By Dr Shahnaz Khan
Khando is a small village in Rahim Yar Khan, where Maqsood
Bibi was married at the age of fifteen. Like all young brides
she had dreams of a happy married life and children. But
some things are not meant to be. Her dream of having children
was one of them. After 12 years of trying and hoping she
remained childless. Finally under pressure she gave permission
to her husband for a second marriage.
This was her way of ensuring a respectable place for herself
in a very traditional society. After all it was better to
put up with a second woman in her house than being divorced!
Her hopes were smashed once again when, after only one year,
her husband asked her to leave. She had no place to go but
her brother’s home. But life had some more tests in
store for her. Her sister-in-law was not too happy with
this arrangement and started giving her hard time.
This is not an unusual story in Pakistan. You can find women
who fit this description in any part of Pakistan. But Maqsood
Bibi was determined to make it on her own. To maintain some
semblance of self-respect Maqsood Bibi worked as a cotton
picker to earn some money. She used that to build a small
room with her brother’s assistance. She set up a small
shop in that room, selling candies, stationary, and cosmetics
etc to earn some pocket money.
But this project had its own challenges. Like so many girls
in Pakistan, Maqsood Bibi never attended a school. She did
not know how to read and write or do simple math. As a result
she was unable to keep track of her earnings. At times people
would ask to buy merchandize on credit. She did not want
to lose customers and so she ended up obliging them. Her
total lack of education translated into losing money.
She was very much aware of her handicap. So when the Human
Development Foundation (HDF) started its project in her
village she became actively involved in the formation of
‘Chandni Development Organization’ for women
of her village. She was elected as the secretary of this
Development Organization (DO). A DO is a community-based
volunteer organization. HDF has over 800 such organizations
all over Pakistan where people come together in meetings,
discuss their problems and suggest solutions. HDF facilitates
in implementing those solutions.
In one of the ‘Chandni DO’ meetings she brought
up her problem for discussion. She wanted to learn to read
and write. She wanted HDF to arrange for a six-month literacy
course for the women in her village under its Adult Literacy
Program. So members of the Chandni DO passed a resolution
to this effect. HDF arranged the course for its members.
During the graduation ceremony her brother remarked that
his family could not imagine that attending the course will
help her so much. “Just after three months she stopped
asking for help in record keeping”, he said.
I met Maqsood during my recent visit to Rahim Yar Khan.
She said that now she is not dependent on others for record
keeping. She can track her income and expenses and can read
letters, packages of merchandize etc. It has also helped
her to become a better business woman. Her income has almost
doubled. “I am making a profit of Rs. 2000 per month
now.” she told us.
Earning Rs. 2000 ($22) per month may not sound very impressive
to many of us but for a divorced woman in a small village
in Pakistan, this is a giant leap forward. And this is not
the end of the story. Like it happens so often, Maqsood’s
enthusiasm and activism was infectious.
After attending the six-month adult literacy course these
women wanted more education. They asked HDF for books. Then
they made arrangements with one of the teachers in HDF Child
friendly schools to teach them for two hours daily for tuition
of Rs. 50 per month.
Maqsood is a living example of women’s empowerment
that HDF is striving for. Preservation of human dignity,
right to be productive members of the community and gender
equality are some of the fundamental principals that HDF
believes in. This also proves that helping people help themselves
is the only sustainable way to uplift people. So HDF runs
its entire program on the basis of self-help. People have
to be organized and motivated for this. They have to be
active participants rather than passive recipients of charity.
We believe that hunger cannot be eliminated by giving free
food, health cannot be promoted by opening free clinics
and we cannot get rid of poverty by giving out money. The
only way to make a lasting difference is to change people’s
thinking, attitude and behavior. The change has to be from
within. It is a slow process. There is no instant gratification.
Most of us who started Human Development Foundation will
not be there to see the full impact of its work. But we
know that this is the only way to help the people of Pakistan,
by helping themselves.
“Allah does not change the condition of the people
unless they change what is within them.” Qur’an
To learn more about HDF visit www.hdf.com