Fifty year old Pehlaj works as a primary school teacher at a government school in Umerkot district of Pakistan. His co-education school is located in a remote part of Umerkot, with a student count of 262, and a total of five teachers.

As part of a training programⁱ for teachers, Pehlaj participated in three trainings focused on Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE). The trainings aimed to increase teachers’ capacity on teaching in a pandemic environment, child-centrered and positive learning techniques. “This was a first of its kind experience for me. I became more acquainted with early-grade teaching techniques owing to the training, which also included classroom management, learning corners and class decorations. Additionally, the session on COVID-19 pandemic taught us practical steps to follow in schools to stop the virus from spreading among students and teaching staff,” shared Pehlaj.

Like other participants of the trainings, Pehlaj received an ECCE kit at the end of the training, which included stationary, poster cards, water colours, markers, wall clock, puzzles, play cards, learning cards of English and Urdu Alphabets, colour pencils and chart papers. “The learning kit was a good motivation and helped us make our lessons very interesting. Our students enjoyed learning through practical activities. I came up with a plan to develop identical kits for other classes at the school too.”

As a hobby and passion, Pehlaj also sings songs and performs as a professional dancer at religious activities for which he is paid mostly. Pehlaj turned down payments in the past and only recently has started accepting payment for his performing art services. “I began to accept PKR 5000 as remuneration for each performance at the festivals. I buy first aid kits, educational materials, stationery, and play cards for the students in Grades 1 to 5 with the additional money I make.”

The hygiene kits provided in the trainings focused on education during a pandemic, particularly COVID-19, have been quite useful, conferred Pehlaj. “I encouraged the students to use face masks and hand sanitizers in the classroom and made them wash hands with soap before and after lunch breaks. Additionally, we ensured phenyl was used to disinfect classrooms.” Pehlaj also oriented other students and teachers on COVID-19 SoPs through individual sessions in each classroom of their school.

A hand washing station was also installed in the school under the project. Students were oriented on effective hand-washing to prevent coronavirus.

“Students in remote schools have less resources to pursue a high standard of education and combat pandemics. This assistance was both necessary and timely. Our students are actively participating in their education activities and utilising classroom resources effectively,” concluded Pehlaj.

ⁱ Community World Service Asia & Act for Peace’s Education project

Many villages submerged in Sindh province in Pakistan after flash floods from Balochistan entered the province

More than 580 people have died (including 224 children and 114 women) and thousands have lost their homes across Pakistan as torrential rains hit the country. Widespread rain-thunderstorms with scattered heavy/very heavy falls, accompanied by occasional strong winds have struck districts Mirpurkhas and Umerkot of Sindh province, where a majority of Community World Service Asia’s humanitarian and development programs are focused. These extreme rains are critically affecting vulnerable communities already living in poverty and has damaged infrastructure in the area, with no electricity and limited communication access.

People in Umerkot have been forced to abandon their homes as crops and livestock are washed away across the province.

The flood-affected communities in Umerkot are in need of food, tents, clean drinking water, mosquito nets, ration bags and hygiene kits. A total of 1,860 houses have been damaged, affecting a population of 109,246 and displacing 18,207 men, women and children in Mirpurkhas and Umerkot.

An estimated 1 million people have been affected by heavy rainfall, flash floods and landslides since July as Pakistan endures more than 60% of its normal total monsoon rainfall in three weeks.

The worst-hit provinces include Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Sindh, and Pakistan is expected to see severe rain until Friday (August 19th).

Hundreds of miles of roads have been damaged, making many areas in Umerkot inaccessible to emergency services.

Approximately 200 people have died in Balochistan – Pakistan’s biggest and poorest province – which is suffering its worst floods in more than 30 years. The National Disaster Management Authority said the province had received 305% more rain than the annual average.

Climate Change Minister of Pakistan said the climate catastrophe in Pakistan is “a national security crisis.” Pakistan is in the “middle of the food, climate, water, population and environmental crisis.” Pakistan has faced 152 extreme events in the last two decades with constant shifts in rainfall patterns, intensity and frequency. “We are also home to the hottest cities in the world for three years straight with temperatures rising up to 53.7C which is an unlivable situation,” added the Minister.

Families have lost their homes and belongings as a result of the Heavy rains and subsequent floods.

Community World Service Asia Response:

Community World Service Asia (CWSA) is in coordination with the local government and other stakeholders active in the area. Our emergency response team is closely monitoring the situation on the ground and will start relief operations immediately when required.

