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Dodo (far right) with his family

Dodo Maru Bheel is a 74-year-old father of two children, a son and a daughter, and a resident of Moriya village in UC Sekhro district of Umerkot, Sindh. He and his wife and younger daughter currently live with their son and his family (of six members, a wife and four children). Dodo has a visual impairment but he has never considered that as a disability or something that would hinder his life plans or goals. He is as resilient as can be and everyone in the village admires his determination and strength.

Dodo experienced a fatal road accident a few years ago. Due to an unavailability of an ambulance or timely first aid in the area, Dodo was unable to access appropriate medical facilities which further worsened his injuries from the accident. Since his financial conditions were unfavourable, he could not even afford most of the prescribed treatment at a bigger health centre in the nearest urban city. Dodo suffered a severe head injury which eventually lead him to lose his eye-sight completely.

With his sudden visual impairment, Dodo was unable to find any employment or paid work. He used to work as a daily labourer in the Umerkot city and surrounding areas. The elderly couple, along with their daughter, hence became financially dependent on their son. Their son, a daily wager, worked as a mason and the money he earnt barely met his own family’s basic day-to-day expenses, let alone a whole household of now nine members.

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit Pakistan, the government imposed a country-wide lockdown to restrict the spread of the virus. Many daily wagers lost their jobs during the lockdown; Dodo’s son was among them. The family could barely afford a single meal a day. Dodo and his son were struggling to keep their house running and their families fed. This dire situation prompted Dodo to sell a few of his goats during the days leading up to Eid-ul-Adha in late July 2020. His goats were his only remaining livestock and a supporting income means. Dodo also borrowed some money during the early days of the lockdown from a local landlord to meet their household expenses.

In April 2020, Dodo’s wife had received cash assistance of PKR 12000 (approx. US $ 71) from Ehsaas Kafalat Program as a part of the government’s COVID-19 relief fund. With that amount, Dodo and his wife planned to run a small scale, home-based business but his former creditors pushed him to pay back his loans with that amount so he was unable to use it for anything else.

The lockdown in the country has now eased but COVID-19 has left the country in a severe economic crisis that has pushed many underprivileged communities into poverty. Dodo and his son sold almost all the resources they had to sustain their family’s survival needs and are left with nothing now.

Community World Service Asia and UMCOR have initiated a project to respond to the needs of hazard and COVID-19 affected marginalised communities in rural Sindh. As part of the project, together with the support of village committees, the project selected Dodo as a participant of its cash-assistance. This will ensure that Dodo receives PKR 24000/- in two monthly installments to start his own small scale, home-based business.

Dodo and his family are happy to be selected and are looking forward to efficiently utilising the cash that they will receive next week and returning to a somewhat normal semblance of their life, as they did before the COVID-19 crisis. Dodo also hopes to save some of this money to consult an eye specialist for his eye-sight treatment.

The PUKAR theater group performing at a local village after the training on Interactive Theater for Influencing in 2019.

Imam Uddin Soomro is an active member of the Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT), an alliance of small-scale and landless farmers including women farmers. Imam collects data on crops and conducts awareness sessions for farmers on sustainable agriculture, green revolution and globalization. As a member of a local theatre group named, PUKAR, since 2018, Imam also performs as an interactive theatre artiste in rural villages, organises learning events and writes articles on agriculture and farmers’ rights in local languages.

The PKMT was formed in 2008 as a result of a series of discussions among powerless farmers and social and political activists who felt that an organised platform to voice their demands was essential for small-scale farmers facing social and economic constraints.

“We perform plays that enable us to interact with different communities. The theatre plays address issues that are part of the PKMT struggle, including feudalism and the impact of corporate agriculture. As a theater performer, I was selected as a participant in a training tilted, Interactive Theater for Influencing, in July 2019. The training provided technical knowledge and capacity building opportunities on skills required to influence communities to bring about progress in the society. Our skills of script-writing, communications and character-building were further enhanced in the seven-day residential training.” said Imam.

All seven members of the PUKAR theater group participated in the training which gave them networking and experience- sharing opportunities with other like-minded participants. The session on ‘team building’ and ‘inhibition breaking’ helped participants self-assess themselves and understand their pivotal and influential position in society. Participants learnt about stage directions, allowing the audience to grasp every performers’ act and the message they are conveying through their role plays.

