Mansehra, a historic city that lies on the Karakoram Highway. It is the second largest city in Hazara Division. Over the past decades, its municipal services have been greatly neglected, and In spite of its potential as a tourist destination, many areas of Mansehra suffer from urban degradation. It is host to Afghan refugees and many other communities who have arrived here in search of livelihoods. It is a thriving centre with considerable trade.
The project was begun on 1st April 2011. A well designed structure was developed when initiating the work. The structure has been developed based on the project Reviving Livelihood through Handicraft in Post-conflict Areas that was undertaken in Swat in 2010 as well as the work of Heritage Foundation undertaken in post Earthquake 2005 work undertaken in the Siran Valley for women’s empowerment through development of crafts. Accordingly, capacity building has been carried out by focusing on mohallahs and enabling women to carry out income generating activities within their homes.
In pursuance to the objectives, defined in the concept note by UNESCO, 102 women were trained, who belonged to the most marginalized communities. 5 Mini Craft Centres (MCC) were established in But Pul, Kohistan Abad, But Dariyan, Afghan Camp 1 and Afghan 2. Altogether 42 females from the Afghan community, 40 from Local community and another 20 from Kohistani community were trained, who were selected from the initial list of 178 women.
From the initial survey that was carried out, it became clear that local and Afghani women excelled in embroidery, while Kohistani women were proficient with beadwork. They were accordingly trained in making small products with emphasis on finishing the items. At the same time, women have also produced environmentally responsive products using recycled jut bags. All 102 women have been provided with tool kits, while sewing machines have been pro- vided to trainers and the training centre, to enable them to make quality products.
Earlier methodologies that underscored the success of the HF-UNESCO Swat Project 2010 were followed to enhance the craft skills of the trainees. Regular training sessions have been held by the Master Trainer under the supervision of Field Coordinator, focusing on product design, quality assurance and marketing skills. The trainees were pro- vided with toolkits, requisite materials, and samples of materials as well as finished products that were produced in Swat. As in the past all products were graded with A+, A and B categories, and it proved equally successful with the trainees. Because of a higher payment to A+, marked improvement has been noticed in their work, all of them now aiming for A+.
It was decided to begin exploring the possibility of sales of the products and outlets in Mansehra Bazaars have been identified. The products are beginning to be sold and the sales provide a direction to the trainers and trainees both to produce work that has a ready market.
For sustainability and assurance of regular income to the trainees, market linkages are essential. Since certain shops were already beginning to sell the trainees’ products, these have been asked to continue to market the products since all trainees are highly conscious of the quality of the product.
From the past experience and in view of the entrepreneurship demonstrated by some of the trainers in Swat, the Field Coordinator and Master Trainer have begun to start marketing the products of the trainees even after the project has ended. Since they themselves have been trained in the production and evaluation of products to ensure good quality, they are optimistic and enthusiastic to carry on the work that has been initiated.
Among other marketing avenues are exhibitions in colleges and universities in Mansehra and Abbottabad, the first one of which has been organized in Mansehra with satisfactory results. As in the case of Swat products, Heritage Foundation will also help in the sale of products in Karachi. Seeing the potential for sale, male members of the trainees have been encouraged to procure orders from the market, which process is already underway.
Having had close interaction with the brave women and children of Swat, in spite of the harsh conditions in the area, Heritage Foundation took up the gauntlet when the opportunity was presented by UNESCO-DFID to provide further assistance - indeed it was with considerable trepidation that the project was undertaken. The women, by returning to their homes in Swat, had shown their determination to withstand the onslaught of militancy, we felt it was now our duty as a civil society organization to be on hand during their hour of need.
Since Earthquake 2005 struck in October 2005 the support provided to traditional bead craft, under Heritage for Rehabilitation and Development Program organized by Heritage Foundation-Nokia-Nokia Siemens Network, has lead to women’s empowerment and better quality of life. We were therefore confident that a programme organized on similar lines for revitalization of traditional crafts would also lead to income generation and empowerment of women.
At the outset the requirements of the project to achieve craft training of 500 women in just over three months seemed unattainable. Even under normal circumstances the task of identification and selection for training of such a large number of skilled women from marginalized communities seems unattainable. Usually, it would take several months for training and awareness regarding
acceptable quality of artisanship and product finishing. The realization of these objectives in post-disaster Swat, where militancy continues to surface, required a great deal of grit, and a resolute determination for showing solidarity and support at this perilous juncture in Swat history.
The programme structure was designed with sensitivity towards prevalent norms and ground conditions, along with built-in motivational factors to ensure enhanced results.
The outcome was beyond our expectations. The women came forward with extraordinary zeal to make a success of the programme. They worked hard to become skilled and made products that they had not been aware of - indeed had never seen before.
Initially almost 700 women were registered. Those selected for further training in 6 Union Councils comprised 337 women attaining grade A and B in embroidery products, 110 women for revitalizing handloom industry of Islampur, and another
53 women became engaged in the production of almost extinct woolen yarn on their spinning wheels.
It became our resolve that the journey we have embarked on must be continued. A package of luxuriantland in Islampur was acquired to build a Green Community Centre. The objective was to carry out further capacity building and training, entrepreneur-shipfor sustained livelihoods, informal education, hygiene and primary healthcare, and computer literacy classes. The building, to be built with sustainable materials of construction i.e. bamboo, local stone, mud and lime, was finally started in August 2011 and completed by the early 2012 with support from Nokia Siemens Network.
One of the trainers of the HF-UNESCO-DFID project, Sambreen of Swat was short listed for Shell Tameer Award for Entrepreneurship. Under the programme 500 women were trained to make products through improved craft skills for income generation.
Although Smabreen did not win the award but she has done amazingly well as one of the ten shortlisted entrepreneurs. She had tough competition from the entrepreneurs who belonged to large cities such as Karachi and Peshawar.
The event of the display of the products of the selected entrepreneurs was very organized by Shell and very well attended.
We are immensely proud of Sambreen for providing livelihood to 50 women whom she has trained. May her enterprise develop further and help her to continue to help other women of the area .