Shama Mall
Deputy Regional Director
Programs & Organizational Development
Tele: 92-21-34390541-4

Palwashay Arbab
Head of Communication
Tele: +92 42 35865338

Gulf news

Gauri is the star of Rohiraro. As a very young girl in her parents’ village near Chachro, she taught herself cutting and sewing, got a hand-cranked sewing machine and started work as a seamstress. With a laugh she insists that she did not have a teacher, that she is entirely self-taught.

Marriage brought her to her husband’s village Rohiraro. Her man did not own any land of his own and worked as an unskilled labourer daily commuting the sixty kilometres to Umerkot for work. Together they had two children and with Gauri contributing to the family’s income from her tailoring, life seemed to be as good as it could be in a typical village of the desert area of Umerkot. But misfortune struck in 2008 when her son was still very small and her daughter yet to be born: her husband passed away in a road accident.

Perhaps another woman would have succumbed to despair, but Gauri was made of different mettle. She went into her tailoring work in overdrive. About this time she also learned to make those fancy and colourful naras (drawstrings for the shalwar). Virtual pieces of art, these strings are ideally meant to hang a little below the hem of the kameez1 and be seen.

Today as seamstress to her village, Gauri charges PKR 300 (Approx. USD 1.5) for a women’s dress and says she can do about seven dresses every week. That means a monthly income of roughly PKR 8000 (Approx. USD 39). At the same time, her colourful naras fetch up to PKR 800 (Approx. USD 4) apiece.

Though herself illiterate, Gauri is not unaware of the advantage of education. She enrolled her son in the local school, saw him through primary education and then sent him to the middle school at Ramsar village seven kilometres away. Though government schools do not charge tuition fees, she still had to pay for books and other materials the child used in class. She met these expenses from her tailoring income. At the same time, she graduated from her hand machine to a second-hand foot-operated model.

When the time came, she enrolled her daughter in the village school. The girl progressed to the third grade and that was the end of her education because, as it generally happens in remote rural schools, the teacher went absent. The son, however, did well and in 2022 was sailing through grade eight in an Umerkot school. Gauri had set her eyes on his education to at least grade twelve. Then, she said with a laugh, she would wed him off. She said she had no connections and could not get him a job, so being married was an appropriate alternative.

However, one could clearly see the mother who would succumb to her son’s desire to continue his education beyond higher secondary level and make something of his life.

Attending the village school and the one at Ramsar may have been affordable, but since the boy could not commute out to Umerkot and back on a daily basis, he had to live in a hostel. That cost money. And for that Gauri toiled every single waking moment daily on her sewing machine and the drawstring loom. Even so, she would sometime have to borrow to pay the hostel in Umerkot.

The first instalment of food aid saved her a considerable sum from her monthly income normally spent on food. Judiciously, Gauri paid up at the school hostel. With her loud, happy laughter she says she splurged the remainder attending a wedding in her parents’ family. The next goal is to save enough to wed off her daughter in style. After all, the girl is already thirteen. Gauri listens attentively to advice on waiting until the child is at least eighteen and smiles the smile that says mother knows best.

This was the day before the second instalment of food aid was due in Rohiraro, the question that came naturally was how she proposed to use the money saved from the purchase of food. Gauri looked thoughtful when Ashar of CWSA suggested it would be a good idea to stock her tailoring shop with material. This would make for greater convenience for her customers and more business for her because then she could also earn reasonable margin on the material.

The way her eyes lit up shows that well before the Humanitarian, Early Recovery, and Development project ends, Gauri might have a proper tailoring establishment in Rohiraro. This would then be the only such business for miles around in this part of Desert area of Umerkot. That would mean real business for a person as dynamic as Gauri.

[1] Shalwar kameez is a traditional combination dress worn by women, and in some regions by men, in South Asia, and Central Asia. Kameez is referred to the long shirt and shalwar is the trouser.

Village Haider Shah Bhiont is just under fifteen kilometres southeast of Umerkot. But so far as Rano and her husband Jeevo are concerned it could well be in the bone dry Takla Makan Desert. Young and married only five years, Rano has borne her man two children and carries the third in her belly in the hope that her third child will be born under a favourable star and the 2022 monsoon and many thereafter will be generous. Only then their investment in their four-acre plot will bring dividends.

The past year had been a disaster for the land that is the only source of income for this couple. Every year all his young life, Jeevo has tilled the land and in July looked heavenward for the dark clouds that would spell prosperity. When that failed, he went to work in the city as an unskilled labourer. As the summer of 2021 drew to an end without a drop of rain, Rano and her man watched the barely sprouted crop of guar, mung and millets wither away into the sweeping sand taking with it their entire investment of PKR 29,000 (Approx. USD 142) for the rented tractor and 160 kilograms of seed.

