“It became quite burdensome to make the weekly trip to Umerkot for my regular check-ups. This necessitated a significant expenditure of both energy and money, as one cannot visit a hospital in Umerkot without having at least three thousand in their pocket. Upon reaching the hospital, I often found myself lacking sufficient funds to purchase all the prescribed medicines, ending up with only buying a few out of the lot,” shared Cheeno, an 80-year-old grandfather living in the small village of Ramsar, located 65 kilometres away from Umerkot city. The little village is connected by a road to the rest of the district.

With age, Cheeno developed several health issues, including Acute Respiratory Infection, making him susceptible to coughs and flu even in hot weather. “It was challenging for me to walk the 10 kilometres distance to reach the road from our village where one could catch a ride to Umerkot city. I recall that the journey to Umerkot for my check-ups would worsen my condition, and by the time I reached the hospital, walking became troublesome,” explained Cheeno. The journey to Umerkot has consistently proven exhausting for residents of Ramsar, but they had not choice if they wanted to prioritise their health and get a check-up done at a health facility. That was the nearest to them.

Cheeno is blessed with fifteen grandchildren; nine boys and six girls. He has twenty-three members in his family, including his wife, three sons, and their families. All three of his sons work as labourers on agrarian fields alongside their wives to ensure three meals for their children and parents. They work on daily wages for land owners.

With all his sons working (though only seasonally), which is a big blessing for families living in rural Umerkot, Cheeno has lived his set of struggles. He reflects on the challenges the family has faced, “My wife cannot walk; she has weak legs. Sometimes, I had to carry her on my back to the road to take her to Umerkot for her medical treatment. We were leading a very difficult life.” With limited access to health facilities, most families, especially elderly and those disabled, faced severe challenges to access even the most basic health care.

In July 2022, Community World Service Asia (CWSA) operationalised a public dispensary and initiated quality health services in Ramsar. The dispensary had been non-functional previously due to lack of resources, such as medical staff, equipment and medicines. In collaboration with Act for Peace (AFP) and with the support of the Australian government, CWSA launched this health project1, operating from a government dispensary and, over the past year, has provided free medicine and diagnosis to over 7,000 patients.

“When I first learned that the dispensary was functional, I felt relieved and happy. Now, we could obtain medicines by walking just a few meters. Since discovering this dispensary, we have stopped taking the long rides to Umerkot. During my initial visit to the dispensary in August 2023, I experienced severe respiratory problems that I have been suffering from due to old age. To my surprise, I was given medicines for free. These medicines really helped me,” shared Cheeno. He continues to visit the dispensary whenever he runs out of medications, and his tendency to catch the flu has significantly diminished. Presently, he only suffers from a cough, attributed primarily to physical weakness and age.

Community World Service Asia has been providing a range of medical services at the Ramsar Dispensary, including OPD services with vital medicines offered free of cost. Awareness raising sessions on family planning and women’s reproductive health, antenatal and postnatal care services, baby delivery services, and general well-being counselling sessions are conducted at the dispensary and with the community members on a regular basis. Cheeno’s family has been availing these health services ever since its launch.

Village Committees have actively participated in this project through health education sessions, international days, capacity-building trainings, and meetings held in their villages and at dispensaries. The community has supported organising these events, disseminated health awareness, and referred patients to clinics. They have also ensured the protection of dispensary staff and medical equipment. As a result of these interventions over the past two years, health awareness has increased, leading to improved women’s health and reduced infant mortality. Prior to CWSA’s involvement, the village of Ramsar had numerous kidney disease cases. Now, due to proper medication and awareness sessions, the situation has significantly improved.

“When I first came here with my son, we realised we had to tell everyone at home about this dispensary since it was such a blessing. I was eager to bring my wife here as she needed treatment for her weakness and recurrent illnesses too. She was prescribed different calcium and vitamins, and gradually, she was able to take a few steps on her own,” shared Cheeno. This marked a significant relief for Cheeno, as his wife, who was almost bedridden due to her weak legs, could now walk. Following Cheeno, all his other family members, especially the women, have become regular visitors at the dispensary. From his daughters-in-law receiving baby delivery services to his grandchildren availing regular medical check-ups, the Ramsar Dispensary has addressed many healthcare needs for Cheeno’s family and many others living in the area.

