IKEA and UNICEF Bring Positive Change to Rural Communities in Sindh
By: A. Sami Malik
Khairpur, Sindh - October 2016: “As we are more aware of our rights now, we insist on completing our education instead of getting married at an early age,” says eighteen-year-old Tasawar, while talking to Angela Kearney, the UNICEF Representative in Pakistan. “We have the right to an education in order to become in life what we wish to be.“We have the right to an education in order to become in life what we wish to be." Initially, I wanted to join the army but I am not tall enough, so I now wish to become a teacher. Some parents want their daughters to get married early, but that can deprive girls of the future they want. We now resist any proposal for an early marriage and our mothers support us in this.”
Tasawar, along with many local girls and women, met with the UNICEF Representative during her recent visit to Khairpur District. Angela had come to meet beneficiaries under an IKEA-funded project which supports the promotion of ‘Child Rights in Cotton Farming Areas (CRCFA)’ of Pakistan. The project aims to strengthen the realization of the right of the child to education, health and protection in regions where cotton farming is the predominant economic activity. During the harvest season, most families work in the cotton fields to generate additional income. In this regard, some families may require their children to give up education for a time – a fact which commonly results in many children dropping out of school entirely.
The CRCFA is a multi-faceted project being implemented in three provinces of Pakistan – Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan. Under this intervention, the IKEA Foundation, being the corporate social responsibility arm of the well-known Swedish furniture company, “What could be more rewarding for the IKEA Foundation and UNICEF than to see joyful and excited children enjoying these facilities in a safe and secure environment,” said Ms. Kearney.is funding the delivery of community-driven interventions for the promotion and protection of child rights under the CRCFA project.
In Sindh, UNICEF, along with its partners the Rural Support Programmes Network (RSPN), Sindh Rural Support Organisation (SRSO) and the Indus Resource Centre (IRC) is implementing the project in two districts, Khairpur and Ghotki.
The social protection and mobilization component of the CRCFA has three major activities:
Establishment of Multi-Functional Community Centres (MFCCs): community-provided and managed public spaces accessible to all segments of the community, focusing on community mobilization, promoting community participation and social interactions and promoting knowledge and awareness on child rights and women’s participation in the public sphere.
Social Funds for Community Welfare: provided to communities through community-based structures for the purpose of identifying, prioritizing and implementing small-scale projects of public interest, with a primary focus on promoting the rights of children and women.
Income-Generating Grants: provided directly to a number of the most disadvantaged women in target districts to help ease their financial burden in order to mitigate against their children being forced into child labour. The objective is to help them increase their income so that their children might go to/remain in school, rather than work in the cotton fields.
The MFCC in Ghulam Hyder Hundal village is an exclusive and secure social meeting place for community members, including women and children, a large number of whom greeted Ms. Kearney on her arrival at the centre. They shared with her their newly acquired knowledge about their rights, as well as subsequent changes in their outlook towards life, reinforced by improved standards of community living brought about by the project’s interventions. At the centre, women help each other to learn traditional arts and crafts to produce items which are then sold in the local market. Some of these women have received Income Generating Grants from the CRCFA in support of starting their micro businesses. Zaheeran is one of them.
At the centre, we discuss our common issues and try to find solutions,” says Zaheeran, a mother of five. “It is a secure meeting place where we learn about the importance of education, health, hygiene and also about income-generating skills. Until last year, my entire family used to work in the cotton fields, including my young children. We are poor and so the agricultural work provided an opportunity to make some extra money. When I learned that I might qualify for support to start a business, I applied and received Rupees 14,000 ($140). I bought some raw material and with the help of my daughters, started producing ‘rillies’ (traditional hand-crafted bed spreads) and cushion covers. We sell these products in the market and earn around Rupees 2,000 ($20) every month. Now, the entire family does not have to work in the cotton fields anymore and my children are able to continue their studies.”
With increased awareness on child rights, target rural communities in Sindh have been sensitized with regard to the educational and recreational needs of their children. Social Funds for Community Welfare, which are disbursed as part of the CRCFA, provide project communities with an opportunity to decide which infrastructural improvements are most required. While UNICEF’s implementing partners plan and execute the construction, the community contributes monetarily to a certain degree and also plays a role in supervising the work.
Residents of Ghulam Hyder Hundal village felt that a secure playground and recreational area was required so that their children might play in a safe and pleasant environment. UNICEF supported its construction on land donated by the community – the first time such a facility has been provided to the children of the village. UNICEF also provided a recreation kit containing a volley ball and net, ‘Frisbees’, a cricket bat and ball, badminton rackets and shuttlecocks and a number of other items. Ms. Angela Kearney formally inaugurated the playground and shared the excitement and joy, not only of the children, but the entire community.
“What could be more rewarding for the IKEA Foundation and UNICEF than to see joyful and excited children enjoying these facilities in a safe and secure environment,” said Ms. Kearney. “CRCFA is a wide-ranging project providing tangible benefits for children and their communities. On the one hand, it contributes meaningfully to higher levels of awareness on child rights and on the other, it helps communities explore alternate sources of income so that their children are protected from exploitation in the cotton fields at the expense of their health, education and the right to a bright future.”
With the help of social funds provided under the CRCFA, UNICEF has so far established 90 community-based child-friendly schemes, including the construction of 54 safe playgrounds and 7 computer centres for children in Khairpur and Ghotki districts. While 351 Multi-Functional Centres have been established for the benefit of women and children, over 1100 women have also been provided Income-Generating Grants to help raise their household income. A child-friendly schooling methodology has been introduced in more than 350 schools, wherein teacher training sessions, campaigns for new enrolment and the re-enrolment of school dropouts are being conducted.
A large gathering of exuberant women and children received Ms. Kearney in Khanpur Junejo village when she arrived to visit the MFCC established by UNICEF. Not only were they in high spirits to meet with her, but were also looking forward to the inauguration ceremony for their newly-established computer training laboratory. The computer lab has five work stations and will operate in two shifts, benefitting over 70 children and adolescents during one training course.
After inaugurating the computer laboratory at the MFCC, Ms. Kearney said, “In today’s world, it is essential that children, especially girls, attend school and at the same time acquire computer skills. They should have access to the boundless knowledge available on the internet and ample opportunities for growing to their full potential in life. We are grateful to IKEA Foundation for the generous funds that they have provided to UNICEF, through which we are helping children of rural communities in Pakistan.”