Inured to adversity, the people residing in the desert area of Umerkot do not give up easily. Even when hardship multiplies. And this happened when Jeevo’s mother passed away. Mourners poured in from far and near and as is the tradition, Jeevo was obligated to house and feed them for as many days as they remained in his village. That cost money which was borrowed from the local money lender against the four acres Jeevo owned. When the final account was written down, his mother’s death had cost the poor man PKR 300,000 (Approx. USD 1472). This huge sum had been borrowed purely on speculation that it would be returned when next crop would be bumper.

In November Jeevo went to work in Karachi while Rano struggled to keep her little children fed by purchasing provisions on loan. When he returned home two months later, Jeevo had PKR 10,000 (Approx. USD 47) in his pocket. Half of this was returned to the shop keepers as partial payment; the remainder saved to purchase the sweet water tanker as Rano says they had always done in her five years in this village. Ground water in the village, she adds, is too bitter to be used for anything but washing up and bathing.

The first good thing to occur for Jeevo was in February 2022 when he got a job as a driver with a fixed salary of PKR 10,000 a month (Approx. USD 47). That meant now there would be no uncertain days as he waited to be hired as labourer.

The next blessing was the visit in March by the Community World Service Asia team and selection of Rano and Jeevo as eligible for food aid under the HERD project1. The first distribution of food saved them Jeevo’s entire salary which went to repay the shop keepers. Again half of it was kept aside for the purchase of the next water tanker.

In May, having received the second instalment of food aid, Rano was making plans. They were to save Jeevo’s salary to invest in their agricultural land in the hope that the monsoon will bring rain. But now there is hope and with it plans. As a reasonably good cutter who has never worked as a tailor because she dreams of owning a sewing machine she could never afford, she looks forward to mustering some funds. If the machine would be within reach, she could set herself up as the village seamstress.

Meanwhile, the huge loan taken against the land stares the couple in their faces. Four acres even in the desert areas of Umerkot is a reasonable holding and in a good rainy summer can yield almost half a million rupees worth of crops. If fortune smiles on them, they will not only be able to sail out of their debt with plenty saved and Rano established as the seamstress to the village.

1. The Humanitarian Assistance, Early Recovery and Development (HERD) project funded by Presbyterian World Service & Development (PWS&D) and Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB)

In November 2020, a health committee was established in Muzzafar Husain Shah village under Community World Service Asia (CWSA) and Act for Peace’s health project. “I became a member of the committee along with four other women and five men from our village,” shared Ganga.

The Village Health Committee, comprised of local community members, supports local health institutions and healthcare providers in meeting the village’s health needs. They also assist CWSA’s health team in organising project activities and events in the area. Since the committee’s formation, Ganga has actively advocated for the needs of the women in the community, coordinated committee meetings, and referred pregnant and lactating women to CWSA’s health centre in Pithoro, not far from her own village. “I have held sessions for women and girls in our community to improve their awareness on malaria, breastfeeding, diarrhoea, and other ailments frequently prevalent in our area. The main goal of the sessions was to impart information on preventative measures to make communities resistant to curable illnesses and diseases,” narrated Ganga.

Ganga lives with her husband and three children in Muzzafar Husain Shah village, located in Umerkot district which is in the south of Pakistan. Ganga’s husband is the sole income bearer for the family and works as a farmer for a nearby landowner. “The income of our family heavily depends on the output of crops, which is closely correlated with the availability of water, capital, and weather. Our family’s monthly income of PKR 12,000 (Approx. USD 58) is mostly spent on purchasing food and household essential, educational supplies, and unexpected family gatherings.”

“I believe education is key in building a better future. For this reason, I encourage my children to go to school and study hard. My eldest son, 15, is studying in Grade 9 while my two daughters are going to primary school.”

In December 2021, Ganga took part in a training on community management skills. “The training improved the health committee members’ knowledge and abilities, enabling them to effectively plan and manage developmental activities and make better use of the available resources for improved healthcare access of underprivileged families.” The training increased Ganga’s ability to identify health issues and work with line departments and civil society organisations to coordinate the effective delivery of health services to local communities.