Under its health program, Community World Service Asia has extended primary healthcare services in three Union Councils (UCs) – Faqeer Abdullah, Sekhro, and Kaplore – in District Umerkot. The health centres have prioritised Maternal, New-born, and Child Health (MNCH) by operating in three government health dispensaries in collaboration with the district health department. “I used to take loans from landlords for my visits to Umerkot, but now we are happy and less burdened. We have a great service nearby, and we are even able to save the money that we used to spend on medicines, all thanks to CWSA and AFP,” smiled Cheeno.

  1. Improving Health and Education Services in Migration Prone Union Councils of District Umerkot ↩︎

Lal Ji, his wife and three children of village Umeed Ali Chandio just outside Nabisar (Umerkot district) live in a very neat, well-kept, almost picturesque home. He is a landless farmer who works eight acres of a landlord’s holding and shares the proceeds with the owner. But he blindly followed farming procedures unchanged for centuries. He cites the example of how millets, guar and mauth lentils were sowed all together in the same plots despite each having a different ripening time.

“When the first crop was ready and we harvested, we damaged nearly half of the remaining unripe species underfoot and with the sickle. That was the way passed down to us by our elders and it simply did not occur to us that planting each specie in separate plots could double the yield of those ripening later. It had to be the staff and trainers of this organisation (Community World Service Asia (CWSA)) to teach us how to do the right thing under!” says Lal Ji.

Asked why it was like that and why he or other farmers did not think logically to increase their yield, Lal Ji simply shrugs and says that was the way of the elders. “But now we are awakened and I am myself surprised how such a simple thing eluded us,” he adds.

If that ancient practice put Thar farmers at a disadvantage, the periodic disasters added to the deterrent. In 2021, Thar was invaded by a pestilence of locust. That year Lal Ji had invested PKR 40,000 (Approx. USD 143) in the eight acres he was farming. This sum had all been borrowed from the landlord and when the locusts wiped out every last bit of green from his fields. He went under debt and had to live by selling off some of his livestock. The year that followed was hardly any better. If there was no locust, the summer rains failed and once again Lal Ji kept body and soul together by disposing off some more of his livestock.

The beginning of 2022 brought in succour. The multi-purpose cash grant, agricultural and vegetable seeds together with training under CWSA & DKH’s food security and livelihood support, smoothed the bumpy road Lal Ji was treading. His excitement about learning to plant millets, guar and mauth in different plots is still viable two years after learning this evident truth. The cash grant helped him pay off his debt and the year when the rest of Sindh was drowned out by the worst deluge known in living memory, his fields in the troughs of the dunes did well with the natural irrigation.

In December 2023, he recounted how he had harvested 400 kilograms each of millets, guar beans and mauth. The millets he kept for his family while the rest he sold. However, being the judicious man that he is, Lal Ji retained enough seeds for his 2024 summer plantation.

Another thing that Lal Ji and the others learned in the training was that selling the harvest wholesale fetched better prices. Earlier they would be approached by the bania (Indian caste consisting generally of moneylenders or merchants) from town who would offer the farmers a price for the standing crop. Since these poor farmers did not have the means to truck their harvest to the market, they reluctantly accepted the offer even when they knew it was fifty percent below the market price. Those who did not, would harvest and pack 40-kilogram sacks to haul to market by donkey as and when they required cash. Though they got marginally more per kilogram than selling the standing crop, the price was still below the market rate.

The training taught them to work cooperatively. In late 2022, when the separately planted crops were nearing harvest, the bania arrived with his offer only to be disappointed. He was told that this time the farmers were to bring their goods to him. And so, Lal Ji and five others filled up their sacks, hired a pick-up truck and hauled the harvest to the market where they sought the best buyer. The profit astonished the group. Once again Lal Ji is amazed why they had not thought of this simple mechanism by themselves.

It takes motivation, a bit of awareness raising and the freedom from worry for communities to think of the future. Following the first CWSA intervention, the village organisation repeatedly beset the District Education Officer and got a regular teacher for the village school who, they insisted, must be a local person and not from another district. This was to ensure interest and regular presence. The teacher, a Nabisar young man, now attends school daily.

