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.
Maula Baksh Khosa is a 27 year old activist from District Lasbella in Balochistan. A resident of Tehsil Bela, Maula Baksh witnessed extreme poverty and educational deprivation in his village while growing up. The situation was especially dire for girl children who were either not sent to school or engaged as full time domestic helpers after completing one or two years of schooling. Maula Baksh was one of the fortunate few from his village who were able to complete school education and travel to Karachi for higher studies. While in college, Maula Baksh became more aware of the transformative ways in which educated women are contributing to the society and economy of Pakistan. He realized that women have far greater potential than the limited opportunities available to them in his village.
Maula Baksh returned to his village and started encouraging parents to send their children, especially daughters, to school. His initial mobilization technique was simple. Instead of focussing on the long term impacts of education in providing gainful employment, he focussed on the role of education in resolving everyday problems. This helped him gain acceptance in conservative patriarchal communities where female education was discouraged. An early boost was given to his mobilization efforts when a young school going girl from his village saved her father from taking expired medication.
Starting with parents, Maula Baksh was able to expand his mobilization efforts to district notables and government representatives who provided him with material and financial support to establish the ‘School of Hope’, an educational institute for destitute children who needed help with school work. The institute is run by Maula Baksh and his younger brother and supports 43 girls and 40 boys in getting quality education.
In 2018, Maula Baksh was selected as one of the 50 youth activists from Sindh, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the ‘Capacity Building and Mentorship Trainings on Leadership, Negotiation and Communications Skills’ initiated by UNDP’s Youth Empowerment Programme. The trainings will help grassroots activists in learning the necessary skills and knowledge to upscale their existing community development projects by networking with relevant power actors, taking personal initiative (where required), and effectively communicating their message and achievements to target audiences. As a young activist who acquired his skills through improvisation and on ground learning, Maula Baksh was especially pleased to learn the theoretical underpinnings of the negotiations and advocacy work that he had been doing for years. After completing the one week training, Maula Baksh is more confident of effectively communicating his message to a larger audience and scaling up the ‘School of Hope’ initiative through effective advocacy and lobbying with power actors in his district.
I am extremely happy to be selected for this training. I can now effectively structure my community mobilization efforts and talk more confidently with influential actors. I cannot wait for the mentorship and online training sessions to start. UNDP should continue supporting grassroots activists like myself for the development of rural areas in Pakistan.