The committee members bridge the gap between the community and the government health department. “Because of my active work in the area, I was nominated by the health workers working in the vicinity for Measles and Rubella campaigns, run by the government’s health department. As a mobiliser in the 15-day campaign in November 2021, our team educated people about the need to eradicate Rubella and measles in Pakistan. I have also participated as a volunteer in the COVID-19 and Polio campaigns.”

As a committee member, Ganga has imparted to the communities with knowledge and raised their confidence to advocate for their health rights and engage in meaningful conversations with relevant service providers to address the challenges related to healthcare provision in rural regions. “I am proud to be a member of the committee since this opportunity has improved my skills and allowed me to change lives,” expressed Ganga.

Community World Service Asia has partnered with Presbyterian World Service and Development (PWS&D) and Canadian Foodgrains Bank to implement a Humanitarian, Early Recovery and Development (HERD) program to support drought and climate change impact communities with food provision and sustainable agricultural inputs. The project aims to assist most vulnerable, rural agrarian communities in Pakistan’s rain-fed Umerkot District of Sindh. The target communities will receive immediate humanitarian support, followed by recovery and development assistance, to ensure their resilience is enhanced against future natural and man-made catastrophes.

A total of 1,125 drought and COVID-19 affected families have been provided with two monthly food packages under the project. They will continue to receive the food packages till August (to complete a period of six months). Each package has been designed in line with the Sphere minimum standards and ensures all family members receive 2100k calories each per day. The items include 60kg of wheat flour, 15kg rice, 7kg pulses, 6liters cooking oil, 4 kg sugar, 400gms tea leaves, 800gms iodized salt and of match boxes. Feedback mechanisms that are put in place to ensure quality and accountability mainstreaming have been explained to communities at various stages of the project. Communities have also been oriented on safeguarding and complaints response guidelines.

Through the provision of food packages, we aim to ensure food security of affected communities in various parts villages of Umerkot to increase their nutritional status and improve their general health. Most of these communities live in extreme poverty, with their primary livelihood of agriculture being affected by extreme weather conditions that prevent them from spending on the most basic food and health needs.

A Rapid Gender Analysis was conducted as part of the project to gather critical information and data on the local gender dynamics and the many challenges and needs that exist and potential goals and opportunities to explore and meet through the project. The analysis is a necessary first step in creating gender-sensitive, suitable, and successful programming. It is supporting in the development of practical programming recommendations to suit the needs of women, men, boys, and girls, as well as ensuring that execution does not unwittingly harm them. Additionally, an environment assessment has also been conducted to identify environmental impacts of different project activities and their possible mitigating measures.

The HERD project is a two years’ program started from January 1, 2022 with ten months of humanitarian phase and 14 months of recovery and development phase. The project will end in 2023.

Jetho, 41, resides in Rani village of Umerkot and is the only breadwinner for a family of six members, including his mother, grandmother, wife and two children. In 1990, when he was only 10 years old, Jetho was diagnosed with a bone disease. “I was not able to afford the treatment for the disease I contracted. From the government hospitals, the treatment cost was around PKR 5000 per month. My wife and mother applied some home remedies but that could not completely cure me. This condition stunted my growth and left me with a marginal disability. It is challenging to cope with the daily tasks but I have to push myself to do more as my family is dependent on me.” Agriculture is Rani village’s main source of income. In July and August, during the monsoon season, Jetho grows a variety of crops on his two-acre plot of land, including cluster beans, millet, mung, and sesame. Crop production is strongly reliant on the amount of rain that falls in the area. A good harvest allows Jetho to earn an estimate of PKR 7000 per month as he sells the surplus in the markets of Kunri and Umerkot City. Unfortunately, Rani village has not received enough rain in the last five years. As a result, Jetho started supplementing his income with managing cattle for other villagers. He earnt PKR 2500 each month through this.

Belonging to a family of generational farmers who have been growing seasonal, monsoon reliant crops, Jetho, like several others has struggled to get any harvest or produce for years since the drought started hitting their village. Farmers of Rani village have thus abandoned their lands and have switched to other labour work that allows them to earn some money. The COVID-19 pandemic further decreased work opportunities for many local communities in the area as many small and large businesses suffered losses due to lack of sales and lockdowns. Jetho is struggling to make ends meet due to lower wages. “I could not afford to buy any more seed to plough the ground. I do not see any harvest this season. The lack of rain and low agricultural production has dropped my earning by 45%. To make ends meet, I have to borrow money from my relatives or purchase food items on credit from local shops.”

