’s initial meetings, as the members were identifying possible participants of the various components of the project, they unanimously nominated Kewal to participate in a training on gender activism. Kewal initially refused to attend the training but some of his neighbors and elderly community members convinced him to give it a try and join the training.

The training completely changed my life. The facilitator of the training was a professional and was very experienced. He explained the topics very effectively.

Kewal started feeling a passion and commitment to bring change. He felt like a changed man after the training.

I participated in all sessions actively. During the two days of the training, I was occupied for the entire day, meaning I was not able to drink for more than eight hours. The sessions in the training were so interesting that I did not even feel the need to drink alcohol. Topics including gender discrimination, domestic violence, early childhood marriage and education were all very important and shared with us in an interesting manner. I never knew how badly domestic violence affected families, especially the little minds that get tangled in the violent environment.

After taking the training, Kewal started practicing what he had learnt. Not only had he learnt to fight his alcoholism but also to fight for the rights of those whose voices were suppressed.  Patu found a different husband in Kewal after the training.

Patu and I attended the steering committee meetings together. We contributed to the decisions made on village matters. I took Patu with me in the gender sessions and meetings, as together we were stronger. Our shared efforts in bringing change in other’s lives were more effective and productive. I was given five households to work with as a gender activist.  Bhaga, my sister-in-law’s household was among them. I held meetings with the family and discouraged Bhaga’s husband, my brother, to drink excessively. He used to physically abuse Bhaga and also beat his four children. Today, he rarely drinks and Bhaga works and earns a good income as an artisan and tailor in the village. The feeling of bringing happiness and a better living to someone is the best feeling in life.

Koshaliya, a fifteen-year-old niece of Kewal, was getting married in the village. The preparations for her marriage were underway and the wedding invitations were sent as well. Kewal, now a transformed man, did not agree with the idea of marrying such a young girl.

I called off the wedding after learning the disadvantages of childhood marriage. Her in-laws to be were furious and spoke very badly of me. They came to our home, accompanied by some villagers and quarreled with us as well. I calmly explained to the family that Koshaliya was very young and putting the burden of marriage on her at such a young age would adversely affects her mental and physical health in many ways. We met with the in-laws to be a few times more before I could fully convince them on the decision being right. The wedding was postponed to take place after two years.

Kewal said that women in Kharoro Charan were never taken into consideration during decision-making processes.

We treated them like maids and ordered them to mend our clothes, polish our shoes, cook us food. I believed that it was only their duty; to take care of us. We never thought of taking care of them.  But things have changed now. Today, Patu cooks, while I cut the vegetables for her, she bathes the children, and I sweep the floor. I help my wife in home chores without any embarrassment. Many elders in the village, who have conventional mind-sets, make fun of me but that does not bother me anymore. My family matters to me the most,

 expressed Kewal.

My husband is very caring and that makes me feel exceptionally lucky. When I am not well, he cooks and takes care of children without any irritation. My husband loves me and takes care of his family very dearly. His value and importance has increased so much in village because of all the good things he does, that at one call, all the villagers gather for meetings without any hesitation or disbelief. All the women in the village say that I am the most respected wife. This makes me feel extremely blessed, 

shared Patu happily.

I aim at bringing change in the whole village. Kharoro Charan is a village consisting of a thousand households. There is a long way to go but it is not an impossible journey. Change has to come within ourselves first. If we can change our own negative ways of living, then only can we set examples for others, 

concluded Kewal confidently.

Asiyat Azeem, 36-year-old mother of eight, is a lady health worker (LHW) from Morand Patu village located in Umerkot, district, Sindh Province.  She has four daughters and four sons.

My husband is an old man and does not work. I am the sole bread earner in my house. As a LHW with the health department, I earn a salary of PKR 21,000 monthly. My income is mostly consumed in household expenses.

Asiyat added that her two elder sons are not employed due to lack of education.

With my little savings I could not afford their education, I therefore set up a small grocery shop for my eldest son. He earns around PKR 300 – 500, varying on the daily sales. There are days when they there are no sales even. My second son assists me in my activities as a health worker.

Women in Morad Patu lived a conservative life and were not allowed to travel freely on their own. They rarely stepped out of their homes and if they ever did, it wouldn’t be without the men in their families accompanying. Most of their days were spent taking care of their children and families and completing daily home chores. Some of the women stitched clothes for their families and children in their spare time; however, their skills were not utilized to earn money.

