Passing on the gift of education

Zia Abbas, currently works as a technician with the Pakistan Air Force in Chakwal District. But this is not the end of the road for him; it is a means to an end. While the money from his job helps him support his family, it also funds his education.

Zia’s passion is education and his ambition is to become a teacher to educate children in his hometown, Walana.

Zia is also a former sponsored child, and knows first-hand how it can help improve the conditions of communities.

Passing on the gift of education 2

When Plan International introduced its sponsorship programme and development projects in Zia’s village, along with addressing important issues such safe access to schools, and improving the sewage systems, improving the education indicators of the area, was also one of the top priorities.

This struck a chord with Zia, who was a keen learner. As he grew older he also benefited from English language and beginner level computer courses offered through the sponsorship programme.

Passing on the gift of education 1

“Children’s events were a great way to involve children and help build their confidence,” says Zia, reflecting on participatory children’s activities and events that were a regular feature of Plan International’s work with children of Walana and their community.

Zia notes with cautious that girls’ education has also become much more acceptable in his community, but work still needs to be done in this area.

Zia has completed higher secondary school (12th grade) and is now pursuing higher education while working part time.

A watershed moment

Though, the concept of seesaw water pumps is not new in the world but it is an innovation in Pakistan. Plan International Pakistan is one of the first, if not the first, organisation to install a pilot seesaw pump in a rural community in Vehari to mark an important milestone – that of the community being declared Open Defecation Free (ODF).

School girls milling around the new seesaw

School girls milling around the new seesaw

Muhammad Akbar, a former team member of Plan International Pakistan, said: “The first time I visited the local girls’ primary school (in the village), the sight of girls playing in the school yard, their energy and their vibrancy stayed with me. I thought it would be great if we could somehow harness this energy.”

Seesaw pumps can pump water from a bore, a sump or a rainwater harvesting tank without the need for electricity. The technology is very simple and easy to maintain. This makes it ideal for use in Pakistan, which suffers from an electricity shortfall.

The biggest problem was to identify manufacturers who could build and install such pumps. Since seesaw pumps had not been installed in Pakistan before, the WASH team visited different sanitation item suppliers and local mechanics to build a seesaw pump. Finally, a manufacturer named Shafiq was found who was willing to take on the project.

Plan International staff discussed details of the pump with him and showed him the pictures of seesaw pumps. He started working on this with the help of a local iron worker and prepared a design of a safe seesaw pump with supported tags and high quality wires and could bear the weight of fifteen children. For children’s safety a single piston was used to discharges water after each cycle.


The seesaw being built

When the seesaw pump had been built and installed in the school, the school teachers asked some children to try out the seesaw.

“We were surprised when the entire student body – 60 girls – gathered around us and clamoured for their turn. We divided the girls into 7 groups and asked them to use the see saw turn-by-turn. When the first group of children rode the seesaw and completed its one cycle water came out through the pipes. This was a truly joyful moments for us,” says Akbar.

Later the pipes were linked with the main water storage tank which provides water to the school.

It was also an exciting moment for Ms. Samina, the headmistress: “I cannot forget the moment when I saw the smile on the children’s faces. We had no reliable water facility in our school and the girls usually had to carry water from their homes.”

Drinking water pumped by the seesaw

Drinking water pumped by the seesaw

“I plan to invite the Executive Education Officer (EDO) to my school to suggest that seesaw pumps be replicated in other schools of the District,” she added.

Creating safe learning spaces

Through the Safe Schools Project, Plan International and its partners are working towards providing school children with a safer learning environment

Government Girls Primary School, Dari, is located 26 kilometers away from the city of Ghotki, and boasts over a hundred enrolled students. Before the Safer Schools project was initiated in the community, the school was full of risks: there were thorny plants, grass, weeds and rubbish on the school grounds. Electricity wires also posed a threat. In short, the school was in a hazardous condition and the school administration did not appear to be concerned about the dangers that the situation presented.


Dangling, overhead wires used to pose a threat to students and staff

School staff and students lacked knowledge about natural and man-made calamities or ways to stay safe from them. No safety committee or a school representative’s council existed. The School Management Committee (SMC) was nonfunctional as the school was not receiving SMC funds at the time. Children, parents and staff lacked information about disasters and safety precautions.

After the Safer Schools project was launched, sensitisation sessions were offered to parents and sessions with school children and teachers were also arranged. A local CSO – the Sewai Foundation – working with Plan’s partners facilitated meetings with school staff, students, parents and the SMC committee to cope with the hazardous situation of the school. During the Hazard Vulnerability Capacity Assessment (HVCA), children identified potential risks in and around the school building.