Meanwhile, Lal Ji sends his two sons and daughter to the school in Nabisar town. They walk the three kilometres to and fro. For pre-teenage children that’s a tough walk through the sand, but Lal Ji says that the produce of the kitchen garden has added so much vigour to their lives for the children to even be tired when they return in the afternoon. “They also take PKR 20 each for something to eat from their school tuck shop,” says the man.

Sixty rupees daily sounds expensive and Lal Ji says he had always given his children this daily allowance. In days of adversity, he borrowed the sum from the village shop keeper. Now he gives it out from his own purse.

Almost breathless in his narration Lal Ji moves on to the boon of hydroponic agriculture. It is the greatest discovery in Lal Ji’s vocabulary. He shows off his trays of young maize seedlings and narrates how he has already fed one round of this miracle to his three goats even as the second is ready for cutting. The two goats that are in milk have markedly increased yield and his wife is able to give the three children half a glass each with breakfast.

A few houses away, young Bilawal is a livestock keeper with thirty goats who had long supplied the village with dairy products. He too has hydroponic trays in a shed for his livestock and has already fed his livestock three rounds from them. He says his four trays are too few for his stock and plans to increase them to twelve.

“Earlier I got not more than 250 ml of milk a day from each goat. This hydroponic feed is always available, even in the driest part of summer. And now my goats yield twice as much milk,” recounts Bilawal. From the five to six litres of milk from ten lactating goats he produces yogurt and clarified butter (ghee). While the yogurt is used at home, the ghee is a cash produce.

Bilawal says that livestock feed was always a problem during the drier months of summer. As a result, milk output almost dried up during those times. But since he has discovered hydroponic gardening, his goats are yielding very well. If things go well, Bilawal hopes to add a couple of buffaloes to his stock before the end of 2024.

It seems the livestock farmers of village Umeed Ali Chandio have hit the lode.

Sorath lives in village Thantrai, a thirty-minute bus ride from Umerkot, with its schools and colleges. Yet she is a farm labourer and has never received any formal education. So is her husband. But her daughter and three younger sons all attend a primary school about two kilometres from the village. Though she now feels it should have been that way for her as well, but even for her children it was not always like this.

Why, only four years ago, like every other woman, Sorath too was against sending her daughter to school. For one, it was a bit of a walk from home and then girls were not supposed to be educated ‘lest they get strange ideas in their heads’. As well as all that, as farm labourers, she and her husband rarely got work every day and their monthly average income was never above PKR 5000 (Approx. USD 18). That would have been too little to maintain four children’s education despite school being free.

Rewind three years into the past and one finds Community World Service Asia’s social mobilisers visiting the village. The awareness raising sessions that followed had a deep impression on this apparently very clever woman. Here was talk of the equality of genders and of the ability of women to do anything that a man could and yet also give birth which man could not. Here she heard that it was because of all this that the girl child had the same right as her brother to be educated.

“I thought to myself that I have been illiterate all my life and therefore condemned to being a farm labourer who spends full summer days picking cotton for a mere PKR 300 (Approx. USD 1). Why does my daughter have to be similarly handicapped?” says Sorath. After the first couple of sessions with the social mobilisers, Sorath took her daughter to school where she learned that without the children’s B Form1 as issued by the National Database and Registration Authority, the children could not be enrolled.

That was the first thing Sorath and her husband went after. Armed with that document the girl who, in the words of her mother, ‘just growing old helping me with housework’ was put in school. Sorath now became the sole crusader in Thantrai for the cause of girls’ education. She went from door to door exhorting parents to step out and do the needful. Those who mouthed the ancient ‘wisdom’ of denying girls education were sharply rebuked and presented with the example of her own daughter in school. She taunted parents for planning their daughters’ future to be just as their own past and present had been. Unrelenting in her canvassing, Sorath soon had forty girls from her para (precinct) of the village in school.

“My daughter is so happy about her education, she is up early and dressed long before it is time to walk to school. She gets her brothers ready and then goes around the para coaxing the other girls to hurry,” says Sorath. Unsurprisingly, the girl who started late is already in Grade 3 and doing well.

