Gul Zaman’s dream comes true through Community Organization
Gul Zaman is resident of Dahana. His is a remote village of union council Sumra in Lodhran District, with a population of just over 850. The number of out-of-school children in Gul’s village is high, with the nearest government school located three kilometers away. Most families live well below the poverty line and children in most households work to support their families – with the majority forced to work at brick kilns or serve food at run-down shacks. The hours are long with little reward, and the working conditions are unhygienic, unhealthy and often dangerous. Early and forced marriages are also prevalent in Gul’s village. When Gul Zaman used to visit his village, on leave, he experiences various emotions – often contradictory: Revulsion at the abject, generational poverty, and a sense of helplessness coupled with a strong feeling of responsibility.
In 2015, a project titled, Improving the Lives of Children (ILC), commenced its interventions in Lodhran. Under the child protection component of the Project, community organizations were formed in all selected villages of targeted union councils. One community organization named ‘Gulshan,’ was formed in Dahana village and Gul Zaman was selected as its president. The fifteen members of the community organization received training on community management skills.
Accelerated Learning Centers (ALCs) were also established as part of the ILC project in all targeted villages. In village Dahana, 43 out-of-school children out of a total of 60 children were enrolled in the local ALC. After a few months, all activities of the ILC project were suspended for nearly one year in the District due to some unavoidable circumstances. All structures, including ALCs, stopped their functions in the intervention area as a result, but the community organization, Gulshan, continued meeting with parents of students enrolled in the ALC, and decided to continue the Centre on their own. Members of Gulshan took up a collection to pay the salary of the teacher at the ALC. The members also actively lobbied with the Education Department to support the ALC. Due to their unrelenting efforts, the Punjab Education Foundation (PEF) adopted the Centre and also enrolled other school-going children who were attending the government school 3 kilometers away. Thanks to the efforts of the members of Gulshan, their village now had a school as well as an ALC. Currently, 140 children attend classes at the school and ALC.
Not stopping here, the community organization also started advocating against child marriages, and talked to parents about the Punjab Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act 2015. As a result, the CO members successfully stopped four (4) early marriages in the village in the past year. Additionally, they successfully convinced the local community for birth-registration and proper immunization. Gul Zaman says:
“When I spent a few months in the village after retirement from defense ministry, I felt that most of our children were out-of-school which meant a bleak future of our village. Our village has so many other issues but our elected representatives seem disinterested in resolving our issues. I saw a ray-of-hope when the ILC project staff formed Community Organizations in our village. It was a useful platform where the local community gathered together to work jointly for the betterment of our children. The project created awareness among the local community on education and health and most importantly to reduce child labor significantly. I am very satisfied with the achievements of our organization so far. We are all committed to strengthen our CO and provide support to our communities, especially children, for their betterment."