Helping women help themselves
By Mateen Kaul
LAHORE: Sultana Akhtar was only 24 when her husband died. Poor and uneducated, the mother of two young daughters had little to fall back on. Thirty-three years later, the story is much different. Ms Akhtar is a proud homeowner, both her daughters are married, working women, and her grandson is at the elite Aitchison College.
Ms Akhtar’s is one example of the work the Family Welfare Cooperative Society has been doing over the past 50 years. It was at the non-governmental organisation that Ms Akhtar learned how to knit and sew and was thus able to stand on her own two feet. “I don’t know what I would have done without these people,” she said.
Family Welfare was set up by Naz Masood Sadiq and Mumtaz Karamat in 1954. It began as a vocational training home for destitute women who were taught knitting, stitching and embroidery. (Their work is sold on the premises and at an annual fair at the Pearl Continental Hotel.)
The Krishn Nagar office opened in 1956. Children of the poor can come here for primary education at Rs 70 per month. And women, ages 18-35, can take courses in community development, health and population welfare. The NGO also offers courses in computer and secretarial skills to help women find employment.
In 1967, Family Welfare gave Krishna Nagar its first free clinic and a 40-bed maternity hospital was added in 1988. An estimated 70,000 patients passed through here in 2002-2003. Sixty percent of the hospital’s budget comes from patients, the rest from donors.
Today, the cooperative operates on an annual budget of Rs 16 million, has 60 members—almost all women—and 196 employees. “The strength of the society is its members...They do most of the fund-raising, often contributing from their own pockets and take a personal interest in a lot of the girls here, said Director General Khalida Malik. Family Welfare helps about 137,000 women each year through its various projects, she estimates. Besides health- and vocational-training centres, Family Welfare runs schools in rural areas and Punjab slums, and a micro-credit lending scheme for women starting small businesses.
Ms Malik said the cooperative ensures that women who come to them get the attention, education and support they need to become economically independent. This is the one thing that Ms Akhtar is most proud of. Once poor and uneducated herself—she is now training young women in Family Welfare—Ms Akhtar has made a life for herself. “I am not dependent on anyone,” she said, proudly. “I pay my expenses myself.”