In acknowledgement of her school enrolment campaign, the District Education Office organised a seminar in Umerkot where Sorath was a delegate. But on stage, she experienced a bit of a stage fright and did not say as much as she would otherwise in community consultations and her door to door campaigning. Nevertheless, the officers in attendance saw the fire inside and resolved to take her to the provincial seminar in Karachi. Sorath says she had never even been to Mirpur Khas and was in a state of sheer fright that she would be lost in the city. Even though no one from her family had ever been to the city, she planned to take her husband, father-in-law and her three sons to help her navigate the big city. It took some considerable effort by Nusrat, the CWSA social mobiliser, to assure her that all would be well because she would be with Sorath. In the end, her husband only accompanied her.

Once in the city, Sorath and her man, despite being chaperoned, were alarmed. The tall buildings, the speeding traffic, the endless bustle of the sea of humanity were all new to them. Seeing the signs on the roads, Sorath says she thought of her daughter who would have been able to read for them and know which way to go and a wave of satisfaction swept over her for having done the right thing in sending the child to school.

Before she was called on stage, a short documentary about her life in the village was screened. Only three days earlier, a team had arrived with an ‘airplane’ (drone) to film her at work around the home and now the whole world was seeing how she, a simple farm labourer, spent the days of her life. As she was called to step onto the stage, fright took hold of her. But once behind the lectern, that fear dissolved, and Sorath spoke of how CWSA social mobilisers had altered her view on the need for education for the girl child. And that she became the first mother in the village to send their daughter to school.

She spoke of her tireless campaign around her village for families to procure the B Form for their children without which they could not be in school. And she told the audience how she had virtually harangued women to not be afraid of their daughters’ education. In the end she demanded of the provincial education minister to provide her village a school – one that was preferably secondary level. The applause was respect and appreciation Sorath had never known before. One hopes that the minister’s promise of seeing to it that the village had a school was not drowned out in the din of clapping.

Back at home, she went around telling the others what the big city and its even bigger ocean looked like. Why, she was the first one in the village to have taken this trip. And if like her these women ensured their children’s education, they too were likely to make a similar trip sometime in future.

Sorath recounts that the girls who attend school can clearly be told apart. They have neater appearances, combed hair and they carry themselves with more grace than their peers who have not yet started school. Harchand para, on the other side of the village, still has most girls out of school and that is now Sorath’s target. “There are at least sixty young girls there who I want to see in the classroom,” she says. Sorath has heard girls whispering that they want to be like the visiting social mobilisers of CWSA and she tells them they can be all that and more if they attend school. She admits it was this very strategy that got parents and girls of her own para to seek education.

“I know college education will be expensive. But no matter how long and how hard I have to pick cotton and hoe the landlord’s fields, I’ll do it and see my daughter through to the highest level of education she wants to attain,” says Sorath.

One can see that this is not just an empty boast. It is clear that Sorath’s connection to her land and her commitment to fostering growth is not just in crops, but in the minds and lives of the girls in her village.

  1. Child Registration Certificate (CRC) ↩︎

In a straight line, Old Subhani lies 30 kilometres due east of Umerkot town; it is a tad longer by the tarmac road. Here Jagisa is a member of the Advisory Committee established in October 2022 after the Community World Service Asia’s training sessions under the HERD project. She says she did not miss a single session. Jagisa is the kind of person who needs no prompting to speak and is quick to relate how being a part of the embroidery makers of Taanka she learned at least one new stitch she had never known before.

“Hurmuchi is a stitch that adds so much value to our work. Earlier we were doing straightforward applique rallis. Now there is greater variety in our products,” says Jagisa. “Just a year before the training a typical ralli bedspread would sell for no more than PKR 800 (Approx. USD 2.8) in the village. It would fetch the same price in Umerkot.”

Now a ralli of the same size fetches PKR 1500 (Approx. USD 5.3) in the village. The better design has greater demand in Umerkot where their menfolk sell them. And if the men only knew the art of haggling, they could get a couple of hundred rupees more. The Taanka group in Old Subhani is also turning out traditional Sindhi embroidered caps. Jagisa relates that the contractor supplies them the raw material and pays labour at PKR 1000 per cap (Approx. USD 3.5). Normally, it would take any woman fifteen to twenty days to turn out one of the more intricately patterned cap. A simpler one takes under ten days. However, if they get their own material, Jagisa says their profit would be in the range of PKR 800 (Approx. USD 6.3).