“We met with other theater groups from Peshawar, Sindh and Islamabad. All the groups had different interactive skills to perform as we all engage with different kinds of audiences. The members of other groups shared the issues they highlighted through their plays and how they passed on the resolutions,” shared Imam.

On the last day of the training, participants developed action plans to further implement the learning and skills learnt during the training.

“Initially, we would randomly select issues and base our plays on those issues. After the training, we altered our strategy. We now plan a meeting to identify the common issues that are prevalent in the communities through meetings with community members and develop a script for the play accordingly to work together to rectify the challenges people are facing. CWSA has extended support in reviewing the scripts which we plan to avail,” expressed Imam.

A group exercise that engaged the training participants in planning a theater play with other members of the group allowed collaborative learning and practical experience-sharing through coordination among the members. Imam narrated,

“When we acted with other theater performers, we learnt to show strong facial expressions as that also largely impacts the deliverance of the message and not just the dialogues. This joint exercise helped in modifying our acting and delivery gestures in order to have an even stronger impact in the communities we perform.”

Prepared by the Communications Office

August 26, 2020

This year’s fifth monsoon spell in Pakistan started on Monday August 24th and continued throughout Tuesday, swamping districts of Mirpurkhas, Umerkot, Tharparkar, Mithiari, Sanghar, Nowshero Feroze, Jamshoro, Tando Muhammad Khan, Tando Allahyar, Karachi, Thatta, Sujawal, Badin, Dadu, Hyderabad, Chor and Tando Jam in the Sindh province. Monsoon rains and subsequent flooding have left 90 people dead, 40 injured and large-scale infrastructural damage across Pakistan so far this year. Almost 900 houses have been fully damaged, while 195 have been partially damaged in the affected areas.

Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) has confirmed 31 deaths in Sindh, 23 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 15 in Baluchistan, 10 in Gilgit Baltistan, 8 in Punjab and 3 in Pakistan Administered Kashmir during this monsoon season in Pakistan.

Many houses and public buildings, such as public hospitals, offices and schools, in rain-hit districts are flooded with rainwater and are currently inaccessible. The agrarian community has suffered even more massive damages to their land and harvests. Huge amounts of livestock in rural regions have also perished with the flash floods. Moreover, many rural communities in Badin and Tharparkar districts of Sindh have been displaced and have personally relocated to safer and more low-risk areas.

According to Pakistan Metrological Department, continued heavy rains and thunderstorms in lower Sindh are expected the week ahead which may further aggravate the situation. The Government of Sindh has therefore declared Emergency throughout the Sindh province.

Community World Service Asia’s (CWSA) Response

CWSA’s Emergency response team is currently providing emergency cash assistance to flood affected families in district Dadu and are engaged in relief operations responding to the needs of COVID-19 affected communities in district Umerkot and Karachi city of Sindh. The team is also regularly monitoring the rain and floods situation and plans to extend their humanitarian response to provide support to flood-affected communities in other areas when required.

Contacts:

Shama Mall
Deputy Regional Director
Programs & Organizational Development
Email: hi2shama@cyber.net.pk
Tele: 92-21-34390541-4 

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

Source:

www.ndma.gov.pk
www.tribune.com.pk
www.pmd.gov.pk

Phul Jhakro in a casual discussion on health awareness with his fellow community members in Kheeral before COVID-19.

A local farmer from Sujawal[1], Phul Jhakro, has become a key member of the Health Management Committee[2] (HMC) in his union council. He is 50 years old and owns a small piece of land near his home in Phul Jhakro village located in Kheeral Union Council (UC). Phul Jhakro and his family’s primary source of livelihood is farming.

While crop production in Sindh is highly dependent on the availability of water, the continuous onslaught of droughts in the region has left Kheeral with an extreme water shortage since 2018. Village residents of Kheeral have been finding it difficult to maintain food security and access health and medical treatment that are far away from their village due to their wavering livelihood conditions. Most health facilities are at a distance for which they need sufficient money to travel to each time. The closest health center to Kheeral is a Maternal, Neonatal and Child Healthcare (MNCH) centre in the village of Ranta. Kheeral is five kilometers away and people approach by foot as Ranta is at center point of the UC. In addition, people also use motorbike or local transport to commute to the health facility.

The MNCH has been established by Community World Service Asia (CWSA) and its partner, Church of Scotland (CoS), in Ranta village to provide basic and accessible healthcare to rural communities in the area in 2015. However, the health centre has also been non-operative since the COVID-19 led lockdown.

