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Humanitarian Aid – Tharparkar Preservation Programme

From the President: “In August 2014, an AK delegation undertook an humanitarian aid mission to Tharparkar, Sindh with the assistance of the Pakistan Army and the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO). Newspapers were full of reports of a drought that had caused widespread loss of livestock and, tragically, deaths of little children. Online searches showed 35-40 organisations providing relief in Sindh. AK undertook a road reconnaissance (Lahore-Hyderabad-Mirpur Khaas-Umarkot (the entrance into Tharparkar)-Chachro-Dhakla-Islamkot-Nagarparkar-Islamkot-Mithi (the capital of Tharparkar)-Naukot-Badin-Hyderabad) to verify the reality on the ground. It transpired that only 5-6 organisations were proper effective work. AK joined hands with PVDP whose founder, Dominic Stephen, explained how his own experience had shown him that the best way to prepare for crises was through education. PVDP runs 10 schools in the rural areas of Tharpakar with a wholistic and community-sensitive programme: academic education is provided till Class 8 after which emphasis is placed on vocational education enabling students to contribute to their own community. Skills such as carpentry, masonry, plumbing, electrical know-how, handicrafts are taught to the students. Simultaneously, those who are academically-inclined are encouraged to continue with higher education. Funds for the schools are in short supply so it has been a struggle for PVDP to maintain or expand the education programme. At the moment, two big problems face rural education apart from shortage of funds. Firstly, parents are disinclined to send their daughters to schools because there are, quite simply, no toilet facilities in the schools. Secondly, girls are often married very soon after reaching puberty which, at times, could be as young as 12 years. Most girls study only till Class 5 and not Class 8. Interestingly, statistics show that there are nearly 4,000 primary schools in Tharparkar as opposed to around 700 in the Punjab or 2,500 in Karachi but a visit to the sites will soon dispel any illusion of great strides being made in education in the region; enrolment rates are low and many schools are situated unfeasibly far from the villages. The Alam al-Khayal Foundation has made a commitment to PVDP to take on the ten schools for a renewable periods of ten years. The first task is construction of proper sanitary facilities for school children and staff (most importantly, for girls). In addition, two programmes will be initiated:

(1) A programme for marking important festivals of Islam, Hinduism and Christianity to represent the multi-religious population of the schools and to maintain the inter-faith harmony of the region through educated understanding. Funds will be allocated for children to celebrate Eid, Diwali, Christmas etc.; and

(2) A stipend will be started for girls who would like to study beyond Class 5. It will cover three academic years (Classes 6, 7 and 8). Mindful of the local, historical culture of marrying early, we hope to work gently with PVDP to give an incentive to parents to allow girls to study for three more years. The added benefit proposed to the parents is that girls educated till Class 8 who then get married can continue to contribute, economically and otherwise, to their families by becoming primary-school teachers in their old schools.

The delegation also visited local villages. Much work has been done and even more needs to be done in rain-water conservation, filtering of well-water and kitchen gardening. At the moment, drinking and cooking water is supplied by tankers which come to a village once a week. The cost of one tanker carrying 10,000 ltrs of water and supplying a village of 500 residents (approx. 50 houses) is Pak Rupees 8,000 (GBP 47) once a week. AK has committed to help in immediate relief aid as and when it will arise in addition to increasing the amount of water that is supplied to villages. What started as a short-term aid mission transpired into a long-term partnership and education movement for the preservation of indigenous peoples.”

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