Pakistani flood victims take destiny into own hands

Karachi housewife leads initiative to provide vocational training to those displaced by last year's devastating floods.


    When we met Khaleda Bibi, the heavily pregnant mother of one was brimming with excitement. 

    It wasn’t because an international TV crew had come to film at her remote village in central Sindh province that excited her: it was the person who had travelled there with us.

    With us was Tasnim Akhtar, a Karachi housewife who - for the past 32 years - has devoted much of her life to volunteering for the needy.

    It had been a long while since the two women had last seen each other, and there were smiles and hugs all around as they caught up.

    They had met only a year ago, at a make-shift relief camp for flood survivors. Tasnim would go there every day to hand out basics like food, water, soap and clothing, all of which she paid for out of her own pocket and with donations by friends.  

    The women she met, however, soon started asking her for other necessities like medicine or cash. In some cases, they even begged her.

    That’s what inspired Tasnim to provide the displaced women with vocational training so that they could start to earn their own money and be able to buy whatever they needed for themselves and their families.

    The idea to teach them quilt-making came after seeing a few female camp residents stitching together rudimentary blankets in the traditional style of rural Sindh.

    As the quality of the quilts improved with training, Tasnim began to sell the linen on their behalf.

    Khaleda, one of the few people at the camp who spoke Urdu (Pakistan's national language, but spoken by few in comparison to its many regional languages), quickly became the point person between Tasnim and the other women.

    The two agreed to a payment system and the rest has worked itself out organically.

    Khalida says that she never expected her life to have changed so much in a year.

     “We lost everything during the floods and had to flee our homes and fields. Now we are earning money and are rebuilding our lives to better than before.” 

    Now back in their village, dozens of other women in the area have started to learn the once dying art of traditional quilt making from those that learned it in the camps.

    They can earn up to $30 per blanket, a life changing sum in rural Pakistan.

    With the money they earn from selling the handicrafts, many have been able to repair their flood damaged homes, pay for badly needed medical care and school fees for their children.

    Tasnim says the women are getting more than just money by making quilts: “By giving work to these women I am also giving them freedom.  Freedom of speech. Freedom of speaking in the house with their men.  They can now send their children to school. Give them good food to eat, good clothes to wear.  These children are entitled to this it [should] not be for just the rich.”

    It’s not just private citizens who are offering vocational training to flood affected people. The UN and other NGOs are also adopting the same approach.

    But with so many still struggling to recover from the disaster, one year on, there are far too few success stories like this.



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