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IKEA Social Initiative helps children from nomadic communities in Pakistan

Education and Counselling Centres established

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Sami
Ever since Nazdana, 8, joined the Ghaziabad Education and Counselling Centre in Faisalabad, Pakistan, her life has changed for the better. At the centre, she is benefiting from education and psycho-social support provided through a partnership with the IKEA Social Initiative.

By A. Sami Malik

FAISALABAD, Pakistan, 27 July 2010 – Only a year ago, Nazdana, 8, 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, at the Education and Counselling Centre in Ghaziabad – enjoying her newfound freedom from hazardous work.

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. 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.

Vulnerable children

Most nomadic families in Faisalabad and many other urban areas of Pakistan are involved in rag-picking: They collect garbage from around town and sort out items that can be sold by weight at meagre rates to recyclers.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Sami
A classroom full of students at the Ghaziabad Education and Counselling Centre in Faisalabad, Pakistan.

Every day at 4 a.m., whole families set out to pick through garbage heaps in the streets and open spaces. Most children in this community are out of school and vulnerable to many different forms of abuse, as well as the health risks associated with their work.

Nazdana is glad to have escaped such a life. “We used to stuff garbage into our sacks and drag them to the ground close to our tent,” she recalls. “We looked through the garbage for paper, bottles and metal pieces – anything that we could sell.

“My fingers would cut and bleed almost every day from broken glass,” Nazdana continues. “After sorting out the garbage, I, my sister and cousins would hang around in the streets all day long. We wouldn’t bath or change clothes for weeks, sometimes months.”

Preventing child abuse

UNICEF started the Child Abuse Prevention Project in Faisalabad in 2009 to help children like Nazdana. To implement the project, UNICEF selected the Hayat Foundation, a non-governmental organization with a good local network and strong experience with social mobilization.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2010/Sami
Young women from the nomadic community in Faisalabad, Pakistan receive vocational training at the Ghaziabad Education and Counselling Centre.

During 2009, UNICEF’s corporate philanthropic partner, the IKEA Social Initiative, provided more than $90,000 to support 17 Education and Counselling Centres, or ECCs, in Punjab; the centres have benefitted nearly 7,300 children. In Faisalabad, around 700 children are currently enrolled in four ECCs located in disadvantaged areas.

The centres were established in Faisalabad to create a protective environment for the most vulnerable children. To achieve this, they provide non-formal education in life skills, as well as recreational and vocational training, psycho-social support and referrals. These services help children who are out of school gain a basic education and 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 at the centres take vocational classes in marketable skills such as dressmaking and embroidery to have an alternative source of income.

‘There is no turning back’

“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 150 Rupees per day by selling items collected from the garbage,” says Sadiq Khan, one of the project's supervisors, recalling its early days.

“Once a few children started coming to the centres and we gave them uniforms, shoes and books, other children got interested too,” she adds, “and the number of children in our centres started to grow.”

Nazdana is one of those children. Now, instead of sorting through Faisalabad’s monumental piles of rubbish, “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,” she says.

“When UNICEF starts a project like this, the idea is that the community assumes ownership once it is established and we pull out,” notes 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 realized the importance of sending their children and women to these centres, and there is no turning back.”



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