Sessions and training programmes were also arranged to impart knowledge about disasters and safety which took a grass roots approach and addressed basic questions like: “what is a disaster?”, “what are its kinds?” and “how to be safe from disasters?”

The participants learnt through training sessions, mock drills and activities. As they gained knowledge about disasters they realised that their school’s dilapidated condition posed certain risks which needed to be mitigated. Through collective efforts, school safety improved with the passage of time.


Dilapidated condition of the boundary wall before the Safer Schools Project was initiated

Today the school is safe to a satisfactory extent; the play-ground is neat and clean, thorny plants have been removed and damaged electric wires have been repaired. The school staff, children, SMC and parents have gained knowledge about disasters and the safety measures. A school safety committee and school representative’s council have also been formed, which are working to make the school safer. The headmistress, parents and community also enjoy greater confidence in the school.

Bouncing back: TVET project provides alternate avenues of livelihood

Because of a lack of access to TVET institutes, in Pakistan, traditionally, learning a new trade requires an ustad-shagird (teacher-student) arrangement – sometimes lasting years – before the apprentice emerges as a journeyman. For someone trying to make ends meet, acquiring skills to earn money in as little time as possible may spell the difference between staying afloat and sinking.

Bilal 1

After the super floods of 2010 washed away the crops from the plot of land on the outskirts of Layyah that Bilal and his family cultivated, he suddenly found himself on the streets with no source of income. To support the large, ten member family, Bilal and his father starting working as daily labourers whenever they could find work. Bilal, then a teenager, had to drop out of school to work full time.

Needing more money to make ends meet and wanting to learn a useful skill, Bilal joined a local motorcycle repair workshop as an apprentice in hopes of a better future. But soon Bilal grew tired of the ustad-shagird relationship and left the workshop.

Time passed by and Bilal heard tell of a technical skills workshops designed for youth groups. Upon further investigation he learned that the workshops were part of a project funded by the European Union and implemented by Plan International Pakistan.

Bilal became a member of the Al-Hamza youth group and without any hesitation chose the motorcycle maintenance course. After 3 months Bilal emerged with a certification and additional life skills. Armed with new found confidence Bilal contacted the workshop that hBilal 2e apprenticed with before and was taken on for Rs. 200 per week.

After completing the apprenticeship Bilal decided to start his own business. He borrowed Rs. 8000 from his father and sold his share of the livestock to open his own workshop in Layyah city. The venture proved to be a success and now, along with offering repair services, Bilal also sells motorcycle parts. Bilal now earns around Rs. 12000 every month.

“Because of the confidence, professional training and life skills that I acquired from the TVET institute I now support my family and pay for my younger sister’s education,” says Bilal.


A skill and an art

Skills training in Chakwal has something to offer to the artistically inclined as well

Sania always felt an unfulfilled need that she could not name; a need to create, what, she did not know. Like all creative people she needed a channel to express herself. Sania has lived her entire 22 years in Chakwal, in a remote community that offers no instruction or opportunities to the artistically inclined. Living in poverty, also, is a characteristic of her community that every family can relate to.

Limited livelihood opportunities and supporting a large family (Sania has 6 sisters and 2 brothers) led Sania’s father to discontinue her education after the 10th grade; mobility was also an issue.

More than skills training

When Plan and its partners initiated the FLNO funded Youth Economic Empowerment Project (YEEP) in Sania’s village, she was instinctively drawn to the embroidery course designed for young people. After learning more about the trainings Sania formed a group with other young girls fimage002rom the community and embarked on a three months extensive training course in Addah (dress embroidery). Here, finally, was an outlet for her creative aspirations.

It also offered an opportunity to acquire skills to earn a livelihood – income that Sania could use to support herself and her family. The course included information about materials and fabric, and learning to use new tools. To Sania, however what mattered most were colours, patterns and design. And driving her on was the knowledge that at the end of three months she would be able to create not only the intricate patterns she saw pictures of, but also new, original designs brought forth through her expression.

Sania says that attending the training made her happy and did not seem like work: “It quenched my thirst for being innovative and also was an opportunity to learn new skills to support my family”. She also said that young girls like to wear embroidered dress in her village and the demand of her services is increasing every day.

image003The pay off

On average, Sania designs three to four dresses every month and earns a profit of Rs. 1000 PKR (approximately $10 US) on each dress.

Says Sania: “Once I have saved enough money I will try and expand my business. I have already contacted a boutique to see whether they like my designs”.

Sania wants to share her knowledge of embroidery and gives regular lessons to young girls interested in learning Addah Work.

