Community Action Process empowers localities to tackle development
By Fatima Raja
MANGOCHER, Balochistan Province, Pakistan, 17 June 2008 – When Sumaya Bibi first started coming to community meetings, she would crouch in a corner by the door, timidly covering her face with her scarf. She felt ignorant and unimportant – a girl in her mid-teens in a tribal society where women rarely assumed leadership roles.
Today, three years later, Sumaya’s face lights up as she describes how her life has changed.
“I could never have believed that I brought so much knowledge to my community. Now I can tell them everything and they listen to me,” she says.
Sumaya is a group facilitator for the Community Action Process in Mangocher, an arid mountainous region speckled with small settlements in the Kalat district of Pakistan’s impoverished Balochistan province.
Her job is to organize a group of about 25 women in her neighbourhood. She meets with them regularly to spread awareness about issues affecting child survival and development, and motivates them to work to improve their own and their families’ lives using this information.
Local solutions to local problems
The Community Action Process is a UNICEF initiative that aims to provide communities with the knowledge and tools needed to take development into their own hands.
To accomplish this, young men and women – all volunteers – receive training and information on matters such as health and nutrition, sanitation and the importance of education. They then return to their own neighbourhoods to create small community groups, which meet regularly to discuss these issues. The group facilitators identify problems and then brainstorm to find solutions using locally available resources.
Group facilitators also map their communities, using tables and graphical aids to chart the progress each neighbourhood makes in key interventions, such as switching to iodized salt (to prevent iodine deficiency disorders) and sending girls to school.
Promoting education for girls
Simply spreading awareness is not enough if the resources are not there, however. So the officers of the Community Action Process have helped local traders develop the iodized salt market and established microfinance services to build latrines.
The women and men of Mangocher’s community groups also have applied the principles of the Community Action Process to open a girls’ primary school.
“We called the religious men and told them that we have no female doctors to treat our women,” recalls Master Akram, a local leader. “We told them, why don't you educate your girls so that they can become doctors and treat our women? The girls started going to school, and people realized that educated girls are physically, mentally and spiritually better.”
Where once there were only 70 girls enrolled in school, there are now 300, and the community members have begun lobbying the government to build a middle school for girls.
Women at the forefront
The District Coordinator for the Community Action Process in Kalat, Sharafuddin Zehri, is especially proud of the changing roles of women in Kalat.
“Before, women didn't even become teachers,” he says. “We couldn't find women who would train to become midwives. This year, Kalat has sent the greatest number of women for midwifery training in all of Balochistan.”
Through knowledge and the will to change, the Community Action Process has now empowered 210 active groups in 99 villages, covering a fifth of the district’s population. Young women like Sumaya have been at the forefront of this change, as they found new roles and responsibilities within the context of their own traditional societies.
“My own cousin used to tell me not to go to meetings. I told her, if you sit down with your eyes tightly shut, you'll never see anything at all,” Sumaya asserts.