By: Sarfaraz Memon
SUKKUR: There is a woman in Kamber who laughs at this saying: Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he’ll never go hungry. She would say that sometimes you need to give a man fish for a few days before he can develop the strength to learn how to fish.
In Qaima Khatoon’s case, the fish was a road and there were 13 mouths to feed. She lives in Mohammad Bux Totani village, about 25 kilometers from Kamber, where she lived a miserable life as she could barely make ends meet. Her husband took no interest in earning or domestic matters and she was left to toil in the fields to try to feed the family of five sons and six daughters.
But then, a non-profit organisation came to ease matters and give women like her a much-needed boost to lift them out of grinding poverty from which there seemed no escape. The Takhleeq Foundation and Shell Tameer started work in the area to improve infrastructure and aid employment. Under this program, 105 women living under the poverty line were selected as road maintenance team workers and assigned to clusters of five. They were from different villages, explained Takhleeq Foundation Kamber District Coordinator Abdullah Magsi.
The women were assigned to repair and maintain roads to the village, for which they were paid a monthly salary of Rs4,500. Qaima got a job as a road maintenance team worker.
The programme lasted two years and Takhleeq Foundation made the women deposit a portion of their monthly wage into accounts under their name at the Tameer Bank to force them to save. According to Magsi, the Canadian International Development Agency was a major donor, while Shell Tameer was providing the women technical assistance.
The work was not easy as every woman has to repair and maintain six meters of the road daily. But Qaima and her team workers were used to doing hard work. To return to the saying, they were not being taught how to fish. They were being given a fish daily but this gave them a much-needed break. The money they earned helped them pay for their day-to-day expenses and allowed them to set some aside as well. After two years, Qaima had saved enough to start her own business. She chose to start a fish farm and invest in some livestock.
“I spent Rs60,000 setting up the fish farm and buying 2,000 small fish from the hatchery,” explains Qaima. “After six months of hard work, my fish have gained weight from 500 grams to 750 grams.” She now hopes that after three months she will be able to sell her first lot at a good price.
This was an unusual choice as fish farms are difficult to set up and manage and have traditionally been seen as the domain of men. “You know, establishing a fish farm in the village and looking after it is very difficult,” says Qaima. “The people living near my house use to release their sewage into the water and throw garbage into it as well.” This would lead to arguments and Qaima knew she couldn’t fight with her neighbours each day. It took considerable skills to learn how to manage her business in a sometime hostile environment.
Thus Takhleeq Foundation and Shell Foundation gave Qaima a headstart and offered continuing support. Team members came regularly to give Qaima advice on how to expand and manage her business. On a recent visit, the Shell Tameer folks told her she needed to give the fish proper feed to help increase their weight. While Qaima can’t necessarily afford the bag of fish feed which is priced at Rs6,000, Shell Tameer helped her develop a plan or vision. She plans to reinvest what she earns from her first sale into improving the next stock. “Once I sell my first lot, I will strictly adhere to their advice,” she said.
Qaima is grateful for the help, financial and technical, from the Takhleeq Foundation and Shell Tameer. “If they hadn’t helped me, I wouldn’t even have thought about establishing a fish farm,” she said. “At first my neighbours used to doubt how it would be possible for a woman to set up a fish farm and manage it properly, but now they have realized the truth: women can perform miracles.”
The non-profit organisations had done something simple. They had tapped into a strength but had given the women that little extra support to get them started. “There is a lot of potential in the rural women and besides doing routine work, they can very well perform untraditional work,” explained Takhleeq Foundation field officer Zeenat Baloch. Qaima agrees: “Rural women are very hard working and strong and they have already proved their mettle by working in the agricultural fields under the scorching heat and in the biting cold. In addition to this, they manage their households and take care of the children and livestock.”
The way she sees it, these two non-profit organisations believed in the women and now it was their turn to prove themselves. She advised other women to take some time out of their routine work and try their luck in business to become self-sufficient. This financial autonomy had worked wonders for their confidence as well as standing in the community. For example, Qaima had earned newfound respect from other villagers and they are optimistic that, one day she could become a “waderi”. For now though, she’s pretty happy being the ‘CEO’ of her own company.
Join us in creating opportunities for the youth of Pakistan by contributing generously to any of the following accounts. Your contributions will be matched by Shell Tameer.
For SOS Technical Training Institute Enterprise Development Fund: Account No. 01-1334859-02 Shell Livewire Trust – Sos Technical Training Institute. Standard Chartered Bank.
For The Hunar Foundation Enterprise Development Fund: Account No. 01-1334859-01 SHELL LIVEWIRE TRUST – The Hunar Foundation Technical Institutes.
Standard Chartered Bank.
Visit our website, www.shell.com/pk for information about our partners and how you can support them.
*Contributions will be matched only during Ramazan 2014 to a maximum of 100 trades per organization