“My skills are not only benefiting my community, but also allow me to lend a helping hand to support my family.” – Sania, 22 years, Chakwal

Nasreena’s learning journey

image002Nasreena, a brave and determined girl of 22 years of age from the Shakrial community – an underdeveloped area of Islamabad – always envisaged a brighter future not only for herself but also for her siblings. Nasreena comes from a tribal Pakhtun background and has 14 siblings (06 sisters and 08 brothers). She is the third child and never attended a formal school while growing up because of her family’s limited resources. About twenty years ago, Nasreena’s father owned a small business but after incurring a huge loss he lost his business. One of her older brothers earns 8000 PKR working as a driver of a well-to-do family, and is the only earning member of the family. This is what Nasreena has to say about her learning journey:

I used to see children going to school and would feel a desperate desire of attending school myself, but could not go. When I was about 20 years of age, while taking my grandmother to the hospital one day I met a teacher from the community who told me about a fast track matriculation programme for girls started by Plan International Pakistan.  I welcomed the news and wasted no time in getting enrolled in the foundation class which had started two months ago. During my first day in class, I thought myself to be very lucky and felt my childhood dream coming true. With the support of my class fellows and teachers I studied with great enthusiasm for two and half years.

I was very nervous on the day the result for the matriculation exams was to be announced and prayed to God for success. When the result was announced I jumped for joy because I had secured 705 marks out of 1050! My mother and sisters and brothers were also delighted. That day’s success inspired me to pursue both higher secondary education and vocational & technical education.

While at the FTSE centre I also attended career counseling sessions arranged by Plan International Pakistan. I wanted to explore opportunities that the world had to offer and wanted a way out of the restrictive environment where girls are not allowed to pursue their dreams. I wanted to excel in the English language and to learn more about computers. When I was given options for vocational and technical training courses I opted for the three months English Language and Computer Course defined under the category of office work.

The training institute was really inspiring for me as first time I was exposed to a formal setting – a journey from a class room to a big college. Unlike the matriculation class where all my class mates were from same the community, girls from different communities and backgrounds also attended the Computer and English Language class. This was another new but interesting experience for me; now I had to make new friends out of a class of 40 girls. Each day we had language class and then computer class. Classes started early in the morning and we left the training venue around 2:30 to 3:00 pm.

The English language classes helped me learn proper sentence structure, increased my vocabulary and I even wrote short essays on different topics. The speaking sessions were most challenging but at the same time very inspiring.

During the computer classes, I was astonished by the efficiency of computers. I don’t have a computer at home so I used attend the computer lessons eagerly. Working on different programmes of Microsoft Office was another great experience for me. Time passed and when it was time to be tested I secured an A grade.

Coming from a conservative family and knew that I will not get permission for working unless I am more empowered so I applied for admission in the same college named the Sultana Foundation. This was another challenge and such challenge are compounded when someone is poor and does not have a good relationship with their father. Thanks to my elder sister who arranged the PKR 10000 admission fee, I was enrolled in the Intermediate of Computer Science course.

I am now attending formal education classes and aim to get a Master’s degree one day.

Emergency response – a sum of parts

Rescue 1122, CSOs and communities in Muzzafargarh team up to avert and face emergencies.

A strategic goal of Plan International Pakistan’s programming is strengthening Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and developing the capacities of communities with a special focus on young people and children. One direct result of investing in CSOs and communities is the relationship that has developed between Rescue 1122 – a provincial Emergency Response (ER) department, CSOs based in Muzzafargarh and the local community.

Plan International Pakistan, in line with its goal to empower local organisations, donated 4 motor boats and 12 life jackets to a local CSO in Muzzafargarh District, the Social Youth Council of Patriots (SYCOP) through its partner, the Rural Development Policy Institute (RDPI). SYCOP in turn donated the boats and life jackets to Rescue 1122.

Before the flood waters hit, residents of vulnerable villages whom Plan has been supporting in developing early warning systems and evacuation, contingency plans and village committees reached out to local CSOs and Rescue 1122 for help and information. The life boats provided by Plan International and manned by Rescue 1122 staff did search and rescue duty during this stage and proved invaluable in reaching stranded villagers in hard to reach areas. Rescue 1122 evacuated more than 20,000 people before and after the floods struck.

After the flood water had raged through the District, flooding villages, displacing people and laying waste to anything in its path, the boats were also used for emergency transport, ferrying people to and from areas cut off by the water. Rescue 122 since its nascent years in the District has had the support of local CSOs to cope with floods. Since Muzzafargarh, along with other areas of south Punjab, is a disaster prone area, the relationship is a very important one: “The population of the District is significant and our resources are limited,” says Dr. Irshad Ullah, district emergency officer, Rescue 1122. “The contributions of CSOs play a significant role in times of emergencies,” he adds.