Kasuba, also a member of the Taanka group, points out that this new stitch being unknown in their village before the training, is now practiced by every applique maker. She says there were several young women who had not joined the training sessions and she has taken it upon herself to teach hurmuchi to all those women and even much younger girls.

Speaking of the drought of 2021, Lakhma, a member of the Resolution Committee, says it was a sort of blessing in disguise for the village. In such a situation in the past, leaving a man or two in each para (precinct) of the village, the community would migrate to the irrigated districts west of Umerkot. “First off, we got monthly rations for six months from CWSA which obviated the need to migrate. That meant our children who would be pulled out of school continued their education. Then we also got two goats per household and that was all the more reason to stay put,” she says.

Lakhma points out how the long trek to the irrigated area sometimes killed off their livestock. But for some years now, they no longer walk as it was before the web of tarmac was laid across the desert. Now they can get on the taxis that zoom around the desert. But living away from home was never free of insecurity and discomfort. There they had to build their temporary shelters of bamboo and wattle, usually open on one side and without a door leaving no room for privacy. “We did not migrate either in 2022 or this year, our children have remained in school and we are in our own homes,” she says.

Now, July has always been the start of the cotton picking season in the canal-irrigated districts and that was one activity the women of Thar never missed. Though the work was very hard, it nonetheless meant good money. But this year when the contractor came to recruit pickers from Old Subhani, Lakhma saw a relative and her husband preparing to go. “They would have been gone for two months and school was reopening in August. I told them to stay. There was plenty of work with the road building crews near the village. Here the men work during the day and come home to sleep with the family,” she says.

Convinced by Lakhma’s argument, the family turned down the contractor’s offer and stayed. The man and his older son are now employed on a road crew and as Lakhma said, both men return in the evening to sleep in their own home. And they together have PKR 1500 to show for their labours. She believes this being the only family that almost went and then didn’t in the end, it was the last time the cotton contractor called upon them. “He knows our ways have changed,” she adds.

On a more physical level, the village is turning green: women are planting trees in their courtyards. Besides the usual ber fruit (Genus Zizyphus) and date palm, women are experimenting with chikoo (sapodilla) and having heard from nearby villages that they do well, are also planting lemon trees.

A new level of awareness is now upon all the women who have undergone the CWSA training sessions. From Old Subhani and other villages, one hears a common refrain on how the gender awareness sessions have helped these communities. Customarily, men were served food first and the best of it too. Women satisfied themselves later with the leftovers. Now families dine together and the menu is shared out equally among girls and boys. The thought is banished that men having to go out to labour required better food. Now, they are mindful of the fact that tending livestock, fetching water from the well and keeping the home clean was also labour intensive.

Kasuba points out that chores outside in the fields are done collectively and when they are finished they collect firewood on the way back. She says that her son returns from school at 2:00 in the afternoon and after his meal, goes out to fetch water and firewood. Time was when firewood collection was considered manful enough, fetching water was strictly a woman’s job. Across the Thar Desert, the greatest mark printed in the sand by CWSA is the reason for communities to abjure the annual transmigration to join the wheat harvest and later cotton picking as a means of earning a livelihood. Their staying home means children who would otherwise have migrated with them in March and lost out two months of schooling before the summer vacations, now continue their education.

Sindh Province in Pakistan has seen a wave of climate-induced disasters and other crises in recent years. Drought, Locust Attacks, the COVID-19 Pandemic, and Flooding, have all left district Umerkot and Sindh’s desert region particularly hard hit. Umerkot in particular is historically prone to moderate droughts and is categorised as highly vulnerable according to the Drought Vulnerability Index. With the support of Australian partners, Community World Service Asia is working to provide essential health and quality education services to communities affected by climate-related issues and displacement in Umerkot.

In a quaint little village named Birkhio in Umerkot, a woman named Pohno experienced loss and suffering as her cherished goats, a primary source of livelihood for her, fell prey to skin diseases and infections. The devastating floods in 2022 had not only damaged lands and taken lives in the area but had also led to a spread of infectious diseases among people and livestock both.

Sadly, Pohno’s animals were among the many thousands who had succumbed to the post-flood epidemic. As a widow and single mother of three adult children, all of whom had their own responsibilities now, Pohno found herself in a challenging situation – without any means of income.

