Dr. Fariha Khan, one of our board of directors, recently returned from Pakistan where she visited a few of our projects. Here is her story.
We are not all that different as mothers. Keeping our kids out of trouble, making sure they clean their plates, expecting good behaviour, sleepless nights, disciplining when necessary and worrying about their future.
What is very different though, is our circumstances – as mothers from two very different worlds.
I recently traveled to Pakistan for seventeen days and visited some of Islamic Relief’s urban and rural projects. Islamic Relief has been working in Pakistan for over twenty-three years – on projects such as water, sanitation, education and disaster risk reduction.
As a Muslim woman, it was engaging for me to witness how Islamic Relief’s projects were helping to empower women across Pakistan.
I first visited the villages outside of Thatta in Sindh, which were destroyed in the floods of 2010. Islamic Relief’s approach to rebuilding the villages was to have local community members, men and women, be intimately involved in the planning. The women were empowered to form their own council and to take leadership in repairing the damage caused by the floods. The women meet regularly, have open discussions, and they work alongside the men in making decisions for their community.
I spoke to the men in the village who told me that before Islamic Relief, they had no organized way of communicating with each other, their landlords or other development organizations. One of the best outcomes of Islamic Relief’s involvement, was that the community learned how to engage and empower their women.
I met Amina* who was one of the female leaders of the village – a matriarch who commanded respect, but had such warmth and love for each individual in her presence. She spoke of how their lives had changed. She faced the destruction of her home, loss of lives, rampant hunger and unrelenting illness. “Diseases were everywhere,” Amina told me. “It was such a difficult time for us but we remained patient with God and his help came through you. We are thankful for God’s blessings”.
Through Islamic Relief’s response to the 2010 floods the villages have been transformed. We installed lead hand pump and solar powered wells so that clean water is now accessible. We built homes that are raised slightly above the ground, in order to withstand any subsequent flooding, which can still occur. We also built latrines – something they didn’t have before. The women smiled as they told me that their children weren’t getting sick anymore. They now now have access to sanitation facilities with proper drainage and privacy. Wherever we are in the world, women appreciate a good bathroom! I guess we’re not all that different!
The next project I visited was Islamic Relief’s Microfinance Program in Rawalpindi. I met another mother named Sara. After her husband suffered a devastating injury, she was left to make ends meet. She started out by selling bracelets hung on a single thin rope. With the help of Islamic Relief, she was able to grow her business to sell a few more items, such as henna, hair clips and other accessories. She’s now able to support her husband and send her daughter to school.
I also met Hanya, a beneficiary of Islamic Relief’s orphan sponsorship program. Her father had died just before she was born, and her mother suffers from health conditions that leave her unable to work. The only assistance they received for years, was from an uncle who offered them a small room to live in. Hanya and her mother share a bed and cook their own food over a makeshift stove in a corner of their room. Barely able to stand upright in the small dark quarters, Hanya told me how grateful she was to her one-to-one sponsor, for continuing to support her even though she is over seventeen years of age. Hanya hopes to go to university to study business. She prays that she is able to provide for her mother and pay for her medical bills. She wants to change her circumstances and build a new life for herself.
I met so many amazing women on this visit – from elders who took me by the hand to the little girls that sat in my lap. At their core, these women are not that different from me – They, like me, hope and pray for safety, security, health and the well-being of their children. But it was clear, even to these women, that our circumstances and opportunities were worlds apart. Their hardship was so great that one woman held out her daughter to me and said “take her with you”.
Maybe it’s because I only have sons, but I gravitated towards the young girls I met. Their eyes were full of wonder, resilience and hope.
Since the floods, Islamic Relief interventions have provided them with shelter, sanitation, clean water, and generally better health. But there’s still a long way to go. Most of these girls, and boys, still don’t have access to school. They may never learn to read or write. They may simply live the same life cycle as their mothers and grandmothers.
There is still much work to be done. But despite the hardship and suffering I witnessed, I left Pakistan with hope. Over the last few years, there have been tremendous improvements in the living conditions for women and children across Pakistan. And for the first time, young girls across Pakistan are witnessing women in their communities take a stand and become leaders.