Rescue 1122 also banks on the deep understanding that SYCOP and other CSOs have of the local community and the special relationship they enjoy. Rescue 1122 also believes in empowering communities. When Plan’s Safer Schools project was initiated in the area, Rescue 1122 talked to children in schools about first-aid, how to react in emergencies, and designed evacuation drills for them. The Department also works with village committees to set up effective early warning systems, and on the recommendation of SYCOP trained swimmers in the five most vulnerable villages to
rescue people from drowning.

As a direct result of including communities in decision making, the ER department has earned the trust and suppo11rt of the very communities they help: “People are always willing to lend a hand to us,” says Obaid Ullah, emergency officer, Rescue

Close call

During the search and rescue phase, the Rescue 1122 team came across a woman well into her pregnancy (seated top left) and close to her due date. Doctors in the District Headquarters (DHQ) hospital and another local hospital had earlier refused her treatment because of complications with her pregnancy; the baby needed to be delivered by C-section and they were not equipped to perform the procedure. Using one of the life boats she was evacuated from her village to a safe spot from where she was transported to Nishtar Hospital in Multan – a hospital from where she wouldn’t be turned away.

Handy Skill training sparks a business idea

Something very interesting is happening in South Punjab: Young women are training to work as electricians. In a region that is host to patriarchal societies that cling to traditions, they challenge gender stereotypes every day.


Nageena lives in a village of Union Council Lohanch Nasheeb tehsil in the district of Layyah. In May 2013 Plan International offered a series of two days “handy skills” workshops in which she chose to learn how to assemble rechargeable lights.

The trainees received step by step instructions on how to assemble rechargeable lights and were equipped with all the necessary materials, including a solder gun an wires, dry batteries, LED lights, diodes, circuits, on/off buttons and pliers. The training was intentionally designed to expose young girls to non-traditional trades and skills with the aim to challenge gender stereo types in trades.

Nageena was so impressed with the usefulness of the training, that she decided to start a business making these for others. Says Nageena: “There is a huge demand for these devices in the area due to the un-availability of electricity.”


The total cost to manufacture a single rechargeable light is about Rs.100, and they can easily fetch Rs.150 to Rs.180. According to Nageena, after delivering the first few orders she will explore the demand in adjacent villages of the union council.

She is very happy at the prospect of being able to earn an income in this way and is also interested to get further training to increase her skills.

Along with being self-reliant, Nageena also wants to lead the way to change perceptions in her community. She wants to become a role model for the rural girls by showing them that they can learn skills and then apply them to earn a living. Says Nageena: “I have noticed that the parents of some girls have been watching my progress and are now more willing to let their daughters participate in similar trainings.”

Protecting their rights

Hands Raised 2

Raising their hands for education: Young women and girls at a Plan sponsored learning centre in Islamabad

Domestic workers stick together to demand equal treatment 

Most of the young girls and women living in Islamabad’s slums work as domestic workers to make ends meet. Domestic workers offer their services in houses in posh sectors of the city. Unfortunately, Domestic Work falls in the category of informal labour so their labour and protection rights are not protected and secured. On average, in these slums, two-to-three girls or women from each family are involved with domestic work. Another aspect of domestic work is the stigma attached with it; domestic workers are generally not afforded the same level of respect that other workers and labourers get. Young girls are often forced to drop out of school to work as domestic help and support their families with the income.

It is not uncommon for girls as young as twelve to work in two-to-three houses in a single day. The work can include cleaning the house, doing the laundry and washing dishes; this helps them earn up to  3,000 to 4,000 (Rs.) from each house. Plan Pakistan has been working in a number of these slum communities for some time to empower women domestic workers. Women who worked as domestic workers were offered awareness-raising sessions on labour and legal rights. Sessions on communication and leadership were also arranged.

With the support of Pakistan Workers Federation, the first ever domestic workers union was formulated. The next step is to have this union recognised as a formal union by the Social Welfare Department. Shagufta, age 35, is a resident of Sixty-six Quarters – a slum in Islamabad. Shagufta is the elected president of the domestic workers union of her community. Shagufta dropped out of school as a child because her family could not afford it. She has been working as a domestic worker for the last five years. Her husband works a sanitary worker in a private office. Shagufta wishes to provide quality education to her three children compelled her to find work.

