As a child, the now 26-year-old Samina dreamt of becoming a doctor. But she had to drop out of school in second grade as the school was far away from her home in Khyber District. She spent her formative years doing household chores--having limited prospects and opportunities for further education or to learn any skills.
Khyber District is one of seven tribal districts of Pakistan formerly known as Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and now part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Over the last decade, the region has faced security challenges and significant movement of people. Against the backdrop of limited access to schools and years of insecurity in the Merged Areas, the literacy rate of women remains abysmal with little to no learning, leading to dismal employment opportunities for women.
Samina, like many other women of the area, did unpaid work in her family fields under harsh weather conditions. She shares that when the security situation worsened in their area, even the men were confined in their houses. “Our lives had come to a standstill. No one was earning and we didn’t have food to eat. We were worried about fulfilling our basic needs but were afraid to set foot outside the house,” she said.
When living became unbearable, her family moved to Peshawar which left them homeless, destitute and helpless. They spent ten years in limbo moving from camps to rental houses. Her brothers did odd jobs to make ends meet until the area was cleared and they were allowed to go back. “Despite being empty-handed and with nothing to sleep on or eat, we found peace when we finally came back to our homes,” said Samina.
To provide sustainable livelihood and income-generating opportunities to returning Temporarily Dislocated Persons (TDPs), UNDP implemented the FATA Economic Revitalisation Programme (FERP) with support from United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Vocational skills development training is one of the main components of the programme along with business incubation trainings, business grants, temporary employment opportunities, access to microfinance, etc. So far skills training has been provided to 2,356 youth from the region out of which 801 are women.
Due to mobility issues, trainings were arranged for women in their villages in trades which they can easily practise from home--such as quilt making, fashion designing, embroidery, handicrafts, crochet work, etc. In addition, these women were also provided tool kits such as sewing machines, raw materials, fabrics, and solar panels to kickstart their businesses.
In 2020, Samina received a two-month vocational skill development training in quilt making where she not only learned how to make quilts, pillows, and cushions but also learned about the fundamentals of running a business. At her initiative, she also learned sewing from the instructor after class hours that ran for six days a week from morning till afternoon. Along with imparting skills, the training also fostered a sense of community and sisterhood among the women of the area -- who usually didn’t step out of the house.
“Before the training I wasn’t even able to talk to the people. Now I am a more confident person who can communicate easily,” said Samina.
The training and initial investment provided by UNDP in 2020 enabled Samina to start her own home-based business of making quilts, curtains, bedsheets and cushions -- providing her much needed financial independence. “There were times when we only ate once a day. Now we eat well twice a day and can also entertain guests,” she said.
Within a year Samina has expanded her business from home textiles to car accessories such as car cushions, etc. She has also included her brother in her business who not only helps her with the production but also goes to the market to buy raw material, conduct market surveys, and to sell their products. Samina who was once dependent on her brother for all her financial needs now earns PKR 6000 to 7000 every month and also contributes to household expenses. “Earlier, I didn’t even make new clothes for myself. Now when I have my own money, I fulfil all my wishes and personal needs. I buy whatever I like for myself and also share my income with my family,” she said.
Story and photos by:
Srosh Anwar, Consultant for Media and Communication, Stabilisation and Development Programme (SDP), UNDP Pakistan.
Ayesha Babar, Communications Analyst & Head of Communications Unit, UNDP Pakistan; and Tabindah Anwar, Communications Associate, UNDP Pakistan.