My son, who works as a health worker with me, has been very supportive. He travels to far cities to purchase medicines and vaccines. Together, we then give vaccinations and conduct other health inducing activities together in Morand Patu and nearby villages.

Since Asiyat has been bearing all financial responsibilities on her own, she was unable to send all her children to school. However, Asiyat made sure to send her three younger children to a local school in the district to avail education. Of the three, two of her sons attend classes one and four and the daughter is in class five.  Asiyat’s eldest daughter is married and has four children of her own, while her second daughter is working as an artisan in the vocational center set up by Community World Service Asia and Ycare.

Community World Service Asia’s project team came to the Kharoro Charan village in 2017 to identify new villages for inclusion in their Livelihoods’ project. There, at the village health center, they met Rasheeda, a prominent gender activist from the village, and a few lady health workers (LHWs). Krishni, a LHW, was among the participants at the meeting. After their meeting, Krishni met Asiyat and told her about the initiative and shared contact details of the team with her. In response, Asiyat was quick to call and invite the livelihoods team to her village as she had a strong desire to bring development opportunities to the village and to improve her communities’ standards of living.

Naheed, a Community Mobilizer working with Community World Service Asia, shared,

When we first came to Murad Patu, all the girls hid in their homes and stared at us from a distance. No girl or woman was ready to sit for the skill assessment and join the center for skills development. The men in the village thought that we, the women representing the organization, will work against their cultural norms and will encourage women to disobey their families and men and leave their homes to build a future for themselves.

To bridge these social barriers between the project team and the community, Asiyat gathered a few elder community members (men and women) of the village and conducted a joint meeting to brief them about the project, its interventions and the establishment of the vocational center. In the beginning, Asiyat dedicated a room in her own to be used as the vocational center as part of the project. As more and more artisans, started registering, it was getting difficult to accommodate all of them in that room. Moreover, the natural light (being the only source of light in the room during long hours of electric load shedding) was insufficient to continue the lessons and intricate handwork. Asiyat discussed these issues with Arbab, the President of the village Steering Committee, who, vacated a room in his son’s house in the village to use as the vocational center. This room was much bigger in size and had more windows which allowed sufficient natural light to enter the room. The forty-five artisans selected at the centre were divided in groups of three; each group worked for two hours daily at the centre.

As a gender activist, I was given six households to work with and raise awareness on gender related issues. I held meetings with all households individually and observed their issues closely. After identifying their problems, I worked with each household accordingly. In the initial meeting I briefed the families about gender equality, the negative impacts of early and childhood marriage and gender discrimination. Through a booklet consisting of pictorial flip charts, delivering clear messages, it was easy to explain to the families the importance of gender equality in a society.

The views and opinions of the women in Murad Patu were generally overlooked and they had no input or say in decision-making processes. After Asiyat starting meeting these families and initiated candid discussions on prevalent issues with them, the women started to open up and participate  in decision-making, especially regarding decisions relating to their children and  their  marriages.

When a proposal comes for a girl, both the parents take a mutual decision whether to accept or refuse the proposal. We speak up when we disagree with any decision taken up by the men in the family. Before, it was impossible to say anything as the decision made by the elders was considered as the last verdict,

shared Khatoon, a woman residing in Murad Patu.

Most girls in the village rarely attended school and many of them just played in the village instead of attending school. Asiyat narrated,

I encouraged mothers to send their children, especially girls, to schools as this education will be beneficial for their future. I explained to them, if a girl is educated, she will be able to support her family financially in bad times and make important decisions for them. Women here never thought of their future before, therefore they do not encourage their daughters to be prepared for bad times either.

Zainab, a resident of Morad Patu, recalled,

My daughter did not go to school. My family was amongst the six households assigned to Asiyat to work with. She came to our house and told us why education is important, especially for girls. I did not think for the better future of my daughter. But today, I am happy to share with you that my daughter goes to school regularly and I wish to see her grow intellectually.

Fehmida and Gulzaab, daughters of Merab, another mother from Morad Patu, also started attending school after Asiyat encouraged the family to do so and enlightened them about the need and significance of education for a happy and progressive life.

