KHAIRO Dero, gulan jo sehro/ Sajay dunya jo khair/ Khairo Dero maan theendo (Khairo Dero, a garland of flowers/ The whole world’s goodness will/ Start from Khairo Dero. (Nazar Husain Shah)
So sang the devotees of Nazar Husain (fondly called Jabal Shah) when they performed for me on a hot summer evening in Khairo Dero where I was on a short visit recently. Nazar Hussain, a Sufi, came to Khairo Dero from Layyah when he was 14 years old, after he fell into a well and was rescued. The legend says he received instructions to make Khairo Dero his home, and his dargah now stands here.
Whether or not you believe in prophecies, you have to admit that some good is coming out of this little village of 3,605 which includes 1,649 children under 16 (Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust survey, June 2017). This goodness is driven by a woman, Naween Mangi, the founder of the AHMMT, who was trained as a journalist but chose to become a development worker to serve her people.
You have to see the poverty of many rural areas to believe it. In these areas, feudal landlords or corporate farm owners rule the roost to draw their wealth from the land without caring a whit for the welfare of the people who toil for them. Poverty is inevitably accompanied by human underdevelopment, despondency and sociocultural deprivation. The problems are humungous and resources scarce. So where does one begin?
Some good is coming out of a little village of 3,605 people.
Naween adopted a pragmatic approach that only one with a compassionate heart and a vision can work with successfully. Initially, the challenge was to win the people’s confidence if conditions had to change. By spending a lot of time with the community, showing them respect and providing them with the basic necessities, Naween could make headway. Today, all families in Khairo Dero have a concrete house, water handpumps, solar panels, kitchens with gas stoves, toilets, sewers and access to primary healthcare in the AHMMT clinic attended by a doctor every afternoon.
But the trust’s most significant concern has been not to make beggars out of the people. Their esteem has to be preserved by teaching them the virtue of self-help. Hence every facility that is provided has to be partially paid for by the recipients in the form of nominal cash or labour, which they willingly give to acquire a sense of ownership. Thus maintenance of facilities is no problem as people take responsibility for the upkeep of what they regard as their own.
Hence the projects are low-cost and generating resources is relatively easy. On and off supporters receive an email from Naween spelling out the needs. Since the amount is no more than a pittance, it is raised within a few hours. “People willingly donate for tangible projects that benefit individuals,” Naween observes. But generating funds for public infrastructure and staff salaries can pose a challenge.
This is just the beginning. Development also entails a change of mindset. For centuries, traditions have made people backward. Naween has a long way to go to meet the challenge. The empowerment of women and gender equality are alien concepts to the denizens of Khairo Dero. The absence of a family planning programme allows the population to multiply unchecked with all its accompanying disadvantages. Families need to be more integrated if a social support system is to be created in the absence of state structures.
However, there has been a remarkable breakthrough in two areas.
First is the AHMMT’s amazing success in getting each and every child above the age of five in Khairo Dero enrolled in school. There are three Citizens Foundation schools, the AHMMT’s community school with 60 students and four government schools, though some hardly function.
It seems that a community that does not have to worry about some of its primary needs is willing to experiment with the idea of sending its children to school. Education will undoubtedly bring behavioural changes. I could see that when girls from the TCF school appearing for the Class IX exam told me they were worried about their future because there was no college for them to go to.
The second area of success has been in the creation of a staff that has imbibed Naween’s values and works dedicatedly and as a team to achieve AHMMT’s goals. Under project manager Ramz Ali, they have succeeded in bringing hope to the lives of the people of Khairo Dero. It is to their credit that the Bheel community has been drawn out of its marginalisation and its children are welcomed in the schools of Khairo Dero.
Most symbolic of the spirit of sharing and caring is the little park Ramz has set up adjoining the community centre. With lush green grass, trees and plants, a fountain, swings and terracotta animals, the park is open to all people who care to come. And many do — quite a few of them from neighbouring villages. Jabal Shah was not wrong after all.
Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2019