“The lockdown in March has forced schools, shops and many small businesses to shut down. Children have remained in their homes without access to education for over four months. No classes have been carried out because the schools nor the students are equipped with remote teaching and learning  facilities.  As a result, education in our part of the province has suffered severely. Additionally, without access to health-care, it has been difficult to deal with the suspected or rumoured cases of COVID-19. To overcome the challenges, it was vital to raise awareness about the coronavirus as a key step to encourage people towards adopting precautionary measures and prevent the spread of the deadly virus,” shared Phul.

CWSA’s health team initiated awareness sessions on prevention and safety from Coronaviruses 19 for the communities that they work with under their Health and Livelihood programs. The sessions have been planned and conducted in coordination with local government health departments and the community Health Management and Village Health committees. As a member of the HMC, Phul was trained in April to organise and conduct awareness-raising sessions in his village and other surrounding villages. He was trained remotely through mobile phone videos and audio sessions through which his knowledge and understanding of the COVID-19 was enhanced and he was told about the preventive and hygiene practices that must be adopted to stay safe from the virus. Phul Jhakro, among other HMC members, was oriented on COVID-19 effective hand washing, the use of hand sanitizers, use of safety gear and the maintenance of social distancing.

After taking the virtual trainings, Phul started conducting his own health awareness sessions for his community members. He started with his own village on May 11th. As a person who was liked and respected by many in his village, Phul had a significant influence on his fellow community members and was able to sensitise them well on the threats and risks of being infected by the coronavirus.  He encouraged people to maintain physical distancing and wear protective gear such as masks and gloves when going outside.

“The Taluka Hospital is fitted with 37 beds and one isolation room. With minimal healthcare facilities, we need to make sure that the epidemic does not spread here. Twenty-eight people have so far tested positive with COVID-19 in the district. We need to keep sensitizing people to reduce the rapid spread of this virus,” added Phul.

Phul continues to share news, updates, and awareness messages through his mobile telephone and whatsapp messaging with the people who have mobiles in his community. People like Phul Jhakro are looked up as role models for others in the local community.

“If the communities are willing, we can bring about development and positive trends in our locality. Being united in following safe behavior patterns will help us defeat this virus.”

“So far no case of corona virus has emerged in my union council. It is my moral responsibility to educate people about the alarming threat,” shared Phul confidently.


[1] A district in southern Sindh, Pakistan

[2] Health Management committee is the body of 20 male and female members from different village of targeted Union council in order to monitor daily proceeding of MNCH Ranta and support staff members in building health awareness.

Champa and her family outside their home in St. John’s colony earlier this year.

Thirty-eight-year-old Champa is a mother to six children and a wife of a daily-wage carpenter belonging to St. John Colony in Umerkot. Both Champa and her husband are physically impaired and the family’s only source of income is her husband’s daily labour.

St. John’s colony is basically a remote village that has a difficult access and hardly any basic facilities like health centers, schools or market places. With a meagre income that is insufficient to meet the needs of a family of eight, Champa has always been struggling to feed her children well and fulfill their everyday needs.

“My husband works only when someone requests for him or there is a general call for carpentry.  The days that he does work, he earns PKR 600 (US $ 3.5) a day, which is immediately consumed to purchase kitchen essentials such as flour, oil and lentils. We cannot afford to send our children to school with this income.  We barely make ends meet and sometimes save a small amount to meet our healthcare expenses when needed.”

In early March this year, Champa had not been feeling well and was advised by her relatives to visit the health facility located in Samaro village of Umerkot district. This health facility is set up and operational under Community World Service Asia and Act for Peace’s health project. Under the said project, CWSA is providing clinical health support in two Taulka Headquarter Hospitals (THQs) in district Umerkot with focus on Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health (MNCH) Services. The health services includes routine outpatient services (OPD), provision of free of cost essential medication and a full range of preventive and curative health services and continuum of care including family planning, newborn care, and child health. Other community based interventions includes formation of Village Health Management Committees and their capacity building. The health centers are facilitating in addressing the health needs of the community and in raising awareness on health issues and rights of women and children. At the Samaro health center, which is, just two kilometers away, Champa was diagnosed with and treated for diarrhea and was straightaway delivered a wheelchair as well.

Like many other families in Pakistan and even across the globe, Champa’s family has also been gravely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It has multiplied the economically struggling family’s challenges and have left them penniless.

