Response: February 2015 Issue

Pakistan’s Women’s Development & Service Society

Equipping women to build a just society.

Pakistan’s Women’s Development & Service Society
Women gather at Women's Development and Service Society's adult literacy graduation ceremony.

Pakistan is a developing country facing scores of problems. Often when Pakistan makes world headlines, it's because of political instability or something associated with the war on terrorism. But much less widely reported are the daily lives of millions of Pakistan consumed by another problem: desperate poverty. Pakistan's challenges include illiteracy, child labor abuses, unemployment and inflation as well as natural disasters such as the floods in Punjab Province in September of 2014. The struggle for some is more than they can bear and leads to hunger and malnutrition, crime and serves as fuel for terrorism.

Although the needs in Pakistan are massive and require joint efforts of government, national and international nongovernmental organizations and local groups, the Church of Pakistan is resolved do all it can to improve life for impoverished communities. And so, in 1989 Dr. Khushnud Azariah organized Women's Development and Service Society as a ministry of the Church of Pakistan's Diocese of Raiwind with a vision of building a just society free from discrimination and exploitation.

Women's Development and Service Society reaches out to women in oppressed communities in Pakistan with programs and services that promote health, education, economic opportunities and help them to live with honor and dignity. WDSS interacts with impoverished communities, particularly women and children, through a variety of programs affecting child protection, economic development for women, HIV and AIDS awareness and outreach to female sex workers and medical care, including care for people living with physical disabilities.

Skills training programs

WDSS's training programs for women are examples of our community outreach.

Working in cooperation with United Bible Societies, WDSS offers an adult literacy program for women. Program participants grow in confidence and model the importance of education for their children, who now see that their mothers can read and help them with school assignments. In September 2014 we graduated 462 women from the six-month program operated in 22 locations. The women were given certificates and?a Bible. Each woman read verses from the Bible during the graduation ceremony.

Some Muslim women have completed the adult literacy program as well. These women belong to tribes in which the education of women is not considered important since women in these communities work in the fields all day, picking vegetables and cutting the crops. Still, the families of Muslim women who complete the adult program are nonetheless proud when their mothers and wives become literate.

By the grace of God, WDSS graduated 23 young women from our midwifery-training program in July 2014. The graduates are from the impoverished communities that they will serve as they work in this profession.

WDSS also operates vocational centers where women learn skills like crocheting, taarkashi—an embroidery stitch—and how to make other boutique item. The skills enhance participants' ability to earn a living and support their families.

Participants in WDSS's training courses say the programs have changed their lives.

"I was in the first batch of a vocational trainees," said Sarah John, who participated in one of WDSS income-generating program. "I started my personal business of stitching in the local community and supported my family. Later on, I was married to a factory worker and moved to another locality. Now, I have four children who are all at school. I am still using my skill to support my family and also to help unskilled women to learn this skill. I am highly grateful to WDSS for such great help in my life."

In addition to the adult literacy program, WDSS also provides scholarships to students from parishes of the Diocese of Raiwind. Thirty-five girls in grades 8 to 10 received books, stationery, uniforms and school fees.

Eye clinic

Twice a month WDSS offers an eye clinic in the Raiwind Diocese's geographic jurisdiction.

In Pakistan, and in many Asian nations, a common eye disease is keratoconus. Risk increases for this potentially blinding eye disease with escalating poverty rates, ocular allergies and malnutrition. Typically keratoconus is initially diagnosed in a person during the teenage years and can progress through the third and even fourth decades of life. In healthy eyes, tiny fibers of protein in the eye called collagen with normal cross-links help hold the cornea in place and keep it from bulging. But in this disease, the cross-links break, the fibers become weak, and they can no longer hold the cornea's normal round shape. The cornea becomes progressively more cone shaped, producing visual distortion often not fully correctable by traditional glasses.

Keratoconus is one of the diseases often diagnosed in WDSS's regular eye clinics supervised by Dr. Akash Mathew, an eye specialist at United Christian Hospital in Lahore.

The July 2014 clinic is a good example. Forty-five patients attended the eye clinic held in Youhanabad, an area just outside of Lahore. United Christian Hospital staff examined and treated the patients, who were provided with glasses and eye drops, as needed, free of cost. Eight patients were referred to the hospital for operations and further treatment.

During the clinic Dr. Matthew led a workshop for participants about eye problems and their cures. He also led a workshop for WDSS midwifery studentson dealing with medical emergencies.

Legal clinic

In 2014 WDSS launched an initiative to promote legal literacy. In the rural areas of Punjab, there is a lack of legal awareness, especially in the illiterate community. These impoverished families often work as field laborers and basically live under the domination of local feudal lords, and they often suffer abuse. Too often impoverished people have no idea about their rights in society. They do not dare to approach the police for fear of being arrested or detained.

In August 2014 WDSS conducted the first legal literacy program at Railway Colony, Changa Manga in the Kasur District with the help of Attorney Ijaz Farhat. Mr. Farhat explained the process for registering a legal grievance and described the court's proceedings. We are organizing similar events with groups in three districts in the Raiwind Diocese.

Being a part of the Christian minority also puts people at risk for legal abuse. In Pakistan, 1.5 percent of the population is Christian. Raiwind Diocese parishes generally are situated in rural Muslim-dominated areas where prejudiced religious leaders often provoke the community to rise up against the Christians. Pakistani law mandates punishment for "blasphemies" of the Qur'an. At least a dozen Christians have been given death sentences and half a dozen murdered after being accused of violating blasphemy laws. Pakistani Taliban are another threat to Christians in Pakistan. A pattern of attacks on Christian children shows that local police often fail to protect the Christian community and sometimes even side with the attackers, including rapists and murderers.

WDSS is working with Pakistan's 24-hour "helpline" for people to call in emergency situations. We provide training for operators for the helpline designed to connect victims with assistance and services available through local police and courts. We also provide legal assistance. Our goal is to helps victims get justice and reduce incidents of street crimes, sexual harassment and other offenses.

We are grateful for United Methodist Women members, concern for women, children and youth and for their support of WDSS's work to make life better for women, children and youth in our jurisdiction of Pakistan.

Alice R. Garrick is executive director of Women's Development and Service Society, a ministry of the Raiwind Diocese of the Church of Pakistan, a United Methodist Women mission partner.

Posted or updated: 2/6/2015 11:00:00 PM