Post-disaster Swat Rehabilitation


NSN Green Community Centre in Islamapur, Swat

The NSN Green Community Centre is in continuation of the work that has been carried out with Swat communities since 2009. Even though the work of building shelters had been completed, Heritage Foundation felt compelled to provide further facilities to a large number of women who were trained under the UNESCO-DFID program for Crafts for livelihood.

Through the generosity of Nokia Siemens Network, headed by Mr. Saad Warraich and Ms. Atifa Asghar, funding was placed at the disposal of Heritage Foundation to embark on construction of a modest community centre to provide facilities to the community.

The work on 3 modules of the centre was started in the first week of August 2011. The site acquired consisted of approximately 1500 sq. yds and is located along a main road.

The community has been very enthusiastic in welcoming the HF teams and have provided help in getting the project going. There have been difficulties in starting the project. Lack of water supply in the area and many hours of load shedding have meant that the work could not be taken up with great speed. A considerable amount of time had to be devoted to arranging water by laying a pipe to bring water from some distance. This was essential to be able to provide water for mixing and curing the stone masonry in the foundations. Similarly, in order to carry out the work of bamboo cutting and jointing etc. a generator had to be arranged to allow the work to be carried out in an unhindered manner.


Three modules have been taken up for construction. These are being devoted to the following activities:

Module 1: Women’s Centre and vocational training area.

Module 2: Display area for the products of women.

Module 3: Dispensary for primary healthcare

The work has been completed and a health facility and women’s centre have begun to function for the benefit of the community.

Heritage Foundation’s Association with Swat

Swat, once a verdant land of peace and promise, has been shaken entirely by militancy and strife in the last few years. The launching of military operation in 2009, forced a huge exodus into relief camps that were set up in various parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (NWFP).

The association with Swat communities of the Heritage Foundation began when we set up camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) at Shaikh Shahzad Camp in Mardan. Working mainly with women and children, the project began with the distribution of food and non-food items that had been collected through the generosity of friends and well wishers. In cooperation with the camp authorities, lead by Mr. Muddassir Malik, community kitchens were constructed, providing a cool haven in the intense heat of Mardan. The speedy construction of the superstructure was based on the use of sustainable materials, such as bamboo, mud, lime and matting that provided eminently suitable accommodation.

In addition, a large tent was set up as an assembly venue for women where activities such as sewing for livelihoods literacy classes, and instructions on hygiene practices were carried out. In another large tent daily classes were held for children to encourage sports and crafts activities. The assembly tents were ‘summarized’ i.e. made cool through the use of sustainable construction materials on the same pattern as the community kitchens. Since many IDPs had arrived near the HF Base Camp in Hazara, they were also provided as much assistance as possible, while those residing in Abbottabad were provided machines and garments, gifts for children and food items.

Having had close interaction with the brave women and children of Swat, in spite of the harsh conditions in the area, we took up the gauntlet when the opportunity was presented to provide further assistance – Though in fact it was with considerable trepidation that the project was undertaken. Since 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 the Heritage for Rehabilitation and Development Program organized by Heritage Foundation-Nokia-Nokia Siemens Network, has led 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.

Initially, the UNESCO-DFID program requirement of achieving 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 daunting. 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 continued to surface, required a great deal of grit, and a resolute determination for showing solidarity and support at this perilous juncture in Swat’s 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. Through the project selected for further training in 6 union councils over 300 became proficient with embroidery products, while another 200 women, who had been provided with small household handlooms, became instrumental in revitalizing handloom industry of Islampur. A majority of the women trained through the programme have become wage earners through their craft skills. The women from our programme are now providing handloom skills to women in Upper Swat, in the Women’s Center built by HF in Biha, and a vocational training centre built by Pakistan Army in Piyochar.

The next major disaster that hit the country was the 2010 floods that played havoc with lives of millions of people. Swat was the first victim of the devastating floods. Having had considerable experience in working with post-disaster communities, Heritage Foundation felt compelled to provide relief in the form of food packages and household goods to 500 affected families in Lower Swat, who had been part of the Crafts programme earlier in the year. Soon it became clear that more than rations and supplies were needed on an urgent basis – it was a roof over their heads that most families were in desperate need of.

HF immediately began to review options for shelter. Having built almost 1200 KaravanGhar (emergency units) after 2005 Earthquake utilizing salvaged material from collapsed houses, HF had continued to experiment with local materials and techniques over the years. Among the most promising was the experimentation with bamboo structures that was being carried out at the Kirat Campus, HF Base Camp in Chattar, Hazara. A single room accommodation 15’x10’ was constructed on priority basis for the flood affectees, which was completed through the cooperation of Civil Engineer Mr. Amin Tariq.

The Green KaravanGhar thus evolved as a robust, low carbon footprint, low cost unit that could be built quickly in order for the communities to restart their lives on an immediate basis. During the winter of 2011 it has successfully proved to be strong enough to withstand loads of 3’0” of snow as well as excessive rain. The philosophical basis of the Green KaravanGhar is the use of local materials, engagement of local workforce, involvement of community and student volunteers.

The structure relies on the use of bamboo, extensively grown in Swabi in KP and in Lower Punjab and Upper Sindh and is readily available in local markets. It is extremely economical in its use as an alternative building material that, if popularized, can result in the protection of the few surviving wooded areas in Pakistan.

The process of ‘Green KaravanGhar’ (GKG) is as significant as the finished shelter itself. The mechanism provides an opportunity to young student volunteers to participate in activities which are at the same time technical as they are humanitarian in nature, allowing them to work side by side with the affected communities in rebuilding their lives. The design of the unit encourages community participation in order to develop a sense of ownership and fosters pride in local traditions and cultural norms. The sustainable nature of materials being used addresses issues of global warming and reduction of carbon footprint. The building of GKG is undertaken as a collective activity, however, one that must be built in a technically sound manner.

The construction of almost 300 units was accomplished with 60% of the funding due to the generosity of the Scottish Government who channeled the funds to Heritage Foundation through Glasgow University. The remaining funding came through scores of friends who went out of their way to help raise funds for the completion of the project. The work in post-disaster Swat, particularly Upper Swat, became possible due to outstanding hospitality and facilitation provided to us by Pakistan Army under the command of Maj. Gen. Javed Ramday and his officers, particularly the host Punjab Regiment.


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