“There is no work and no income now. Most of the days, my children sleep with an empty stomach because we cannot even afford a single meal in a day. We have no money to buy flour, rice or even a few vegetables. We did attempt to loan off some money from our relatives and friends but everyone around us is in a tough spot. COVID-19 has affected everyone, mostly financially.”

Sindh’s merciless summer has not made it any easier for Champa’s family. Extreme heat and sky-rocketing temperatures have left her children dehydrated and with little or no food, their immune systems have become very weak, catching infections easily. Her children have suffered from heat induced diarrhea, throat infections and high fevers ever since the pandemic hit the region. Alarmingly, Champa has nowhere to take her children for health care as the nearest health centre in Samaro is now closed due to the pandemic driven lockdown. Travel bans and financial limitations have restricted them from accessing other hospitals or clinics located farther off.

I cannot even think of taking my children to any other hospital other than the one in Samaro because we cannot afford it. We do not have the money to pay consultation fees, buy medicines or travel,” shared Champa.

Despite the temporary closure of the health centre, Community World Service Asia’s teams have initiated awareness sessions on prevention and safety from Coronaviruses 19 for many communities living in the Umerkot district. These sessions are planned and conducted in coordination with local government health departments, Community Health Management and Village Health[1] committees. Working collaboratively, the teams are raising awareness as part of a larger effort to unify communities to prevent the further spread of the virus in the area.

The health sessions on coronavirus focus on limiting movement, avoiding small or large gatherings, maintaining social distancing and healthy hygiene and sanitation practices. The teams utilised the vast array of informational educational material (IEC) available on the COVID-19 and translated it in local languages and thoroughly oriented the communities on it.

Village Health Committee members of St. John Colony delivered a training on COVID-19 awareness and safety measures against it and shared relevant awareness raising material with their fellow community members. Champa and her family participated in one of the sessions conducted in April, 2020.

“We know what the coronavirus is now. We learnt to keep our loved ones safe at home and adopt clean hygiene to avoid the spread of the virus. My children wash their hands frequently and do not play outside their home. They are mostly engaged in small indoor games now. My husband and I only go outside our home when there is a dire need. This is a dangerous virus and we have to stop the spread so that everything can be as normal as it was in 2019 for my husband to start work again and earn a living for our family,” expressed Champa.


[1] CWSA formed Health Management Committees (HMCs) at Taulka Level and Village Health Committees (VHCs) with equal representation of women and men (5 women and 5 men). The purpose of these Committees is to build and maintain accountability mechanisms for community-level health services provided by the Community World Service Asia and Government Health Department. The Committees play an important role in planning and monitoring of the health care services in collaboration with CWSA health team.

Prepared by Community World Service Asia’s Communication Office

Community World Service Asia (CWSA) is working in partnership with the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to combat locust infestations in various parts of Pakistan. Through financial support from the Japanese Embassy in Islamabad, Japan Platform and CWS Japan, 58,502 liters of Lambda Cyhalothrine EC2.5% pesticides are provided to Provincial Disaster Management Authorities (PDMAs) of the respective provinces. The intervention will ensure a safe and secure application of the pesticides as per the plant protection guidelines. CWSA is also supporting 1,600 farmer families with conditional cash grants for tilling/ploughing of lands to eradicate the locust eggs before hatching. With this support, around 16,187 hectares of land will be made free of locust eggs and will be prepared for the next cultivation. As an additional preparedness measure, around 2,000 farmers will be trained on Integrated Crop Management and Integrated Pest Management approaches to be able to efficiently manage similar threats in the future.

Many Pakistani farmers, particularly in Pakistan’s Sindh province, are currently struggling to combat a series of natural hazards that have left agrarian communities crumbling. The country’s agricultural sector has been struggling for years in the face of drought and dwindling water supplies and since last year has been hit by the worst locust plague to hit the country in nearly three decades. Showing no remorse, the COVID-19 landed in Pakistan with full intensity in March and has since endangered lives and livelihoods of millions of Pakistani people.

On Sunday July 5th the country was hit by its first monsoon rains that wreaked havoc in Karachi and other areas of Sindh further damaging crops and threatening lives. The rains are expected to continue pouring with the same intensity through the season. This will further drive Sindh’s most vulnerable rural communities into extreme poverty and famine.