Says Shagufta: “My husband’s salary was not enough to take care of our family’s expenses. I have three children; I want them to be educated so that they can have a brighter future.” Shagufta soon discovered that paid domestic work is not easy work: “When I started working at people’s homes I had to face a lot of discrimination; there is no concept of a minimum wage, regular job hours are not fixed, there is no fixed salary or over time, and there are no paid leaves even when a domestic worker is with child.” She also discovered that domestic workers are not respected by the society. Rubina , and other female domestic workers, face harassment on a regular basis – walking on the street, riding public transport and even inside the homes where they work.

According to Shagufta, it is not uncommon for younger girls to suffer physical abuse by their employers. More often than not this abuse goes unaddressed: girls are usually reluctant to tell their parents, and even if they do, their parents are reluctant to report the abuse to the authorities. Why? Simply because doing so in the past had no effect on the perpetrators of abuse – often well off people with influence – it only resulted in the girls losing their jobs. Being the president of the Union has empowered Shagufta with new found confidence: “I always felt bad because other domestic workers – girls and women I knew – were living with discrimination and abuse. I wanted to demand my rights and their’s, but did not know how to. When Plan International started working with our community it was the opportunity I had been waiting for.” Shagufta became a member of a Member Based Organisation (MBO) and soon after, the president.

“My MBO selected me as leader so I got the chance to learn more about our legal and labour rights. This increased my confidence to be more vocal about the issues that affected us; we even held a press conference at Islamabad Press Club!” says a beaming Sagufta. “I am proud to be the president of the Domestic Workers’ Union. I am their representative and together we will advocate for equal labour rights and more secure work places. We should be protected by Pakistan’s labour laws so that like other workers we have job contracts, defined hours, salaries, pensions and other benefits. We all are passionate to make this union one of the strongest unions in Pakistan which will ensure the labour rights of domestic workers of the entire country.” – Shagufta

A dream comes true

The story of a young mother who’s dream to continue her education came true when she learned about Plan’s Non Formal Education (NFE) project.

Plan Pakistan’s area of operation includes working with slum dwellers in urban areas. Most of these slums are populated with Christian minorities who were low caste Hindus before they converted to Christianity. Even after converting, the concept of “untouchables” remains deeply embedded in Pakistani society. Consequently, financially disadvantaged Christians remain a marginalised group and are usually confined to limited employment opportunities such as domestic and sanitary work.


The girls in Plan’s target areas usually drop out from school at an early age due social discrimination and start working with their mothers as domestic workers or taking care of sibling at home. Being too young, having no education and a lack of skills pushes them into low-paid labour. Educating their children – especially girls – is not a priority for them due to the high cost of urban living. The Fast Track secondary Education (FTSE) programme was initiated to promote girls’ secondary education through an alternative model of non-formal education in two years and equip them with vocational and technical trainings so their socio economic conditions could be improved through a dignified job.

*Saiqa Khalid lives in one of Plan’s partner communities. Saiqa was born into a poor family – her mother has worked as a domestic worker for most of her life and her father is a sanitary worker. A very low household income and lack of opportunities resulted in Saiqa being married off at an early age. Saiqa has two children and prides herself as a courageous and responsible mother.

Says Saiqa:  “When I was of a school going age my parents forced the responsibilities of marriage on to me. Due to poverty my dream of getting an education remained a dream, but I did not abandon it. I often thought about continuing my education and I was always amazed when girls my age complained about school and found it hard. I always thought of being able to go to school as a blessing.”

Since Saiqa was a member of a Plan partner community, Plan staff was not an uncommon sight for her. One day the Plan team introduced the concept of Fast Track Secondary Education (FTSE) to the community. The most attractive feature of the project for Saiqa was that it aimed to provide education opportunities to individuals who had never attended school. “I was puzzled at how could this be possible? It takes up to ten years for people to sit for the matric exam, and here they were talking about doing it in just two years! I thought that if this was true it would be a miracle.”

Saiqa wasted no time in registering for the programme. But along with anticipation and hope there was also fear; fear that this opportunity was too good to be true and the project may fail. But with the passage of time her fear about the project subsided but the huge challenge of raising a family and studying soon became evident.

“During these two years I faced numerous problems and challenges at my home. At one stage, I was ready to quit the programme because of my children’s school timings”. Dropping my daughter off at school and picking her clashed with the centre’s hours. I discussed this with the project team and they fully supported me and provided me with the flexibility to adjust my timings. The teachers were very cooperative as well.”

Saiqa plans on continuing with her studies, and wants to sign up for a computer course as well. Saiqa now dreams of becoming a teacher so that she can work with girls who faced challenges similar to the ones she faced.

With Saiqa’s passion for education there’s a good chance that this dream might come true as well.


*Name changed to protect subject’s identity