Breaking the bonds of intergenerational poverty

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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. The family struggled to make ends meet. The sixth of ten children, 19-year-old Manthaar left school after completing Grade 8 to find work. Since then, he has worked in a shoe workshop, a grocery store, and a poultry farm. Each job ended abruptly, without notice from his employers.

Meanwhile, unrest and criminality was growing in Korangi. Manthaar was constantly harassed by criminals on the street, and even lost an uncle to violence.

Desperate for work, Manthaar began lining up outside Korangi’s many garment factories. He would wake up at 5am and stand outside the gates, hoping to be called inside for a job. “Usually you need some sort of a reference to get hired, but unemployed people who are desperate for work often just stand outside the factory gate all day long hoping to get called inside,” he says. Manthaar did this for two months, but never got the call.

Today, Manthaar passes through those gates every morning. He is a skilled computerized machine operator at Akhtar Textiles, a Korangi based concern, and brings home Rs 13,500 (US$ 135) every month. “This may not be enough for my huge family, but it is still a lot in terms of providing much needed support to the household,” he says.

For Manthaar, this change came about when a friend told him about a training programme conducted under the Youth Employment Project, a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) initiative in partnership with vocational training institutes and garment industry members in Karachi. This project is designed to bring vulnerable young men and women like Manthaar into work by training them on the skills employers need and linking them to work placements. By doing so, the project seeks to help build sustainable livelihoods, foster economic growth, and reduce susceptibility to violence. Manthaar is one of 13,000 Karachi youth whom the project intends to reach by 2020.

Since Manthaar found employment, his family’s economic circumstances have improved. Korangi has also become more secure and this, along with his new job, is making him feel more confident about the future. “Hopefully, the peace and the job are both here to stay,” he says optimistically.

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