Early and child-hood marriages were a common practice in the village. Girls of Morad Patu would customarily be married off by the age of 15years. Asiyat shared,

Due to the rigid mind-set and cultural norms, the people here never measured the disadvantages of marrying young girls. Shahnaz, 13 years old, and Farzana, 14 years old, were to be married in December 2017. Knowing the problems young girls face due to early marriage, I met with their families individually to try to talk them out of marrying their young daughters at such a young age. The families were told about the burden we put on young lives which affects their health badly.  Moreover, I explained the complications girls face during pregnancy at young ages, badly affecting the health of the mother and child. I gave them an example of a minor girl in our village who was married and consequently experienced three miscarriages due to which her health seriously deteriorated. Upon knowing the severe risks girls face in early marriages, the families of both the girls postponed their marriage for five years. Today, both the girls are happily working in the vocational center as artisans and earning through the local orders they receive.

Among the twelve hundred villagers living in Murad Patu, Asiyat was the only woman who worked independently, stepping out of her house to earn a living for her family.

After continuous meetings in relation to gender equality, we have 45 artisans working actively in the vocational center and contributing financially in their households. Three of the artisans travelled to Umerkot City and Chor (a city near Umerkot) to shop for their families and children. This was a great achievement.

I believe that women should be able to come out and take decisions for themselves. Mostly women do not share their opinions or wishes and only dream of being given importance. I encourage women to believe in themselves and take action to achieve their dreams. My son, who assisted me in my health activities, is also a gender activist under the livelihoods project. I am glad to see that my son is also working for women empowerment.

Women in the rural village of Kando in Umerkot, Sindh were a living example of what rural women in patriarchal societies are often stereotyped as: subservient, financially dependent, and restricted to their homes. Remarkably, much of this changed for the women of Kando village after a vocational training centre teaching sewing and embroidery skills, basic literacy and gender awareness sessions, was set up.

Chandri Ladho, a thirty-two year old mother and a resident of Kando, heard about the vocational center from the president of the village’s Steering Committee. She was compelled to find out more about it. After acing her assessment test for the admission to the vocational center, Chandri started learning at the centre and subsequently worked as the Quality Assurance Supervisor (QAS) at the centre. As a QAS, Chandri ensures that artisans reproduce a product if fails to deliver the set standards of quality.

As a trained artisan herself at the centre, Chandri has received many orders since she joined the vocational training center. Enhancing her sewing skills has allowed Chandri to generate a higher income for her family. She receives a monthly stipend of PKR 1600 and is currently working on a piece that will sell at PKR 10,000. Chandri attested,

The six month training was mind opening. I did not know there were so many stitches through which various designs could be developed. It was at the center that I learned six different stitches and various color combinations that improved the products I made and its value.

Chandri, along with all the other women registered at the center received literacy sessions. These sessions enabled them to read and write, and to communicate in Urdu. Before, they could only communicate in their native language which is Sindhi.

Although Chandri is now a skillful artisan and a confident entrepreneur, she was not always this way. She has been through a rich learning journey. Chandri lived  mundane life, in which she would send her child to school everyday, then help with his homework. She would go to collect water, clean her house, cooking all three meals, and wash clothes. This was her regular routine, and sometimes when time would allow, Chandri would do basic sewing for fellow villagers and would roughly earn about PKR 1,200 a month depending on the number of orders she received.

Chandri’s husband, Ladho, works in a garment factory in Karachi and earns a monthly income of PKR 10,000. He keeps half of his salary to cover his living expenses in Karachi and sends the rest to his family back home. To avoid the hefty travel expenses, Ladho visits his family once every four months. For the family to survive and meet all expenses within PKR 5000 was close to impossible but they struggled and somehow managed to make ends meet. It was very difficult to pay for their six-year-old son’s nursery school and tuition fees and affording health care was out of the question. But they prioritized their son’s education and squeezed all other expenses in what was left.

In addition to the family’s regular expenses, they were also burdened with meeting the financial strain of Chandri’s maternal issues. In order to experience a safe pregnancy, Chandri has to receive monthly medical treatment, costing PKR 3,000. Because she could not afford to receive consistent treatment, she aborted three of her babies within their first three months. It has been five years since she had a baby.

Since Chandri joined the centre and started earning, she was able to save some money and afford her regular medical treatment.  Now, Chandri is five months pregnant and is excited to be able to healthily conceive and deliver a baby after all these years.

Ladho and his mother supported Chandri’s participation in the training center since they knew it would be favorable to the family’s economic conditions. And right they were, not only has it benefited the family, but it has also positively impacted Kando village.

Chandri narrated,

Before the villagers attended awareness sessions on gender issues and rights, the women were not allowed to meet anyone from outside their villages, not even other women and not even very nearby villages. Women were only allowed to visit the local hospital with their husbands. Both these scenarios have changed for the better since the village residents have been sensitized on gender issues.

