Changing minds

By Zubeida Mustafa

GIVEN the antics of the rulers who control our destiny, one wonders if change will ever come to this country. At one time, it was believed that change would come with democracy. Now conventional wisdom has it that people get the rulers they deserve. So who will change whom?

There is already a vacuum in the social sector and it has been left to the NGOs to do what they can. In the ocean of regression have emerged small islands of honest efforts to help people change their lives. One such project is the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust in Khero Dero, a village of 5,000 in Larkana district. I have marvelled at the changes I have seen there ever since my first visit to the place in 2014. Naween Mangi, who manages the trust named after her grandfather, has displayed the sensitivity needed to negotiate her way through a social minefield. She has an advantage: she belongs to the same community and speaks their language. Her grandfather was born in Khero Dero, whose people he loved.

The trust was formed in 2008 with a simple philosophy: ‘Each person matters.’ But Naween is an idealist. Development should not rob a person of his dignity, she believes. Hence charity should be unacceptable. People should help the needy help themselves.

The trust has brought about a visible change in the physical conditions of the people. The immediate need of the poor is survival and that determines their priorities. Invariably, they first seek housing and sanitation, followed by healthcare, livelihood and education — in that order. A change of mindset takes place imperceptibly initially and more visibly later.

The immediate need of the poor is survival.

Once work begins, the approach becomes integrated as progress in one sector provides impetus to the others. In this case, upgrading people’s living conditions and providing them with healthcare has enabled the trust to win the community’s confidence.

If progress were to be measured in numbers, it is impressive: 134 villages covered; 2,205 toilets built; 665 hand pumps installed; 262 houses constructed; 12 communities made sewerage drains to benefit 10,000 people and 622 families installed solar fans and lights.

Help has also been extended for human skills development, such as training 100 women in stitching, jewellery-making, etc. About 500 students received small scholarships and 17 were facilitated in technology training courses. Apart from basic healthcare facilities, available at the trust’s clinic, specialised treatment was made accessible to over 500 seriously ill patients.

All this has been made possible through crowdfunding which works only for projects run with austerity. Hence the emphasis on consulting the community and making the project sustainable. A sense of ownership is ensured by requiring the beneficiary to share a certain ratio (15 per cent to 40pc) of the total cost of the project he opts for.

The trust is now moving towards the goal of changing mindsets — the biggest challenge for change-makers. The community school set up in 2013 has two teachers from the village, who are not strangers to the 30 students enrolled currently. The attached library with 3,000 books is producing avid readers.

Another move to change minds is the family planning component of the women’s health programme. Launched recently, it has made a promising start. Soon after Lady Health Visitors began their home visits (10 a day), 20 women requested them to arrange tubal ligation for them. The procedure involved too many hassles including conveyance for a trip to the hospital in Larkana. This was taken care of to their satisfaction.

The Lady Health Visitors depend on the government-owned Basic Health Units for contraceptives. Merci­fully, these institutions have now been activated under the PPHI arrangement. But they are hugely underutilis­­ed due to the absence of mobilisation. Event­ually, the trust’s health workers will meet this need. Their connection with the trust has facilitated their access to the families who are its beneficiaries.

This incremental approach should work in a patriarchal society. A male social worker would certainly expedite the change.

Reverting to the mindset issue, I find change creeping in. A local woman Mashkoora’s presence among the staff signifies the ground is being paved for the empowerment of women. Another positive sign of change is the community’s demonstration of its spirit of ownership of the trust on several occasions. They led a protest march for their right to education to the district education office in Larkana. The most remarkable break from tradition was the majority’s decision to stand by the rule of law and not convene a jirga to resolve a violent dispute. The victim forgave the attackers in a court of law.

Behind the birth of this spirit of generosity is the trust’s own invaluable gift to the community: a park and a playground. Providing people space for healthy activities, they attract the young and the old. They are the commons that belong to all.

Source: Dawn