A Kalash woman deals with a customer at her shop in Krakal village of Bumburate valley. — Dawn
A Kalash woman deals with a customer at her shop in Krakal village of Bumburate valley. — Dawn

CHITRAL: Shamshera, a young Kalash woman, is running a shop in her native Krakal village of Bumburate valley to not only support education of her two brothers, but also meet the expenses of her house.

The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme had, in 2016, provided her with the grocery shop at a cost of Rs45,000 after her household was marked as ‘ultra-poor’ during a survey conducted by the organisation.

Claiming to have shattered the fetters of poverty, Shamshera is living a contented life with her shop now worth Rs100,000, which she expects to rise by 50 per cent in value by the next year.

“After losing our agricultural fields to the devastating flash flood of 2015, we were thrown into abject poverty,” she says.

Shingarai, a robust septuagenarian woman, is yet another beneficiary of the project as she is the sole bread-earner of a family of eight persons.

Kalasha Craft Centre, situated at the entrance of the village, is a spacious and well-decorated shop where Kalash people are given an opportunity to make handcrafts for sale to lead a decent living.

The congested village of Krakal, known as the oldest Kalash settlement with highest population density, has a fair number of shops run by women helped by AKRSP through its specially-designed ‘Project for Poverty Reduction’ (PPR) with the financial assistance of the Italian government and the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund for the Kalash valleys. The aim of the project was to help the indigenous people come out of the morass of abject poverty, especially after the 2015 flash floods, which washed away agricultural farms and fruit orchards which formed the basis of the Kalash people’s pastoral economy.

The project has delivered wonders in all the three Kalash valleys as it was has been to encompass different thematic areas of livelihood, including small-scale community infrastructure, education, health and social organisation, claims a manager of the programme.

Under the livelihood component of the project, 411 ultra poor and vulnerable households were provided with productive skills and assets to earn enough for their sustenance.

The programme has enabled them to start sending their children to schools and colleges, thereby contributing to the advancement of education in the valleys.

The Muslim community of Bumburate valley is also benefitting as a fish hatchery has been established at Batrik village which will augment their household income.

Yaqub Khan, a Muslim young man holding an MBA degree, is one of the beneficiaries. “It will bring about a tangible change in our economic conditions. The unit will start production by next year and trout fish will be available for marketing,” he said.

Under the infrastructure component of the project, pavement of streets and establishment of open-air dancing halls in every village has brought incalculable relief and peace of mind to the Kalash community.

Shahi Gul, a former woman councillor from Bumburate, recalls with unease the ankle-deep mud in rainy days in the narrow streets. “The mandatory dancing functions at the open dancing places used to be cancelled when there were rains, but now it is not a problem anymore as under the community infrastructure component, 53 small community infrastructure projects like irrigation channels, link roads and pedestrian bridges over the streams have been completed, benefiting over 1,000 households,” she said.

Bashaleni is a community place in the Kalash valleys situated in every village where young Kalash women spend the time during periods as they are not allowed to stay at their homes during menstruation as per Kalash dogmatic belief.

The health component of the project has led to refurbishment of these homes making their environment hygienic, thereby saving the inmates from many diseases which they contracted in the past.

Shaira Bibi, a teacher by profession, said each Bashaleni had sufficient number of beds, bed-sheets, towels, foams, fridges, washing machines, water-coolers and other paraphernalia. She said refurbishment of Bashaleni was a much sought-after initiative for the Kalash community in general, and women in particular.

“In education, the project has come out with the innovative idea of community learning centres (CLCs) which is worth replication in every village of the country,” says Shaira Bibi, who teaches in a government school.

Social organisation was integral part of project to ensure sustainability of the process of development and for this purpose, 109 village-based organisations of both men and women were established in the valleys.

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2019