2012 promises to be a good year for BLISS, says Saba Gul, the Co-Founder & Executive Director of BLISS, Business & Life Skills School. Below Saba writes about BLISS’s new partnership with Sughar Women and her recent visit to their vocational training center in Thatta, Sindh.  This post first appeared on the BLISS blog. 

We’re starting off the new year with some thrilling news: BLISS is scaling to Mirpur Sakro, Thatta in the Southern province of Sindh, where we will start working with 100 women and girls. Thatta was badly affected by the 2010 floods, with devastating effects on livelihoods.

Our executing partner on the ground is Sughar – a program of PDI(Participatory Development Initiatives), founded by the indomitable Khalida Brohi, also an Unreasonable fellow in 2010.

This past weekend, I visited Sughar’s vocational center in Mirpur Sakro, accompanied by Khalida, Jeremy Higgs, Manager of Operations for EcoEnergy Finance, and a dear friend Seher Suleman (who shares with the rest of us a hunger to change the world).

A 3 hour ride from Karachi, much of it on a dirt road with agricultural wasteland on either side, brought us to a large wooden shed that served as Sughar’s vocational center for the village. Men and women from the village filed in with smiles on their faces.

The women were thrilled to be able to showcase their work, which was so beautiful that Seher and I couldn’t resist whipping out whatever cash we had to buy some of it off of them right there and then. While none of them spoke Urdu, Khalida patiently translated everything they said.

In conversations with the women, I found out that none of the girls in the village were enrolled in school beyond the age of 12. The main reason seemed to be a lack of female teachers, without which it was culturally unacceptable for the girls to attend school. The teachers had been sent/appointed by the government, and repeated requests to send female teachers had been ignored. The other reason was early marriages — most girls were married off by the time they were 15. We visited the only school in the village, with one classroom that was used for both boys and girls attending all grades.

Jeremy had a fascinating conversation with the men about selling solar lamps to them, since the village didn’t have electricity. We exchanged some laughs as the men told a story about how their mobile phones were taken to the nearby city every week by one of them to be charged. The women jumped in as soon as Jeremy asked what difficulties the village faced without electricity, all talking at the same time. They wanted to have lights for cooking, feeding their children, doing household chores. Their lives had to be paused from sunset to sunrise.

A few of the men wanted the solar lamps for free, even though the monthly installments Jeremy had worked out for them equalled the amount they spent on kerosene every month. Notwithstanding the fact that the lamp would be theirs to own in 8 months, that they would never have to pay for kerosene again, and that the lamps were far superior to kerosene in terms of the light they produced as well as safety and health-wise. But too many NGOs had come and gone and offered free solutions that didn’t last beyond a few months. Free was still attractive.

Jeremy did succeed in striking a deal with the men, and now has an order from a neighboring village as well.

I left the village as I had left Attock almost two years ago — a little heartbroken at the limited resources this community had available to them, but really excited about the opportunity this presented for BLISS.

I can’t wait for us to work with these women! And with Khalida, someone whose work I’ve admired since I first met her last year. Here’s to new beginnings — 2012 promises to be a good year!

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