Women from neighboring villages now meet regularly with the women of Kando village and they chat, discuss new ideas and work on handicraft projects together. Chandri further shared,

Many of us engaged in basic stitching at home whenever we got the time. It was time consuming, as we individually worked on orders. Now, we work together in the center. We are able to help each other and improve as a team. Working together is definitely better than working individually. We finish our orders on time and the quality of the work has also improved, increasing our value and demand of our products.

The men of Kando village now allow the girls and women of their community to receive an education and work on such enterprises. Women no longer have to wait for men to accompany them on hospital visits. Instead, women gather in groups and visit the hospital whenever they need. This way they do not need to wait for a man to accompany them in cases of emergency.

Chandri’s participation in family discussions and household decisions was not encouraged earlier. She was silences by her husband if she tried to voice her opinions in front of others, specially other men in the family.  It was after the family took part in some of the gender sessions at the centre that Chandri became more open to expressing her opinions and started being active in family decision making. In Fact Ladho now encourages her to contribute to family discussions and even asks her about her work and how it’s going. Chandri concluded,

It is important for women to earn and support their households financially. It makes life easier. Women must be strong and independent when their husbands are away to earn money in other cities. In the time of emergencies, she must be able to emotionally and financially support her family to overcome the hurdles. My involvement in the vocational centre has made me a strong woman and I am able to support my family, which makes me a proud mother.

Training Sessions for Female on CMST is underway

The provision of medical facilities to rural areas has been a major developmental objective of Pakistan.  The government has undertaken several programs to train and deploy women doctors, lady health visitors, and dispensers in their health facilities in the rural areas of the country. However, district Umerkot in Sindh, similar to many other rural districts in Pakistan, is faced with a severe shortage of human resources in the medical sector. Community World Service Asia is addressing this limitation through implementing effective and affordable interventions so that progress towards SDG Goal 3, on achieving health and well being, is successfully met.

In its third year of implementing a Health Project in Umerkot, with the financial support of Act for Peace (AFP) and PWS&D, this project was initiated after consultation and coordination with the all district health authorities and local communities in Umerkot. Rural Health Centres (RHCs) in three villages of Umerkot have been set up to respond to a broad range of health issues including general hygiene, communicable disease prevention, awareness on safe motherhood and safe deliveries, vaccination for women and children, breastfeeding, family planning and access to safe drinking water.

Six Health Committees, comprising of men and women of the communities have been formed in the villages of Nabisar Road, Hyderfarm and Dhoronaro in Umerkot. These are the villages where each RHC is established. Each of these health committees consists of ten members from each village. An advocacy forum, made of ten health activists, has also been set up at the district level to address emerging health issues and to facilitate the successful functionality of the health centres. These activists represent government line departments, civil society organizations and the local community from the catchment areas of where the health facilities are established. Acknowledging the significance of community engagement, the advocacy forum and its work is seen as a back bone for the success of the project and key to providing sustainability to the health centres.

The training titled, Community Management Skill Trainings (CMST), was designed for members of the village health committees to strengthen their capacities on health issues and clearly define their roles and responsibilities. Health committee members were expected to clearly identify health related problems of their village and establish linkages with line department and prioritize health concerns on their own after taking the training.

Altogether, a series of six, two day trainings on CMST with all the village health committee members. In each of the three locations, separate two day training sessions for men and women were conducted. In addition, a one-day orientation session on Leadership Management Skills Training (LMST) was also conducted for the representatives of each line department, civil society organizations and the local community.  A total of ten participants attended this training.

With enhancing the awareness, skills and capabilities of the participants, the training aimed for the Health committees to better plan and manage their relevant activities and effectively utilize the local resources available to them. It also provided the participants an opportunity to strengthen their abilities to work towards breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and overcome communal health concerns, specifically that of women and children.

The purpose of empowering the health advocacy forums is to facilitate positive change and to see development of new policies that will tackle unmet and emerging health needs at district level.

In total six, two days CMST training sessions were conducted with the village committee members. In each of the three locations, two days training session for men and two days training session for women were conducted. 30 males, 10 each from the three locations and 30 women, 10 each from the three locations participated in the training. Apart from that, a one-day orientation session on Leadership Management Skills Training (LMST) was conducted for the representative of line department, civil society and communities. In total 10 participants attended this training which included one woman and nine male members.

 

The buyer displays embroidery designs and color combination used on wall hangings.

