Breaking the cycle of poverty

I have recently returned from a trip to Pakistan. It is a country close to my heart as I spent a number of years during the 2000s studying and working there, and now often return for personal visits to family and friends. During my years in Pakistan, I was an active volunteer with community outreach projects to enable the economic independence and empowerment of rural populations. These experiences are what also contributed towards my current professional remit as a global capacity builder, inclusive educator and researcher in social innovation and impact.

Since 1994, I have been – and even today, from a distance, continue to be – involved with the Galaxy of Youth (GoY).  Established in 1980, GoY is an NGO registered with the Government of Pakistan. Its aims and objectives include moulding young people into better citizens, without any political, racial, religion or social bindings. My involvement with GoY has been through various roles as Member and Vice President. Despite not living in Pakistan, I still keep abreast of its many projects and make time to visit them whenever I’m in Karachi, particularly its project in Qasba Colony. However, this time around, I was saddened to learn of the closure of that project as a result of political tension in the area. I feel particularly emotional about this, because my association with the Centre in Qabsa Colony goes back more than 20 years.

Beyond the glittering streets and affluent localities of Clifton and Defence in Karachi, Pakistan, Qasba Colony in Orangi Town on the outskirts of Karachi is an area rife with poverty and deprivation. In fact, Orangi town was named one of the largest slums in the world in the United Nations World Cities Report 2016. Qasba Colony has a mixed population of lower income groups. It is an area that is under-developed, over-populated, heavily polluted and extremely filthy. Here, the life is a vicious circle of birth, drugs and death.

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image source: personal picture taken at Qasba Colony

In 1987, in this far-flung remote area, GoY succeeded in establishing the Mother and Child Vocational and Coaching Centre. Although GoY’s efforts were but a drop in the ocean, the girl child in particular has been greatly assisted in this dismal and drab area. This project focused on six of the current seventeen Sustainable Development Goals the United Nations has recognised as being essential to it’s global plan of action for people, planet and prosperity, which I have written about here. The Mother and Child Vocational and Coaching Centre, as its name implied, aimed to provide education for children coming from poverty-stricken homes, as well as youth employment, specifically for the young girls. If the Centre was in existence today, it would doubtless be a model case study for the United Nations Development Group (UNDG).

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image source: personal picture taken at Qasba Colony

In Pakistan, the story of the destitute child is heart-breakingly tragic. Children are denied basic human rights, and indeed, despite some small steps, Pakistan has also fallen behind most developing countries in its achievements in basic education, health and gender empowerment. In Pakistan, it is an alarming fact that in the rural areas especially, majority of girls are prevented from going to school simply because families do not want to lose their household labour. In the polluted and garbage-strewn streets, many little girls are seen caring for their younger siblings, while their parents are out working for minimum wages.

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image source: personal picture taken at Qasba Colony

In these areas grown-up girls follow a set pattern of lifestyle – cooking and attending to other household chores – until they are eventually married off. Through GoY we reached out to these girls and their families and helped in providing them the general awareness of basic education.

Initially, it was a most difficult task to get the girls to attend classes. Together a team of GoY members set out to the task at hand. It involved firstly, convincing and motivating the parents and relatives, and secondly, getting the cooperation of the area mosque committee, and then, finally, securing their much-needed approval. At the outset, general education was provided, together with the knowledge of nursing, health, hygiene and nutrition. Later, the Centre evolved into a an Employment and Career Guidance Centre where women, girls and children came to meet, learn and gain knowledge and skills such as typing and stitching. This transition occured through GoY’s interaction with the community at Qasba Colony, which indicated a lot of unrest and frustration among youth coming from poverty-stricken families. This frustration was – and still is – largely due to the fact that the youth lack proper guidance and do not have access to information about job-openings. In fact, as a result of GoY’s work at the Centre, over 200 young women and mothers were able to break free from the cycle of poverty and went to get paid employment as secretaries or seamstresses, or start their own tailoring businesses between 1987-2014.

Despite the Centre having to close as a result of political upheaval in the area, GoY continues to strive towards its mission for the improvement of education and youth development. Recently, GoY has set up the Paqburgh Progessive Institute in the Gizri township of Karachi. Currently, the Institute supports 7 levels of English-medium education for the toddlers and children of daily wage labourers in the area: pre-nursery, nursery, kindergarten KG1, kindergarten KG2, and Primary Classes 1-3. Plans are in the pipeline for an indoor assembly hall, a library and a computer room, and I am looking forward to seeing progress towards this on my next visit to Karachi.

Welfare projects such as the Paqburgh Progressive Institute, are in constant need of funds. GoY has fund-raising drives, donations from benevolent people, grants and various other fund-raising schemes through which it tries its utmost to aid the less-privileged members of society to break free from the cycle of poverty.

During the course of my experiences volunteering with GoY, and my years living in and visiting Pakistan, I have come to realise that there is abundant potential that lies within the poverty-stricken areas of Karachi. I am proud to still be a part of the GoY family which strives to bring about positive changes in the lives of youngsters from destitute areas.

Do you know of any similarly socially impactful projects in your community or country? I’d love to hear about them and learn from the experiences of those who support such projects.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2017

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