“My primary source of livelihood revolved around the livestock we possessed. But my world was swept away along with the floods that struck Birkhio last year. The floodwaters contaminated our surroundings, leaving our goats exposed to a range of harmful pathogens. The skin diseases and infections ultimately led to the demise of most of my livestock,” lamented Pohno. She had heavily relied on her goats for sustenance and income, and their loss had left her devastated. Pohno owned a total of 35 goats, 20 of which perished due to underlying issues. The primary problem leading to their demise was the insufficient supply of proper nutrition to their bodies. The remaining 15 goats were only able to survive because Pohno started providing them with extra care.

To support households and individuals affected by the economic and social impact of the floods, Community World Service Asia and its long-term partners, Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe (DKH) initiated a humanitarian project to provide essential relief resources that would be sustainable but also income-generating.

As a participant of the project, Pohno received animal food and health kits that were designed to retain and improve the health of her remaining goats. These kits included medicines, vitamins, and hygiene products specifically tailored to increase the well-being of local livestock. Pohno also received Hydroponic seeds, which helped her produce a more nutritious diet for her livestock. “The use of Hydroponic seeds has been something new and very innovative for us. It is a novel approach that has incorporated specific leaves into the goats’ diet, enhancing their overall health and improving their skin conditions.”

During dry seasons in Umerkot, there is a huge scarcity of nutritious fodder for livestock, leaving them with little to consume apart from dry leaves, making them weak and leaving them hungry. Hydroponic, on the other hand, is a type of fodder that takes approximately ten days to grow and is then fed to the goats. It involves mixing Hydroponic grass with dry grass to provide the goats with enhanced nutrition. This proved to be a pivotal factor in significantly improving the health of Pohno’s goats. “Incorporating these leaves into the goats’ diet had a profound impact. It provided the goats with a valuable infusion of essential nutrients and antioxidants, strengthening their immune systems and equipping them to combat infections effectively. The combination of this improved diet, along with the medication and hygiene measures supplied in the health kits, resulted in a remarkable transformation in the overall health and well-being of the goats.”

Pohno was among sixteen individuals who received training under the project to strengthen the livelihoods and resilience of communities that lived below poverty and those that were most vulnerable to climate change impact. This training became instrumental in familiarising participants with the use of hydroponic seeds and their advantages for livestock survival. It also helped communities learn about proper feeding practices and timings necessary for improving the health of their livestock.

As the health of Pohno’s goats improved, they began to produce better-quality milk. This not only benefited Pohno’s own household (where she takes care of her ailing daughter) but also served as an additional source of income for her. The recovery of her goats instilled a renewed sense of hope and strength in Pohno’s life, empowering her to regain control over her livelihood.

Community World Service Asia is a non-governmental organization, which implements humanitarian and development activities in Pakistan. We have been effectively implementing development projects in KPK, Punjab, and Sindh. Community World Service Asia is registered under the Societies Act of 1860, bearing Registration No. KAR 0072 as a local NGO recognized by the Government of Pakistan. Our headquarters are located in Karachi, with liaison offices in Islamabad, Lahore, and Umarkot. Additionally, we have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Ministry of Economic Affairs Division (EAD) in Islamabad, under the Government of Pakistan.

Community World Service Asia is inviting sealed quotations for the construction of 15 solar powered water points at UC Faqeer Abdullah and Kejarari, Umerkot. The Bill of Quantities (BoQ) documents can be found within the documents as Annexure – A.

The deadline for the submission of sealed bids or through email is Sunday, November 5, 2023, by 15:00 hrs.

Download tender documents

Kitchen Gardens: A sustainable model for food security & diversity for the people of Umerkot

“We, none of us in this village, ever thought of keeping a kitchen garden. It was something beyond our thinking,” with these words Sohdi of village Charihar Bheel echoes the voice of thousands of women and men across the desert area of Umerkot. This is what they believed until Community World Service Asia (CWSA) launched the training sessions on kitchen gardening.

Now, even though they live in a sand desert, the communities of Umerkot are all farmers and livestock keepers. Their practice has long been to plough their fields in late June and sow the seeds of their seasonal crops in anticipation of the coming monsoon. For vegetables, however, they made a separate set of furrows on one side of the main field. Because the fields are outside the village, sometimes a little way off too, there was no way of watering them. Therefore, while hardy crops like guar beans, mong or millets could survive until the rains begin in July, the vegetable seeds needed watering.

