Women being trained in dehydrating apricots in Chitral. — Dawn
Women being trained in dehydrating apricots in Chitral. — Dawn

“My mother-in-law changed her attitude from hostility to friendship when I started earning from my business and now she loved me more than my husband (her son) and this is a great achievement for me,” said Zubaida, a young lady from upper Chitral who was sharing her success story in a congress of youth. She narrated how she drove out her family from the morass of poverty and transformed it into an affluent one within a short span of two years.

She said that the abject poverty was driving a wedge between her and her mother-in-law who used to be in constant friction with her and she was contemplating of seeking separation from her husband who was an unskilled labourer on daily wage. Zubaida’s gift shop in the village is now a full-blown enterprise dealing with antique costumes, locally-designed dresses, old utensils, local ornaments made of horns, gemstones and wood. She has employed four women in her shop.

Zubaida was talking about a project named “Enhancing Employability and Leadership of Youth (EELY)”, which was launched in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral (GBC) six years ago by Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) and funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development and the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada. The youth congress was held to bring to fore the results, achievements and lessons learned and the implications for future programming at the expiry of the project launched in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral.

Sharing the outcome of the project, a number of youth from different villages described how they were included in the consultation process of collective works and affairs of the village and they were no more marginalised in the decision making process.

They said that the project had inculcated in them the faculty of leadership and to exert themselves in the collective matters and draw a line of responsibility for the youth of the area. One of them, Nasir Alam, is a village nazim who has won over the hearts of his electorates by his work and has made himself available to the villagers round the clock.

Mr Alam said that he proved that the youth could deliver if trusted. He said that using his position he was acting as bridge between the old and new generations and he attributed his achievement to the EELY project. He said that in Chitrali society the gap between the two generations was widening previously and this trend was on its reverse gear when the youth were activated by the project.

Launched in 1983 in Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan, AKRSP has to its credit the job of social organisation for the first time by involving the local people in the development process through community participation. The villagers were organised into organisations while women organisations were encouraged side by side which acted as catalyst in the process of rural development. Youth folk were this time included in the process to mould their energies and potentials on modern lines while conforming to the cultural values of Chitral.

Youth in a bid to scale Shimshal peak in Hunza Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan. — Dawn
Youth in a bid to scale Shimshal peak in Hunza Valley, Gilgit-Baltistan. — Dawn

The youth in Chitral and GB faced numerous issues and there was no forum to streamline their efforts in proper direction. The credit of launching a full-fledged youth development project in Chitral and GB also went to AKRSP. The project had two-pronged objective of solving the issues of unemployment by raising their employability and secondly to create an environment in which they (youth) are included in the decision-making process.

The employability component of the project prepared and trained the youth to rely on the meagre resources for self-employment while the leadership component has introduced them with the new dynamics of exerting themselves in the collective matters.

About the outcome of the project, AKRSP regional programme manager in Chitral, Sardar Ayub, told this correspondent that 63,000 youth benefited from it directly while 126,000 were indirect beneficiaries. He said that the project was launched in recognition of the fact that youth had a critical role to play in determining the future of GBC by enhancing the professional skills and enterprise support service while the youth participation was enhanced in community and civic activities.

Mr Ayub claimed that the project also worked to build the capacity of local institutions to support an enabling environment for achieving the basic objectives of the project. He said that post-Lowari Tunnel scenario in Chitral and access to the central Asian states and China would bring about an environment of cutthroat competition in different fields of life which would make the local people to struggle for their very survival if they were not prepared for it.

A number of beneficiaries of the project, including Sahifa Bibi of Yarkhoon valley, Sajid Ali Shah from Laspur and Zahid Ali from Karimabad, told this correspondent that they were prepared for community engagements.

They said that there were thematic areas set for the youth which included enterprise development training, value chain of local products, youth micro challenge awards (YMCAs), basic life skills, youth in sports and matters related with engagement of youth in the community. They said that the competition among the youth worked well and it instilled in them the sense of self-reliance.

They said that the project basically taught them how to prepare themselves for the job market and how to exploit their potentials to their full in the right direction. They claimed that one of the outcomes of the project was that the crime rate among the youth had been reduced over the years.

Sahifa Bibi now runs a shopping centre in the remotest valley and earns enough to support her family. Zaib from Bang village won the reward of YMCA for a project of woodcarving and local furniture and had now established a furniture workshop using the local species of wood. He has employed five youngsters in his workshop.

The manager marketing of the project, Sajjad Hussain, said that sensing the potential of tourism and mountaineering in Chitral and GB, training was imparted to a number of youth on tour operation and scaling mountain peaks.

Published in Dawn, October 1st, 2017