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Monday, July 2, 2012

Active Citizens - partnering for stronger communities

A life-time’s learning can sometimes be condensed into a sentence or two. The ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu did just that when he uttered words to the effect: “Give a man a fish; feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; feed him for a lifetime".

This line of thinking is just as relevant today as it was many centuries ago. Helping someone by providing them with money or food or shelter – although commendable – is not a long-term solution. By providing someone in need with the means to earn a living not only enables them to provide for themselves but it also has a positive effect on their morale and self-esteem.

Green Town is a residential area of Lahore with a high rate of unemployment and a low education rate. The residents of Green Town by and large live in poverty, and putting food on the table regularly is a struggle for most.

Shumaila Naaz is a professor in the Management Sciences department of the Superior University in Lahore. Shumaila teaches a course on community development which includes an end-of-semester project that students need to complete to pass the course.

To help her students gain a better understanding of how their efforts – no matter how small – to make their communities a better place to live can have far reaching effects, Shumaila organised an Active Citizens training workshop with the help of Chanan Development Association (CDA) – an Active Citizens partner.

After they were done with the training, a group of her students came up with a formal plan to help women in Green Town earn a living and provide for their families. Their proposal? To raise money to fund the purchase of sewing machines for the women of Green Town.

The women selected by the group fall into certain categories: women who are widowed; women who are divorced; and women whose spouses live with disability.

The proposed project also had a personal significance for one of the members who has lived in Green Town for more than 11 years but has never lost hope for better days for his community.

The students were able to raise Rs. 75,000 by reaching out to donors with the help of a well thought-out project proposal and an effective communications campaign which included the distribution of pamphlets, and a door-to-door campaign. With these funds they purchased 17 sewing machines.

To ensure that the sewing machines would not be resold the group members attached a condition with their distribution: the women who would receive the machines would pay a fee of Rs. 250 to the group each month. In this way the recipients would gain ownership of the sewing machines and through the fees collected the group would be able to finance more sewing machines for other deserving candidates. In short a win-win situation.

A distribution ceremony for the machines was arranged by the group at a local high school of Green Town. A large number of the residents attended the event and praised the Active Citizens for coming up with this clever yet simple plan to strengthen a community that gave its members the tools to be more self-reliant. 

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