Consequently, the seeds that made it through until the first shower produced a small crop of vegetables to last a few days. If the rains were good, the farmer’s family had a supply of wholesome, organic vegetables for a few weeks. And then the plants withered. That is, a farming family in Umerkot had vegetables only once a year during the first fall of summer rains. Of course there is the hardy chibhar (Cucumis melo agrestis), wild and abundant in the summer whose miniature melon-like fruit can either be stewed fresh or dried. There is also the kandi (Prosopis cinerara) tree with its leguminous seed pods that make another nourishing stew known as singri. And then, during the monsoon, the people of Umerkot have the luxury of a fine and rather abundant mushroom, even if for a short while.

This, then, is the limit of their fresh local vegetables. The other source is purchasing from the city. This is done only when someone is in town for work; to go especially for vegetables would make the purchase unaffordable. Since there is no way to stock them fresh at home, the purchase is usually for two or three days and consumed in this period before the vegetables go off. Unsurprisingly, the usual diet in Umerkot was wheat or millet flatbread with chilli paste washed down with water. Variety in diet was virtually unknown for the most part of the year.

Yet, as Sohdi says, no one ever thought of preparing a patch nearer to their home to have a regular supply of fresh vegetables.

The kitchen gardening intervention, by Community World Service Asia, Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB) and Presbyterian World Service & Development (PWS&D), with relief following the drought of 2021 introduced the farmers of Umerkot to the idea nobody had thought of before: a small patch right by the house for vegetables. This is always in the charge of the woman of the household and speaking with several of them one can learn how to manage a kitchen garden for fresh vegetables: water the patch and keep it moist for three days before adding animal manure. Then prepare the furrows and plant the seeds. Flood irrigation is a wasteful idea of the past; watering should be done with a used PET1 cola bottle with its cap punctured to deliver a small stream in the root of the sprouting plant. And the kitchen garden is ready to supply vegetables two to three weeks after the sowing.

An hour distance away, in New Subani, the very vocal Dai who is a member of every committee in the village, has no doubt how well her kitchen garden serves her family. She says she planted her first patch in March 2022 with okra, chibhar, guar, cucumber, squash and zucchini. It was very fruitful and she has never looked back since. The garden sowed in March lasted until the middle of May before withering away in the arid pre-monsoon heat. “Everyday we had vegetables with our chapatti which beats chilli paste any time. And my crops of squash, okra and zucchini were so abundant, I gave away vegetables gratis to my neighbours,” she says.

According to Dai, the fear of what to feed a visitor was banished from her life after she began her kitchen garden. That year, Dai did her second batch in July. The rains were very good and her garden lasted well into August. She kept the seeds from her vegetables and with some supplied by CWSA, planted a very successful kitchen garden again in March 2023. In July, she yet again had a little garden coming along well after the first rain of the season.

Earlier, every year Dai planted a small patch of vegetables by the side of her agricultural plot. It was always a dicey business. To get some little out of it was considered good fortune, and that only when it rained on time. But the CWSA training on kitchen gardening and this idea of having the patch next to her home has made her a supplier of free vegetables to her neighbours and anyone who comes asking.

Far away in Kachbe Jo Tar, another village in the same district, school teacher Bhammar Lal Bheel tends his wife’s kitchen garden. He speaks of the joy of having fresh spinach, okra, eggplant, marrow and pumpkin and says that the variety of the menu in his home has given him more energy than he ever had. “The millet chapati (unleavened flatbread) slides down very easily when taken with a vegetable stew,” he says with a smile.

Being the man who goes frequently into town, he knows the rate of vegetables and recounts it for the listener. Two days’ worth of greens for a family of eight members like his put one back by at least PKR 800 (Approx. USD 2.75). And even then the vegetables were not very fresh. He also knows that they are treated with harmful chemical pesticides. But now with their own kitchen garden the family has fresh, straight off the stalk vegetables that are one hundred percent organic too. It is free because CWSA provided his wife the seed to augment her stock she saves from her previous garden.