As a small district in interior Sindh, Umerkot has a limited a market space for rural artisans to expand their handicraft business to be able to reach large consumer groups.  To expand this outreach, twelve Sales and Marketing Agents (SMAs) from among the rural artisans in Umerkot, were facilitated with a market exposure visit to Mithi and a two-day Capacity building Training. This exposure opportunity aimed at building artisans’ awareness on new market trends and consumer demands outside of Umerkot district and familiarizing them with product pricing, bargaining with middlemen and customers and creating market linkages that will enable a sustaining business environment for these  women artisans from remote villages of Umerkot.

Buyers at the Mithi marketplace warmly welcomed the SMAs from Umerkot and made them comfortable enough to display their finished products, the materials with which they were produced and prices at the foreign market. The artisans were overwhelmed with joy to see their traditional embroidered and appliquéd products being well-received and valued among buyers in Mithi.

Potential buyers and renown retailers of Mithi, such as, Nathoo Raam Block Printing and Handi Crafts, Mama Handi Crafts, Waswani Handi Crafts and another local entrepreneur, met with the Umerkot artisans and showed them their own products as well to give them an idea of the product cycle, latest market trends and best selling products. These experienced retailers further shared tried and tested, successful, marketing techniques with the artisans to enhance their business circle, networks and advertising skills. This was a new learning for the artisans and they openly welcome it as it would surely help in building their handicraft enterprises.

Most of the handicrafts salesmen in Mithi encouraged the SMAs to invest in producing new products by using locally available raw materials and fabric. One of the local entrepreneurs displayed his new range of products, including purses, handbags and pouches, made from shawls that are easily available in local markets, of different designs at his finishing unit and told them how popular these products were.

During the visit, the SMAs from Umerkot received an order of hundred cushions from a popular Mithi retailer, Loveraj Handicrafts. The artisans dealt with confidence and professionalism with their customer and assured him that the order given would be timely completed, with utmost attention to quality.

I gathered innovative ideas to strengthen and increase the work of rural artisans. We had limited access to buyers before. I am confident that our handicrafts will be sold in the urban markets in good price now.,

expressed Naz Pari, SMA from Village Talo Malo, Umerkot.

Community World Service Asia, with the support of Act for Peace (AfP) has set up three Rural Health Centres (RHC) in in the villages of Nabiser, Dhoronaro and Hyder Farm, located in the Umerkot district of Sindh in Pakistan since 2015. These health centres are run and managed by Community World Service Asia and are supporting more than 100,000 people in the district. The RHCs provide routine OPDs, Reproductive Health Services, Family Planning Services, Health Education Sessions, Antenatal and Postnatal services, and also provide free of cost medication and a full range of preventive health coverage.

The community mobilizers assigned with these RHCS regularly visit and monitor the catchment population to mobilize, organize and increase the awareness of the communities residing in these areas on health issues. They are also delivering health awareness sessions for men and women in their villages and for children in their schools.

Access to well-equipped health facilities is a major issue for most rural communities in Sindh. In order to provide health services nearly at the doorstep of these deprived communities, free medical camps were organized in three different Union Councils in the farther catchment areas of the RHCs. The religious ethnicities of the communities where the medical camps were set up were mainly Hindu and Muslims, belonging to different sects and castes of each religion.

The Medical camps services focused primarily on Mother and Child Care. The first two camps were set up at the Syed Muhammad Memon village and Abdul Majeed Arain village through the 24th and 25th of November, while the third camp was organized at the Daim Nohri village on the 30th November. Apart from delivering free consultations, free medicines were also provided to patients visiting the camps. Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI), Gastritis, Diarrhea, flu and fever were found to be the most common health concerns while diagnosing patients at these camps.

Antenatal cards were also issued to pregnant women visiting the medical camps and were advised to visit their nearby Rural Health Center for further consultation and medication. The lady medical officers at the camps shared key awareness messages on the importance and methods of family planning. Community Mobilizers conducted sessions on Child Spacing, family planning and the importance of check-ups during pregnancy among camp visitors as well.

A focal person from the town committee also visited the medical camp and appreciated the efforts of the health team involved and emphasized on the need to conduct these camps on a monthly basis.

The three villages where the camps were set up were all at a distance of seven to nine kilometres from the district of Umerkot. These areas were identified as the most vulnerable in terms of access to health facilities and frequency of diseases. Most of the community members from these villages are unskilled laborers and farmers who cannot afford expensive medical treatment or travel costs to health centres in the cities.