Written by Syed Ommer Amer
All fairy tales start with the phrase “once upon a time” but the story of Wardah Noor is not a fairy tale with a prince charming or a happily-ever-after. It is a saga of relentless struggles and miseries faced by a woman from her patriarchal community. It is the epitome of bravery that will inspire the upcoming generations for centuries.
The protagonist of my story lives in the poorest district of Punjab, Layyah where the per capita income is around 10,000 PKR, far below the poverty line. Most of the community either does farming, works at the local flour mills or at brick kilns.
Imagine being a girl raised in a family constantly struggling to make ends meet. Imagine being exposed to domestic violence and abuse throughout your childhood and carrying that trauma throughout your life. Imagine having to seek professional medical help to repair the damage done to your mental health. Imagine questioning if you would have a meal to eat everyday of your life. These are realities of life that Wardah Noor went through personally during her childhood.
The Story of Wardah Noor
This is not just one woman; this is the story of the majority of women living in Pakistan. Despite all odds, Wardah Noor realized that the only way to break out of this vicious cycle of poverty is education. She studied hard and enrolled herself in various skill-building programs. She found her role model in her mother who always stood by her and tried to protect her from all harm. Her strength lies in her father who gave away his whole life’s earnings in funding her education.
She applied to LUMS and became the first woman from Layyah to be selected as a National Outreach Scholar. Currently, she is pursuing law and dreams of entering into local politics to uplift her community and provide them with the skills to earn a decent living thereby enabling them to break out of poverty.
As COVID-19 greatly impacted the livelihood of people in Layyah, Wardah gathered a team of volunteers under the banner of the Future Pakistan Team and together they distributed rations to 3000 families through fundraising during height of the pandemic and provided PPE suits to local doctors who were treating COVID-19 patients.
After this immediate support to the community, her volunteer platform further enabled local young girls to continue their education through scholarships. They went to 35 schools and educated 8000+ students on how to apply for higher studies on scholarships and provided one-on-one mentoring thereby enabling them to land scholarships. To date, they have disbursed Five million Rupees in the local community.
After running a pilot program for six months, she took the bold step of doing more impactful work. She transformed the Future Pakistan platform to KhudKaar under which there are three branches, namely:
- KhudKaar House – Community Center
- The K-Store – E-commerce store
- Khudi – Series of life-changing events
Ms. Noor is a staunch believer that lack of opportunities is the cause of poverty. If people are given enough opportunities and skills, they will work diligently to run their households and improve the quality of their lives. For this purpose, she came up with the idea of launching a community center.
KhudKaar house has a wifi-enabled digital lab equipped with state of the art computers and digital tablets where students learn digital skills like web development, graphic designing, virtual assistants, video editing and blogging/content writing through video courses.
A digital library equipped with laptops and diverse books donated by the local community. It is named Umer Shaheed library, established in memory of a kid who was abused and killed. His family still seeks justice.
Lastly, the House has stitching machines where local women come to learn to stitch. Once they reach mastery level they are then given paid projects where they earn a decent living for each dress they stitch. KhudKaar House is built in the house where Ms. Noor’s family still lives today.
An e-commerce store where the dresses stitched by the local women are exhibited and sold online to generate profits which are cycled back to enable the artisans to improve their monthly earnings. Ms. Noor designs clothes, sources raw material, processes orders and does digital marketing to generate sales through her community.
They recently diversified their portfolio by launching customized masks, embroidery collections, tote bags and scarves to name a few. Their vision is to evolve it like an Etsy for Pakistan. Time will tell how this resilient woman will prove everyone wrong by scaling this wing to empower 100,000 local artisans and generating massive economic activity in the rural areas.
Apart from these, the platform focuses on capacity building. They conduct or co-organize events for the local community to give them awareness about arts and crafts, social and moral reforming, technology and the future of work to name a few. Monthly seminars are organized and speakers are invited to inspire youth and to train and educate parents.
One of the historic things done in this regard was Layyah’s first Creative Festival in Saraiki language by the name LitTech Layyah, funded by the British Council’s creative hub in collaboration with Daastan.
Noor’s resilience in the face of adversity is admirable, and she serves as an inspiration not only to the women, but to the entire community. Establishing a platform like Khudkaar in the midst of a global pandemic is truly astounding.
You can donate to support her mission of poverty alleviation from Layyah or volunteer with KhudKaar in any capacity. Please contact them at 0307 7794180 or [email protected]
This blog is a part of Accountability Lab’s Coronavirus CivActs Campaign. The views/ideas presented in the blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Accountability Lab.