ISLAMABAD – With meager earnings, an ailing husband and 12 dependents to feed, life was never easy for Rasheeda Mai, a resident of Basti Lodhran. In the absence of a bread earner, the responsibility of providing financial assistance and to bear the household expenses rested on her shoulders. She had to arrange school fees of her children along with bearing the expenses of medicines for the bedridden husband.
These miserable circumstances made her take the toughest decision; she was always unwilling to take i.e. to stop sending her children to school and make them work instead. It broke her heart and tormented her soul seeing her children working instead of attending the school. FACES Pakistan – a non-profit organisation – gave her the ray of hope to change her economic situation by utilizing her own talents and send her children back to school.
FACES Pakistan – the Formation, Awareness, and Community Empowerment Society – in collaboration with the Caritas Germany initiated a three-year project – Health Education and Enterprise Development (HEED) – targeting the marginalised women of the mixed religious communities after 2010 floods in Punjab (Bhong Sharif, Rahim Yar Khan), Sindh (Kandkot, Khasmore), Pakhtunkhwa (Zaramena, Nowshera) and Jaffarabad in Balochistan.
Today, FACES Pakistan has organised a ‘project recognition ceremony’ in Islamabad to celebrate the successful completion of the HEED project. The project aimed at providing respectable means of livelihood to the skilled, marginalized women as well as spreading social awareness regarding the reproductive health of women by conducting workshops and training traditional birth attendants – TBAs – to address the problems of women by providing them healthcare services, capacity-building trainings and workshops on entrepreneurship development and gender empowerment, identifying and developing viable linkages to increase women’s access to the market and establish accessible Skill Development Centres in order to build women capacities to tap economic opportunities.
Rasheeda – one of the beneficiaries of TBA three months internship program – keenly availed this opportunity and actively participated in all training activities at the Basic Health Unit in Rahim Yar Khan. Internship enabled her to advance her expertise while learning new valuable knowledge regarding the use of hygienic delivery tools and its various benefits. Hundreds of women have been now saved by trained TBAs in their communities through their improved hygienic practices and safe delivery methods which resulted in more confidence and trust among community for their services.
“During the three months internship, we got to learn the proper delivery procedures along with risks and other preventive measures which should be taken to ensure safe delivery of newborn. I am pleased to be a part of such programme which improved my services and now community trusts me more for my better and informed services,” Rasheeda said.
Under the HEED project, exhibitions have also been organized and market linkages created to display and promote the handicrafts made by the skilled women groups. These exhibitions aimed at spreading awareness among the urban population about the talents, business and potential of the underprivileged women from rural areas. It also intended to promote the traditional forms of craft existing in Pakistan. The products exhibited included handmade shoes (kola puri), fancy hand fans and traditional clothes which were well received by the visitors.
“I am now earning a handsome and regular income through the sale of my handmade chappals and other products, which has enabled me to contribute in my household expenses. Now, I feel proud and confident being a productive member of my family,” said Gujri, a resident of UC Mohalla Mainghwal.
FACES Pakistan believes in and facilitates community-based initiatives which enable the community members to take the ownership, assess their own needs and come up with doable and sustainable recommendations. One such example is the establishment of a fish farm in Nowshera, implemented under the HEED project, after a group of skilled local women studied their market and discussed the possibility of fish farming to enhance their livelihoods.
With the help of Village Development Committee, FACES Pakistan established three Skill Development Centres in Rahim Yar Khan, Nowshera and Kashmore. These centres provide a common platform to local women to create products and run enterprises together. These centres enabled trained women to transfer their knowledge and skills to other marginalised women in the area thus proving to grow into the training ground for many untapped talented women. In addition, 11 viable direct market linkages to promote their handmade products have been developed to eliminate middle man concept which resulted in increased profits and enhanced livelihoods.
FACES Pakistan also strongly advocated various social awareness campaigns in collaboration with prominent national and international organisations to bring a social change. In collaboration with the Health Department and other organizations including Help Age International, National Rural Support Program (NRSP) and Human Development Foundation (HDF), FACES Pakistan celebrated World Health Day in Rahim Yar Khan, Bhong, Nowshera, Kashmore and Lahore to discuss and share the possibilities to tackle the elderly health issues.
Similarly, interactive sessions were also arranged on International Women’s Day and Breast Cancer Awareness Day in which women’s contribution in various walks of life was appreciated and significant information regarding the prevention of breast cancer has been disseminated. In collaboration with the Health Department Nowshera, FACES Pakistan arranged a dengue awareness walk to create awareness among the masses against the deadly virus and to provide them with the useful information about the preventive measures.
Hence, HEED project has greatly contributed in the lives of thousands of women directly and indirectly, who are today able to share the economic burdens with their family members and earning a better livelihood. Under this project, about, 0000 beneficiaries have received various trainings in several capacities, enabling them to work more confidently and independently. From economic rehabilitation to the development of entrepreneurial skills, from saving lives and introducing better health practices to the provision of viable market linkages, HEED project has manifold outcomes which have transformed the lives of many.
Moreover, this project has played a significant role in bringing the women of mixed religious communities closer to bridge the gap and allowed them to exchange learning experiences at a common platform, thus promoting peace and harmony.