Pakistan declared tackling the locust infestation as a national emergency in February 2020 as it destroyed huge areas of crop lands in the country’s most fertile province of Punjab. The Locusts have decimated entire harvests in the country’s agricultural heartlands and have sent food prices spiraling. The agriculture sector that provides food security and livelihoods to a large majority of Pakistan’s population has been damaged and severely threatened. 

Since June 2019, thirty-eight percent of Pakistan’s land (60% in Baluchistan, 25% in Sindh and 15% in Punjab) has become a breeding ground for the desert locust. If the breeding regions do not contain the hazardous pests, the entire country could well be threatened by a locust invasion (FAO).  

The Food and Agriculture Organization has warned of ‘potentially serious food security crisis this year in several regional countries including Pakistan due to locust attacks’.

Community World Service Asia continues to work in close collaboration with the NDMA, PDMA[1] Sindh, local government bodies, district office and the local communities to manage these disasters, provide relief and rehabilitate affected communities with the utmost respect and dignity.


[1] Provincial Disaster Management Authority

Photo credit: globalvillagespace.com

Prepared by Community World Service Asia’s Communications Office

At least seven people were killed and dozens of others wounded in different rain-related incidents in Pakistan’s southern city of Karachi due to its first seasonal monsoon rainfall.

After weeks of extremely hot weather, residents of Karachi found consolation in the season’s first monsoon rains, pouring over 20 million people in the port city. However, the rains led to a series of unfortunate incidents of electrocution, roofs collapsing and uprooted trees and billboards that claimed seven lives.

Rescue teams reported that most of the casualties, including that of a woman and two girls, were caused by electrocution, while the wounded included those struck by branches, billboards, and other airborne items in the heavy storm. According to the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD), rainfall up to 43 mm was recorded in the city, and it wreaked havoc in areas that experienced heavy winds along with the rains. Electric poles were also uprooted in several parts of the city, resulting in hours-long suspension of electricity supply.

The Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) of Sindh province, where Karachi is located, issued a warning of urban flooding in parts of the city and other areas of the province. PDMA noted that heavy rainfall is expected in the province due to the monsoon and that the people and the urban areas concerned should remain vigilant and take requisite precautionary measures during the forecast cycle to avoid any unfortunate incident.

For the next two days, the PDMA has predicted further rains on the same trend in the city. As per the overall weather outlook for monsoon released by PDMA, the monsoon rainfall is expected to remain normal (+10%) during July to September 2020 in Pakistan. Sindh and Kashmir are likely to receive moderately above normal (+20%) rainfall during August and September.

Pakistan is still reeling under the impact of coronavirus pandemic. The World Bank in a recent report stated that Pakistan and the rest of South Asia would account for two-thirds of the 176 million people expected to be pushed into poverty by the COVID pandemic.

Sindh and Baluchistan provinces of Pakistan have faced severe droughts for the past three years. In addition, Pakistan is suffering from one of the worst locust infestation in 25 years, while meteorologists have forecast widespread flooding, potentially compromising national food insecurity and displacing millions of people. In the midst of additional impacts by Covid-19 on health, livelihoods and food security and nutrition of the most vulnerable communities and populations of Pakistan, it is imperative to contain and successfully control the desert Locust infestation and provide immediate relief to the flood-affected populations in Sindh, as fears about food security are at an all-time high in the country.

Community World Service Asia’s Response:

Community World Service Asia is in contact with the local government and other stakeholders active in the area. Its emergency response team is on standby and can start the relief operations immediately if required. CWSA has worked in response to numerable humanitarian emergencies, providing assistance in food security, shelter and NFIs, health and WASH. Given the current COVID-19 pandemic and its repercussions on the sector and the communities, CWSA will ensure limited direct physical interaction with the communities and its response will mostly focus on provision of cash grants through mobile cash transfers.

Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) Response:

For monsoon emergency response, NCA in collaboration with its implementing partners and relevant Government Departments will ensure timely operationalization of Mobile Water Treatment Units in Sindh and KPK provinces to provide safe drinking water. Also, at national and provincial level, coordination with disaster management authorities is ongoing, either directly or through the Pakistan Humanitarian Forum. Furthermore, NCA and partners present in Sindh, KPK, Punjab and ICT are engaged in ongoing COVID-19 response through WASH-IPC interventions.

Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe Response:

Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe has active presence in Sindh Province from the last two years and can mobilize resources immediately when required.

