Last commissioned piece for The Communication Initiative. Full post here, published on 31st July 2011.
Good things, they take time and sustained effort. That is the underlying philosophy behind social mobilization (SM) – the process of inspiring collective action, by making people aware of what they can achieve and how. While engaging local communities and making them aware of their stakes in the process of development, it also aims to establish a credible presence for development organizations hoping to be more than temporary visitors.
Maqsoodo Rind is a village in district Sanghar, in the further reaches of the conservative, feudal-dominated Sindh province in Pakistan. Here, the Sindh Agricultural and Forestry Workers Coordinating Organization (Safwco) has been working since 1996 to organize people into groups who can give voice to collective demands. Neighbourhood-level Community Organizations (COs) make it easy to access individual households, with four COs coming together to form a Village Organization (VO). This in turn feeds the membership of the Local Support Organization (LSO). Thus organized, the needs of a neighbourhood can be packaged and sent via Safwco to the Islamabad office of the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) – where they can be heard.
“This is what we have been able to achieve to this day,” says the grinning spokesperson of the village development committee as he spreads out rolls of coloured chart paper on the straw matting. It is a comprehensive presentation detailing the history of the village, tracing the evolution of the village organization and systematically listing its achievements as well as current needs.
There are many beautiful things about rural life that are lost when an alien wave of development washes over an area – one reason why ladies from NGOs are often regarded with hostile suspicion. Instead of development being imposed in a way that effaces the character of a place, SM efforts equip people with the tools to identify what they need and ask for it when ready. In all this, there is an obvious space to be filled by various forms of the media. Community radio, for instance, would be a highly effective means of spreading awareness and helping to create a mindset that would accommodate the efforts of development organizations. The best forms of communication are subtle yet effective, promoting the kind of change that will not distort the spirit of the community.
One change that the people of Maqsoodo Rind became ready to embrace was the introduction of girls’ education.
“Our boys were becoming engineers,” they said, “and our girls could not even write their names”.
So they solicited support to set up the first Primary Community Model School for girls, with a School Management Committee having the power of discretion when determining who could be exempted from paying fees. Although these fees are far less than ordinary government schools, they increase incrementally in each class – from Rs. 30 for pre-primary classes, they rise to Rs. 200 for the newly added Class 6.
For the first five years, the supporting organizations have pledged to bear the costs of the building and the teachers. The school management committee (SMC), consisting of farmers and market-savvy shopkeepers, decided to direct the savings from fees toward enterprise – investing first in bags of wheat, then in fertilizer. Upon hearing of this initiative to move towards self-sufficiency, the representatives from the development community nodded with pride.
“You should feel like this is your school,” said one, unable to repress a well-meaning urge. “Of course Safwco and PPAF will support you, but this can only last for so long.”
The response was both humbling and heart-warming in its indignation. “Of course this is our school,” smiled an old, bearded member of the SMC. “Safwco and PPAF are only helpers.”