Community World Service Asia’s and UMCOR’sⁱ emergency project provided humanitarian and recovery assistance to vulnerable households that are frequently impacted by natural catastrophes and climate change impacts in Umerkot. The project ensured access to emergency food and agricultural seeds for disaster-affected people so that they could resume their livelihood activities. Jetho was one of the 608 families who received food packages and eight kg of millet seeds to help commence agrarian farming. The food package contained 80 kilograms of wheat flour, 15 kilograms of rice, 8 kilograms of pulses, 7 litres of oil, 4 kilograms of sugar, 400 grams of tea leaves, and 800 grams of iodized salt, and a matchbox.

With this support, Jetho’s family is now able to eat three meals a day, with adequate portions for every family member. Farmers in arid parts of Umerkot have adapted to climate change by switching from ploughing water-intensive rice, sugarcane and maize cultivation to drought-resistant millets. Farmers in this area are encouraged to shift to growing millet, to reduce the impacts of climatic changes on their food security and standard of living.

ⁱ The United Methodist Committee on Relief

If women farmers had equal access to resources, they could produce enough food to keep 100 to 150 million people from going hungry.” Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 2011.

Women’s access to resources and effective technologies is often constrained by gender barriers. There is limited access to development resources and services that have led to large-scale illiteracy, poor health, gender-based violence and inequality among women and girls in most parts of the developing and under-developed world.

Community World Service Asia (CWSA), with the support of UMCOR, is promoting kitchen gardening as an integral part of the farming system among women in Umerkot. Daily household produce like fresh vegetables and fruits are regularly provided to local families through these home-based gardens. Since Umerkot is a predominantly patriarchal society, women are solely engaged in domestic chores such as cooking and ensuring that the family is well-fed, making them key participants of kitchen gardening activities planned under the project. To meet its goal of building resilient communities and empowering local communities and women, CWSA initiated a six-month humanitarian and early recovery projectⁱ for frequent disaster and climate change affected communities in Umerkotⁱⁱ.

Mahavi, was selected as a project participant in September 2021. The fifty-two-year-old mother of four children belongs to a remote village named Umed Ali Chandio, located in Umerkot district. Mahavi’s husband has been struggling to earn a living as farming activities have largely reduced due to the droughts in the district. “Fifteen women, including myself, were part of a training session on kitchen gardening conducted by CWSA’s emergencies team. The session enhanced our knowledge on saving and utilizing available resources without compromising on environment. It familiarised us with better farming techniques, off-season vegetables and kitchen gardening production and setting up of vegetable gardens among various households in remote villages.”

To increase diversification in daily meals and to help her set up a productive kitchen garden, Mahavi was also provided with seeds of spinach, cluster beans, ridge gourd, bottle gourd, coriander, Indian squash, garlic, wild melon and eggplant. She now has access to green and fresh vegetables which her family consumes on a daily basis. Additionally, the five-member family was provided with a one-month food package to meet their dietary needs. Many women, like Mahavi, are playing a significant role in building a sustainable food security through these kitchen gardens. They are overcoming challenges of food insecurity and malnutrition by growing fresh vegetables and fruits in their luscious gardens. “I am ensuring that my children take a healthy diet by consuming the vegetables grown from my own garden. My family looks forward to every meal of the day as I am now making diverse dishes,” said Mahavi, a satisfied project participant.

“We are happy we get to eat fresh vegetables. We feed ourselves, and, we also feed our neighbours through the extra produce the garden gives us. Many women in my village have started to make their own kitchen gardens after seeing how I am making different dishes without making an effort to travel to the market place to buy vegetables which are more costly.”

“Climate change is threatening our planet, food security and livelihoods. We are so lucky to have these kitchen gardens as they support us to maintain healthy diets and livelihoods by growing organic vegetables and fruits. Families have come to embrace food security, increased nutrition and increased diet awareness which supports them together in a community of wellness and good feeling,” reiterated Mahavi.

ⁱ Humanitarian and recovery support to the vulnerable communities continuously affected by recurrent disasters in Umerkot, Sindh, Pakistan

ⁱⁱ In 2021

Community World Service Asia is supporting local and provincial education programs in promoting sustainable quality education for both boys and girls in various parts of the region. One of its programs focuses on ensuring quality education in Umerkot and is implemented in collaboration with government bodies, school management committees, teachers, the local communities and other relevant stakeholders. Despite the various obstacles experienced in the operational environment owing to COVID-19, CWSA continued to provide educational opportunities for underserved communities in Umerkot. By increasing the quality of education and eliminating the literacy gap between boy and girl students and empowering women and girls, CWSA strives to provide inclusive and equitable quality education and gender equality.