Contacts:

Shama Mall
Deputy Regional Director, CWSA
Programs & Organizational Development
Email: hi2shama@cyber.net.pk
Tele: 92-21-34390541-3

Imran Masih
In-Country Representative, DKH
Email: Imran.masih@diakonie-katastrophenhilfe.org
Tele: 92-51-8312 530

James John
Deputy Country Director, NCA
Email: james.john@nca.no
Tele: +92 51 8317407

Palwashay Arbab
Head of Communications Office, CWSA

Email: palwashay.arbab@communityworldservice.asia
Tele: +92 42 3586 5338

Sources:
Bignewsnetwork.com
Reliefweb.int
Geo.tv
www.pmd.gov.pk

This Learning Paper is designed to share the lessons, successes and challenges of establishing the social enterprise and brand, Taanka, by Community World Service Asia (CWSA) and is intended to capture the narrative in establishing the brand as a guide for other potential social enterprises.

From 2015 to 2018, YCare International and Community World Service Asia worked in partnership to improve financial resilience and promote gender equity of disadvantaged young women in Umerkot, Pakistan. The project addressed extreme poverty, food insecurity and gender inequality faced by young women, their households and communities, and contributed to young women having safer, happier lives, with reduced poverty.

Taanka emerged as a by-product of this project and was launched1 in 2016 as a social enterprise to meet several needs; to promote the finest handcrafted amalgamation of contemporary designs with traditional stitches, produced by rural women artisans from interior Sindh, Pakistan and facilitate collaboration between the women artisans and urban designers, design students, commercial textile companies and fashion brands, to reflect consumers’ demands in ethnic designs.

Download the complete Learning Paper here

Photo credit: Unicef Pakistan

Prays for the virus to go away
“My name is Nitesh Kumar. I am a Grade 4 student at the Nationalized Muslim School. My school is located in Maheshwari Para district in Umerkot city. I believe that schools are a place of learning, a safe atmosphere where children can connect and have fun. Now, when we are all restricted to our homes and unable to see our friends and study together at classes, I feel frustrated and sad. It's not easy to stay away from school as I enjoy studying and attending school.. I have heard from my parents about coronavirus. They tell me it is spreading from person to person very rapidly around the world. We have also seen on the Television how this virus is particularly harmful for children like me and the elderly. To prevent this disease from spreading, we wash our hands a lot of times a day. My mother has also asked my siblings and I to stay indoors and not play outside. My family has seven members, and I am the eldest. My father worked as a labourer and earned a daily wage. He does not work very often now as there is little work nowadays. We received PKR 12,000 under the Ehsaas Program with which my father purchased essential food items and feed for our farm annimals. The food will last us for a couple of months. I miss going outside to play with my friends. I also miss attending Mathematics class as I enjoy solving tricky math equations assigned to us by our teacher. We have not even met or seen our relatives and cousins in many days due to the limitations on public transport imposed during the lockdown in Umerkot. We do not go out much anywhere anymore. I was looking forward to my aunt’s wedding which was planned to take place in my summer holidays. I was excited to meet my cousins and enjoy the wedding festivities. The wedding has now been postponed as the preparations for the wedding were not complete due to closure of shops.I am sad to hear that. Since we are at home the whole day, we play different games such as playing with marbles or ludo to keep ourselves entertained. It is difficult to spend time at home with no homework and limited activities. I pray for this virus to end so that I can meet my friends and relatives and enjoy like I use to with them.”

Photo credit

Siddique suffers a financial blow

It was agonizing for William Siddique to borrow money from someone to keep his little grocery shop operational and restocked. He had never felt the need to do that before since his shop had always been running successfully, providing him a comfortable income. That is of course, before the coronavirus outbreak hit Pakistan.

Thirty-four years old Siddique lives in Latifabad, which is a housing community that mostly homes the religious minority communities in Hyderabad city of Sindh province. Siddique’s lower limbs were afflicted with polio just months after his birth.

“From a very young age I have lived a difficult life as I felt worthless due to my physically disorder. However, things changed when I started running my own shop in 2012. I was earning a good living for myself. This independency restored my sense of being,” said Siddique.

Ever since the COVID-19 spread rapidly in the country and a lockdown was imposed, the shop has been running low on supplies and Siddique has had insufficient resources to restock the shop.

“The government has eased the lockdown now and shops have started to re-open, following protective protocols. I had to borrow PKR 40,000 (Approx. USD 249) to purchase the most popularly bought products to restock in my shop. I now have to worry about repaying this debt.”

