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by timurhyat, Pakistan Jul 29, 2004
Human Rights   Opinions
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The sight of suffering humanity penned into refugee camps and deprived of the little self-respect that they had left over from their ordeal of death and destruction can be more of an opportunity than a problem. After all, what had they left behind? Squalor and the misery of everyday drudgery, facing malnourishment and ignorance and yearning desperately for freedom. Freedom from inadequacy, constant hunger and disease; freedom from want and the lack of education; freedom from deprivation and exploitation! What has materialism given to the ruthless exploiters of suffering humanity? What is so precious that it is worth the lives of countless millions?

This is a story from Pakistan about the ongoing plight of Afghan refugees displaced from their homes due to the Russian attack on Afghanistan. The situation in Afghanistan was further compounded by deadly conflict between local warlords and rival ethnic groups. Pakistan itself has been struggling with poverty and mis-governance ever since its creation 57 years ago. The International Community was quick to react and sped resources to the refugee locations and began an elaborate relief mission that lasted for many years. Just as social welfare is mishandled in Afghanistan and Pakistan, so too was the case in the refugee camps. People with little or no imagination were provided with millions of dollars worth of goods and materials for providing succor to the unfortunate refugees. A sorry tale of greed and misappropriation ensued and the world looked on in apathy.

This is not to downplay the many stories of self-denial and dedication exhibited by individuals from various walks of life. Rather, this article is dedicated to those very selfless men and women who gave of their own selves to alleviate the misery of their brethren in distress.

There is a positive alternate, a veritable symphony in complete harmony with Nature, that is making steady progress towards an evolving and living Universe. Human ingenuity has seemingly shown that waste products that grossly pollute and degrade the natural environment can be treated to obtain valuable renewable resources. In like manner, a hopeless and terrified refugee population can be educated and put to work to fend for themselves rather than lie helplessly as prey to corrupt and callous so-called aid workers who aid none but themselves. This population once made aware and enabled can return to change their world to ensure a more vibrant and positive society.

This is the story of Abdul Khaliq, who was 5 when he came to Pakistan and is 24 years old at the time of this writing, and that of his family. Abdur Razzak is of Turkish heritage and lives in a well-built, rented home with his family of carpet weavers. Abdul Rehman, his father, is an accomplished carpet weaver and entrepreneur. He obtains orders for carpets, purchases the raw material and distributes it amongst his clan, all of whom have handlooms installed in their homes.

This tale of successful adaptation to hostile circumstances and the overcoming of odds to ensure survival for his clan impressed me as the Chairman for a Triple A (Appropriate, Adaptive & Applied) R&D NGO working in Pakistan. This led to the design of a Welfare Oriented Project that works on the lines of: Provision of Training, Equipment & Materials/ Credit and Marketing Support. The Project targeted the wool spinning and carpet weaving skills of Afghan Refugees for technique and skills transfer to local communities. This provided an opportunity to pass on the skills of Afghan Carpet manufacture, which fetch greater returns from the export ,arket. The project took practical shape and a spinning & weaving training center was established at Mansehra Road, Abbottabad, Pakistan. The first phase of the project was successfully completed and 35 trainees have been trained. It was envisaged to build up a community-based activity as a small-scale enterprise. Master trainers were to be provided with training centers at their villages for further training of women. It was intended to provide micro- credit facilities for equipment and raw materials in order to facilitate sustainable development as well as poverty alleviation and ensure participatory self-reliance.

The difference lies in the provision of marketing support, as many welfare organizations run training facilities which churn out semi-skilled individuals who promptly fail to market their, as yet, sub-standard production. The first faltering steps brook no failure and demand support in order to ensure sustainability. Just as the infant struggles to stand upon its own, so too the nascent entrepreneur is buffeted by inequitable market forces, with no level playing field in sight.

This model is present in different forms in different spheres of life. The tobacco and sugar cane industries have long supported growers in order to enable them to provide quality raw materials. The informal and unorganized private, cottage level producers of Sialkot, Gujranwala, and Faisalabad Districts of Punjab Province of Pakistan have developed a system of piece production by women in their own homes for central purchase and export. The workers are highly exploited and work under the worst conditions to subsidize production and transfer huge cost and sales differentials to unscrupulous middlemen. In this society even the “normal” farmer is deprived of his due share by middlemen without investment, who make at least as much, if not more, than the field worker who has invested financially as well as physically.

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