Bhammar Lal produced a MUAC (Mid Upper Arm Circumference) measuring tape. He says he first of all began by measuring MUAC in his own family and was surprised by the progressive increase in size among the children in the weeks following the addition of vegetables to their diet. Then he went around the village comparing the measurements of those families with kitchen gardens with those who did not have them. “There was such a clear difference, not only in children’s MUAC, but of grown women as well. That speeded up my personal campaign to encourage more and more kitchen gardens,” he says with visible pride. “It’s the vitamins!”

Bhammar Lal says his wife participated in the CWSA training sessions and learned how to make the best of the little vegetable garden. But there are women who were not part of the training and who are not in on this little open secret. “I go around the village instructing other women on how to make a kitchen garden. And then I follow up a few days later and if they are not at it, I encourage them to at least try it out,” he says. He is happy that by his effort, there are many more kitchen gardens in the village. To paraphrase Sohdi again: everyone is happy because chapati goes down so well with stewed vegetables.

Not too far, in Rohiraro village, the ever-smiling Gauri points out one effect of the kitchen gardens that have now sprouted almost all over the village. And this may not have been foreseen by the NGO: with the vegetable patch to look after, women have not gone to ‘Sindh’ (as they refer to the irrigated districts to the west) last year and again in 2023. In consequence, children who leave school in March to travel with the family and return after the summer vacations have had two full years of education.

In Gauri’s view, the real winner is education. That is even more important than just good health.

  1. Polyethylene Terephthalate

When the deluge of 2022 hit village Kumbhar Bhada bringing down so many of those mud-plastered chaunras all around, Saleh Mangrio and his wife Shabana had a fall back. They salvaged what they could from their collapsing hut, particularly Shabana’s sewing machine and the large tin trunk out of which Saleh ran his small provisions and snacks store and escaped from their damaged home to another they owned that had stayed intact on a dune in the village.

With plastic sheeting protecting the snacks in his tin trunk, Saleh continued his little business. However, Shabana’s work as a seamstress suffered because in that time of uncertainty with nonstop rain teeming down and no work to be found for a community of unskilled workers, women did not want new dresses done up.

Meanwhile, in the summer of 2022, with seed provided under the Humanitarian, Early Recovery and Development (HERD), Saleh had sowed his three-acre holding with millets, mung and guar beans that he watched over with increasing anxiety as he knew the nonstop rain was likely to damage the yield. With food taken care of by the aid programme, Saleh’s primary worry as the deluge let off was for housing for the family and a place where his wife could again set up her own tailoring shop in their new location. He borrowed PKR 45,000 (Approx. USD 156) to strengthen the main chaunra, add another one, erect a thatched otaq to entertain his male visitors and even build a covered latrine.

Harvest rolled around in late October and Saleh recalled, “The harvest was not what should have been had the rain stopped after irrigating the sand. Nevertheless, it was enough for me to sell some for cash and repay my debt. And this was possible because the last two instalments of food aid took away our major worry and expense.”

His harvest was not the only commodity Saleh sold. He also had two male goats that fetched a reasonable price. Some of these proceeds serviced his debt, one part paid for a female goat and the rest was invested in the store. He reported that the store he started with stocks worth PKR 3500 (Approx. USD 12) just three years ago, was now worth PKR 16,000 (Approx. USD 56) at the end of 2022, fetching a net profit of about PKR 500 daily. He said that this investment in building his home and expanding his little store was possible only because of the food aid programme.

Asked what he thought was the greatest advantage of the food aid, agricultural training and input Saleh unequivocally said that it had kept him free of loan for the first time in some years.

“Normally, when crops fail and even though we recover the cost of the seed, it is loss because the reduced harvest cannot feed us. Most times we end up selling our livestock only to pay for food items. When I sold my goats late last year, I was not consuming the money but investing it in housing for the family. That was the win for us.”

The Mangrio family knows adversity as well as so many other natives of Umerkot. In 2021, he had fifteen goats, recalled Saleh. The drought was so bad that water ponds and even underground storage tanks dried up. All around the village livestock began to perish and Saleh acted swiftly to sell off five goats. The price was well below the going rate, but it could not be helped. At least he got something out of his livestock even as three of his animals perished.

But as 2023 dawned, Saleh Mangrio was happy that he still had four goats that were bound to multiply. Also, his store was fetching a little profit to pay for the daily kitchen expenses and, best of all, he was not under debt.