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May 11, 2018
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Journey from plight to prosperity: Part-III

Opinion

May 11, 2018

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Stories of how people transform their economic conditions help us understand the intricacies of poverty and the potential of human agency to overcome them. The stories that have been published so far in this series are firsthand accounts of rural woman who have been able to counter poverty through timely and need-based support from the Sindh government.

These are accounts of the collaboration between the government, the civil society and the people to combat poverty. These programmes need to find resonance within policymaking in Pakistan to ensure poverty alleviation at a larger scale. Investment to eradicate rural poverty through integrated rural development programmes requires support from policymakers.

The journey from plight to prosperity offers evidence-based accounts of the benefits of participatory and inclusive development programmes. While these stories don’t represent the whole gamut of our theory of change, they do represent the efficacy of rural development programmes in addressing intergenerational poverty.

Today’s story of transformation is also a firsthand account of a rural woman who was able to defeat intergenerational poverty. Nageena, a resident of Jhando Khan Village of Kashmore in Sindh, was married at the age of 15 to a man who already had another wife. Her husband owned a donkey cart, which was the only tangible asset for the joint family. His other family members used to work as sharecroppers. Nageena started her married life with her husband’s joint family in a congested two-room mud house without a toilet.

She worked in the fields with her other family members soon after her marriage. Nageena was responsible for collecting and storing water for the extended family in addition to preparing cow dung cakes as domestic fuel. She also ensured that the donkey was well-fed as it was the main source of the family’s livelihood.

Exhausted and emaciated, Nageena had no nutritious food other than boiled rice to revive her energy after a long day of hard work. The family could not afford rice for the entire year and, therefore, had to eat boiled potatoes smeared with chilli pickles when their supply of rice ran short.

Nageena faced many challenges during the early days of her marriage. “I suffered from [a severe] abdominal pain in the sixth month of my first pregnancy,” she says. “I had no knowledge of maternal healthcare [and didn’t] have nutritious food to eat. It was harvest season. I worked from dawn to dusk in the fields. I could not tell my husband about the pain because I knew he did not have a single penny in his pocket to buy me medicine. When I shared my problem with my sisters-in-law, they scolded me [and accused me of] making excuses to [avoid] work [during] harvest season. After a week of suffering severe pain, I delivered my stillborn baby at home, without [any] support from a birth attendant.”

The cycle of vicious poverty continued to affect Nageena and her family and there was no hope to escape these excruciating experiences. She was a resilient, optimistic and brave woman in search of an opportunity to break the yoke of extreme poverty.

Around this time, the Sindh Rural Support Organization (SRSO) introduced the poverty reduction programme of the Sindh government. It was an integrated development programme to help the rural poor climb out of poverty. This was a crucial moment for resilient women like Nageena to utilise the opportunity to broaden their income-generation options.

The programme was designed as an integrated livelihood improvement and protection scheme at the union council level and was targeted at people living below the poverty line. This Union Council Based Poverty Reduction Programme helped rural women form their own organisations and to articulate their development needs.

In 2012, Nageena and other members of the organisation were facilitated by the SRSO to access its Community Investment Fund programme (CIF). Each member of the organisation prepared a micro-investment plan to utilise the investment fund for asset creation and income-generation activities. Nageena also prepared an investment plan in which she identified raising goats as a potential source of income generation. She received a CIF loan of Rs15,000 and purchased a pregnant goat. After a while, Nageena sold the milk-giving goat for Rs16,000 to return the CIF loan and kept the kids as her assets.

Nageena says: “Recently, I sold the male goat for Rs12,000 and bought gold jewellery for myself. Everyone has their own way of saving; I believe that buying gold is also a form of saving money. I thought that if an income shock occurred and my family needed money, I could always sell the jewellery for cash”.

In 2013, Nageena received another CIF loan of Rs15,000. She sold her remaining goat, pooled the amount with the CIF loan and bought a buffalo calf. To repay the loan, she sold her jewellery. Nageena says: “Now, the buffalo is expected to produce an offspring and we look forward to using its milk at home and [selling] the surplus milk to save money for our newborn son. The value of the animal now is over Rs80,000”.

Apart from tangible economic benefits, Nageena’s awareness about health and hygiene issues has improved as a member of the organisation. She says: “[In the past], local mothers did not know about the importance of vaccinations and polio drops. They had misconceptions regarding polio drops and did not allow polio workers to enter their houses. Now, we have learnt about the importance of immunisation. Now all pregnant women and young children are vaccinated. I have completed the course of vaccines for my baby. [This] will protect my son from many diseases for life-time. I lost my first child as I was not aware about maternal health. I do not want to face the same pain again in my life – ever.”

Through a training session organised by the SRSO, Nageena also learnt kitchen gardening. She said that at the end of the training, she was given seeds. She now grows tomatoes, chillies and pumpkins, which have improved her family’s nutrition.

Nageena concludes her story by claiming that: “Today, my life is much better [as] compared to [what it was] when I was married to a poor man. Today, we have our own house and a buffalo. We will continue to build our assets and raise our incomes so that we can eat properly, lead a decent life, and, finally, educate our children.”

Nageena and other women of her organisation are now better-placed to climb the socioeconomic ladder than they were before. They have gained confidence to weather the storm of hardship and impoverishment.

Let’s consider a quote from Qazi Azmat Isa, an economist and the current CEO of the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund, on this matter: “It is not only the poverty of means but also the poverty of [the] mind that must be addressed for socioeconomic transformation”. Without a doubt, we see how the poverty of means and the mind is eradicated through Nageena’s story.

Concluded

The writer is a freelance

columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: ahnihal@yahoo.com

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