Siddique walks on his hands due to his disability and rarely uses a wheelchair when going out.

“I enjoyed my time in the shop as some friendly customers would spend some time chatting with me. Also, my friends took me for outings and rides on their bikes which felt really good. We have not been able to do anything of that due to the lockdown.”

Siddique’s father, Shafiq Masih, works at the Hyderabad Municipal Corporation as a sanitation worker while his mother Anayatan Bibi, works as a domestic helper in some houses in Hyderabad city.

“In the last 10 months, the Corporation has not paid wages to sanitation workers, which is why we have been in a financial crunch. Moreover, my mother also lost her job as three of the houses that my mom worked at asked her to stop coming due to the lockdown. She has not been paid since then either.”

When Siddique was 14 years old he got admission at Hayat-e-Nau (New Life), a Rehabilitation Centre for Disabled Children located nearby.

“The Centre spent two years teaching me survival skills, including how to read and write and how to interact with people,” Siddique recalls fondly.

In this case, Siddique has been lucky since not every person with disability is fortunate enough to get such an opportunity. The National Policy for Disabled Persons was formulated in 2002 and a National Plan of Action (NPA) in 2006. However, that has still not been able to ensure the education and employment of many people with disabilities in the country.

Visually impaired, Zain Khan, struggles with social distancing and online-learning

Considering the implications of COVID-19, social distancing for people with disability, especially for the blind, like 24-year old Zain Khan, has presented a whole new set of challenges. Khan is a rights activist, a student, and a TV show host on the web-based channel UrduPoint.com. Belonging to Bahawalpur and studying MSc in Development Studies at the University of the Punjab’s Lahore campus, Khan is frequently traveling hundreds of miles between the cities.

“I have traveled to many cities and countries on my own. I move around independently but sometimes I need someone to accompany me,” shares Khan. “However, with the current scenario, implementing social distancing in practice is becoming a big challenge for me.”

The youngest of three brothers, Khan’s father passed away few months before his birth. His mother and two brothers have raised him with utmost love and care. He is smartly using a talking software on his touchscreen phone and Job Access with Speech (JAWS) for the laptop.

“The Brail language is useful during school but at college and university level we use technologies like JAWS to provide us help. During the lockdown, it is difficult to communicate in the same way.”

On his own, Khan is actively engaged in private, non-governmental initiatives for disabled people. Pakistan Para-climbing Club and School of Inclusion are two such institutes that he is part of.

“In June, there was a meeting of youth leaders in Sweden and I was to participate in it. But now the program is being conducted through online webinars. Also, my university has started online classes. The JAWS software helps a lot but seems technology yet needs to improve further and people like me need to be even more tech-savvy after the outbreak of coronavirus.”

The Masih siblings survive a lonely lockdown without a means of income

Only four kilometers away from Siddique’s shop is St. Paul Christian Colony in Hyderabad. This is also an urban slum similar to Latifabad. Here live siblings, Shabana Bibi, 30-year-old and her brother Saleem Masih, 20 years. The two siblings are suffering a different kind of challenge than Khan and Siddique.

Shabana was physically impaired due to active polio at the age of 2 years and Saleem started experiencing mental health challenges around the time he completed high school. Shabana and Saleem live alone in their house as their mother passed away ten years ago, followed by their father three years later. Their father worked as a sanitation worker at the Hyderabad Municipal Corporation.  Their other three siblings live separately in their own houses.

“I used to sew clothes to make some money but now my eyesight has gone weak and I cannot carry on with this work. Our only income now is my father’s pension of 10,000 rupees (roughly US $65) a month but since this lockdown, I have not been able to go to the bank,” Shabana shares. “I don’t let my brother go out alone. Even when there is a need to buy something, I go along with him. So, I could not send him to the bank either.”

The Sindh government had been very active in managing COVID-19. Although there were reservations about the lack of provision of food to the poorest communities amidst the lockdown. In mid-April, the St. Francis Xavier Cathedral of Hyderabad had a food distribution in the area.

“We survived with the food assistance from the church; otherwise, we would have starved to death by now,” shared Shabana.

Shabana and Saleem are currently living alone in complete quarantine due to the lockdown.

“Other family members used to visit us almost every week but due to the lockdown, my brother and I are left almost alone because no one comes to meet us now.”

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