Life had not been easy for Bibi Hajra as a single mother. Each day started with her travelling long distances to reach houses in a relatively better-off neighbourhood — where she worked as a domestic worker. Eventually, the exertion from travelling for hours on foot and not having enough food to eat or safe water to drink began to take its toll on her [and her children’s] health. “The houses where I worked were a long distance away from my own home. Each day, by the time I reached the neighbourhood, I was already exhausted — my actual job of cleaning the houses still lay ahead of me,” she said.
Farisa Memon is a 27 year old volunteer social worker from Saadi Town, a multi-ethnic neighbourhood in Karachi. Farisa started her social mobilization work by encouraging local young women to enrol in a government vocational training centre in Saadi Town. The centre offered free trainings on stitching, embroidery, and tailoring to women who were previously (only) engaged in household chores. As a result of her efforts, a total of 25 women from Farisa’s neighbourhood, were able to secure paid employment in Gul Ahmed, a reputable garments factory based in Karachi. This initial experience encouraged Farisa to tackle more challenging issues affecting the people around her. She observed that immigrants from the erstwhile FATA region, who had recently settled in Saadi town, were not sending their children to school. Initial inquiries revealed that this was due to the lack of information about the admissions procedure and the general hesitancy of displaced parents to interact with school authorities. To address this, Farisa worked with the principal of a local government school, encouraging parents to enrol their children to nearby educational institutions.
The goal to achieve Universal Primary Education in Pakistan is hampered by insufficient number of schools, teacher absenteeism, and poor quality of education. These governance related challenges combine with structural inhibitors like endemic poverty, entrenched patriarchy, and diminishing prospects for productive employment in the formal sector, forcing parents from low income households to employ their children in informal occupations at a young age. The situation is dire in remote rural areas of the country where children, especially young girls, are often discouraged from going to school. In these circumstances, marked by overstretched state resources and systemic social constraints, youth led grassroots initiatives provide a ray of hope to thousands who would otherwise give up opportunities for personal growth and economic empowerment against seemingly insurmountable odds.
For the past decade or so, Balochistan province has been affected by recurring droughts. Lack of water availability forced many people to migrate to distant towns—the situation deteriorated to a degree where boring water out of the ground had also become increasingly difficult. Village Killi Sardar Abdul Samad — situated within the parameters of Noshki Village was one such locality where water scarcity was unusually severe. Abdul Majeed, and his family had witnessed conditions become progressively worse over time. Some generations ago, when his ancestors first came to the village, there was plenty of clean drinking water for all residents. However, eight long months had passed without rain, causing groundwater to dry up.
Until less than a year ago, Sakina Bibi and Zabihullah, still in the early years of childhood, spent their days running household errands — a sharp contrast to the carefree lives led by most children of school-going age. Sakina spent her days helping her mother fetch water from as far as ten kilometres away — the only fresh water source located near their house, while Zabihullah helped his father take the animals for grazing to nearby pastures.
For almost fifteen years, close to 12 million people living in the Southwestern province of Balochistan have been affected by water scarcity. With extreme levels of poverty and unemployment in many districts, the residents of Balochistan province often do not have much respite before the next drought threatens to affect their homes and livelihoods
“It was a bold decision to drop out of university and start my own business, that too when I had no specialised training in the field, but I did my best to convince my father. It took an entire year to convince my parents to support me,” said Waiz.
Coping with poverty and marginalisation has been a way of life for residents in the remote town of Bagan Baba, in Jaffarabad district, Balochistan province. For seven-year-old Shama, a resident of Bagan Baba, she spent most of her days helping her family with household chores. With a multi-dimensional poverty headcount of 75 percent in the Jaffarabad district of Balochistan province, Shama is amongst the fortunate few young girls who are supported by their families to attain a formal education.
As a child, Zia-ul-Haq (34) contracted polio. In his remote village of Chota Bizote in Orakzai Agency of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), high quality medical care was difficult to access. Although he survived the terrible disease, Zia’s legs were paralysed. Nevertheless, he was determined not to let his disability come in a way of leading a fulfilling life. He married and soon became a proud father.
At ten years of age, Rahat Khan has no memory of his home in remote Orakzai Agency, in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), before it was swept by insecurity. In 2009 when he was only a toddler, the family was forced to leave their village as military operations against non-state actors intensified. They fled their home and settled for two years in Peshawar, the capital of neighbouring Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. In 2011 they were able to return to their village in Orakzai Agency but tragedy soon struck again. With the region’s fragile health services devastated by the fighting, Rahat’s father died after a short illness. The family was without a male head of the household – a crucial need in FATA’s heavily male-dominated society, where women are often barred from any public dealings.
“We are living in abject poverty,” he says plainly. “I am always worried about my grandchildren. I am old and injured. It is very difficult for me to provide for them without asking others for help.”
Ashraf’s situation rendered him and his family eligible for assistance from the China South-South Cooperation Assistance Fund for the Recovery Project in FATA and Balochistan. This UNDP-supported initiative provides basic humanitarian assistance to 8,100 vulnerable families that were temporarily displaced by insecurity in FATA as they return to rebuild their homes.
For generations, the people of Manglawar village in Swat district, north-western Pakistan, had relied on agriculture for their income. The land was fertile and it was located only three kilometres from the river, guaranteeing an ample supply of water for the crops using a system of mud channels that brought water to each field. With hard work and dedication, the 7,000 people of Manglawar flourished.
In the highly male dominated society of Swat district in Pakistan’s northwest, women’s need for mobility is often underestimated. Nor are their voices heard when they demand their right to access health, education, markets and workplaces. Shakaray village, Swat, was one such village. For many years, the only path connecting it to the nearest road consisted of a muddy 1.8 kilometre stretch of ruts and potholes. It was virtually impassable for vehicles, and difficult even for pedestrians to navigate. This had severe impacts on Shakaray’s women, who found themselves cut off from the outside world.
When Sidra was 15 years of age, her family moved from Mirpurkhas, a small Pakistani agricultural town, to the metropolis of Karachi, hoping for better economic opportunities. Unfortunately, things did not work out as they hoped. In her Urdu-speaking community women were traditionally restricted from working, but her father and brother struggled to support the 11 members of the family. Sidra passed her intermediate examination but, like her seven sisters, was expected to stay at home until she was married, despite the family’s worsening economic situation.
Manthaar Ali’s family are ethnic Sindhis who have lived in the violent Korangi neighbourhood of Karachi for generations. Over the years, they have seen the transformation of this area from a sleepy mangrove-lined village by the Arabian Sea to one of the world’s largest and fastest growing cities.
Yet, even as millions came to Karachi looking for a better life, Manthaar’s family was left behind. His father is a night watchman in a fishing community, while his elder brother is a dockworker who works on daily wages and often goes weeks without work.