IKEA Social Initiative Helps Children from Marginal Communities Build
By: A. Sami Malik
FAISALABAD, Pakistan, May 2010 – Only a year ago, eight-year-old Nazdana spent her days picking paper, bottles and metal pieces from the heaps of garbage littered around the city. Today, her world has changed completely. She sits reading from a textbook, dressed in a tidy school uniform in the Education and Counselling Centre (ECC), Ghaziabad, enjoying her newfound freedom from hazardous work.
“My fingers would cut and bleed almost every day from broken glass. After sorting out the garbage, I, my sister and cousins would hang around in the streets all day long looking for anything sellable. We wouldn’t bath or change clothes for weeks, sometimes months, says eight-year old Nazdana” Ghaziabad is a low-income residential area in the otherwise affluent city of Faisalabad, also known as the Manchester of Pakistan. A centre for textile production and export, Faisalabad exhibits wide extremes of social and economic disparity. Mixed amidst upmarket mansions with tall boundary walls and private security guards are the tattered tents of nomadic families squatting illegally by open sewers and railway tracks.
In Faisalabad and many other urban areas of Pakistan, most nomadic families are involved in rag-picking: they collect garbage from around town and sort out items which can be sold by weight at meagre rates to recyclers. Every morning at 4 am, the whole family sets out to pick through garbage heaps in streets and open spaces. Most men in this community are drug users, and many of the women are involved in commercial sex. Their children are out of school and vulnerable to many different forms of abuse, as well as the health risks associated with their profession.
Nazdana is glad to have escaped this life. “We use to stuff garbage into our sacks and drag them to the ground close to our tent. We looked through the garbage for paper, bottles and metal pieces. Anything that we could sell,” she remembers with a sad look in her eyes. “My fingers would cut and bleed almost every day from broken glass. After sorting out the garbage, I, my sister and cousins would hang around in the streets all day long looking for anything sellable. We wouldn’t bath or change clothes for weeks, sometimes months.”
It is to help children like Nazdana that UNICEF started the Child Abuse Prevention Project in Faisalabad in 2009. To implement the project, UNICEF selected the Hayat Foundation, an organisation working in Faisalabad with a good network and strong experience of social mobilization.
During 2009, the IKEA Social Initiative provided more than US$ 90,000 to support 17 ECCs in Punjab which have benefitted nearly 7300 children. In Faisalabad, around 700 children are currently enrolled in the four ECCs located in the most disadvantaged areas.
Four ECCs were established in Faisalabad with the objective of creating a protective environment for the most vulnerable children. To achieve this, the ECCs provide life skill-based non-formal education, recreational and vocational training, psychosocial support and referral services. These services help children who are out of school gain a basic education as well as learn to protect themselves from violence, abuse and exploitation.
In the year since their inception, the ECCs have grown in reach and scope. They now use the official Punjab Province syllabus, thus allowing a pathway from non-formal to formal education. Young women take vocational classes in saleable skills such as dressmaking and embroidery to have an alternative source of income.
Recalling the project’s early days Sadiq Khan, one of the project supervisors, says, “When we approached the nomad community to introduce the idea of sending their children to the ECCs, they thought it would be a waste of time and a financial loss as each child earns around Rs 150 (US$ 2) per day by selling items collected from the garbage. Once a few children started coming to the centres and we gave them uniforms, shoes and books, other children got interested too. It then became a social pressure and the number of children in our centres started to grow.”
Nazdana is one of these children. She revels in the difference in her days. Instead of sorting through Faisalabad’s monumental piles of rubbish, she says, “We wake up early and go to a woman in our community for Arabic lessons. Then we return home, get into our school uniform, pick up our books and come to the centre. In the evening we complete our home work and watch TV. My mother collects all the garbage. We don’t do that anymore.”
“When UNICEF starts a project like this, the idea is that the community assumes ownership once it is established and we pull out,” says UNICEF Child Protection Officer, Afshan Tehseen. “Indeed the initial phase is the most difficult. The Hayat Foundation has done well to establish four centres in this city and the financial support from the IKEA Social Initiative has been invaluable. The community has realised the importance of sending their children and women to these centres and there is no turning back.”