Vocational training saves Lyari youth from crime

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When he was a child, Muhammad Burhan (not his real name) and his family emigrated from a small village in Balochistan, on Pakistan’s border with Iran. They settled in Lyari, a violent and impoverished neighbourhood of Karachi, where many others from their area have settled over the decades.

The son of a rickshaw driver and one of eight children, Burhan began to work as a small child to help support the family. Although only 22 years of age, he has worked in Karachi’s oldest wholesale emporium, Boulton Market, as a daily wage labourer, administered vaccine drops to infants as part of the country’s polio eradication campaigns, and conducted quality assurance at a pharmaceutical company. Lacking education and belonging to a marginalized community, he was unable to turn any of these jobs into a career.

He was not alone in this: over the years, Burhan has seen friend after friend fall prey not only to poverty and lack of opportunity, but to violence. He lives in the infamous Aath Chowk area of Lyari, which is known for its gang violence. Lacking opportunities for socioeconomic advancement, he has seen many young boys get lured to join armed gangs.

“When you are a kid with no money and you see these bad guys with guns and expensive bikes, everyone fears them, even cops salute them, it’s very difficult to not get enamoured,” he says.  “The next thing you know, you have a gun in your hand and you are going around the neighbourhood doing all sorts of wrong stuff. It’s too late by then.”

Some of Burhan’s cousins fell prey to temptation, but the family was vigilant. The young men were sent to their village on the Iranian border, far from the temptations of the big city. “The only way to prevent them from getting into trouble was keeping them away for a good two, three years,” Burhan says.

Burhan was well advanced on the same path as his cousins, until a fortunate turn of events.

One of his friends told him about a new training programme being offered at the Silani Welfare Centre some distance from Lyari. Sensing an opportunity for a way out, he immediately enrolled.

The training course was offered under the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s Youth Employment Project which brings together vocational training centres and garment manufacturers to offer training programmes for disadvantaged and vulnerable Karachi youth. It helps to build sustainable livelihoods, foster economic growth, and reduce susceptibility to violence by providing demand-driven skills to 13,000 Karachi youth by 2020, helping them to find employment in the industry.

After completing the course, Burhan found a job at Akhtar Textiles as a machine operator. This became the first stable job he has ever had which, he says, has provided him with an unprecedented sense of security and saved him from spiralling depression and lack of opportunity that might have sent him down the path of criminality. Today, he earns Rs14,000 (US$ 140) a month, giving his family some much-needed income while Burhan sorts out his next career move. He is planning to join college to complete his intermediate education.  “Thankfully, this job allows me the luxury to think about continuing my education,” he says.

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