Churning out financially independent, self-sufficient women one skill at a time

Women empowerment, gender equality, and sexual harassment are burning issues today. Now, more than ever, it has become pertinent to raise your voice, join the debate, and demand answers and justice. But while many use these terms merely to join the herd and many feel passionately towards these causes, there are hardly any channels who would actually guide Pakistani women to emancipation and help them to change their circumstances. Simply talking about the problem at hand without giving any solutions for it perhaps damages the cause even more. Luckily, all hope is not lost. For women in Karachi, at least, a glimmer of optimism has entered into their lives with a promise to help them through their difficulties.

TAF Foundation started last November as a vocational training institute to teach impoverished and underpaid women skills in order to better their financial standing and overall quality of life. Focusing solely on marginalised women, the foundation has a recruitment team that visits downtrodden localities of Karachi to induct women for the upcoming batch. This is a slow and tedious process, and takes lots of patience. Understandably, there is slight resistance from the family members of these women, especially men. One of the reasons being as that many of these women are sole breadwinners of their house and leaving their jobs to study means that the family members will lose on the little money that they make. But to their delight and surprise, the ladies are promised free education at a state-of-the-art facility, pick and drop services as well as a monthly stipend to keep them afloat for the duration of the diploma (four months). The family members are allowed to visit the facility so that they may be convinced and satisfied with the programme and staff. The purpose of this meeting is also to brief them about how important this opportunity will prove for their women and the difference that the programme will make in their lives.

At the foundation, students are put through rigorous theoretical and practical training, in two departments – culinary and housekeeping – preparing them comprehensively for a career as a professional domestic helper, cook and other relavant fields. Briefing about the three-tier model – recruitment, training and placement – Aatiqa S. Lateef, CEO TAF Foundation, tells me how her journey started. Having returned to Pakistan from the United States, she was surprised at the lack of availability of trained and professional help that would provide her the kind of services she expects. As time went by, she gradually realised the gravity of the situation, which goes much beyond the lack of training for such help. That they are underpaid, exploited and incredibly unaware of their own rights shocked her to the core. “There is an overwhelming demand for well-trained, groomed and reliable domestic helpers with structured skills. The higher socio-economic segment of Pakistani society presently addresses this need through domestic help imported from other countries like Philippines, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh,” she says, wanting to fill these jobs with Pakistani women.

So, the objective of the diploma is not just to provide professional training, but also to ensure placement of the graduates with premium remuneration. But she clarifies that the programme does much more than that. “It is developed to enable women in Pakistan not only with a professional skill set, but to also empower them with a legal and financial understanding of their rights as women. We have seen that these additional skills have had a transformational impact on their personal lives,” adds Aatiqa. The course outlines are devised by experts of their fields while the students are trained by experienced professionals. The facility has different rooms for the theoretical lectures and practical education that contains different room settings, so that the students may be able to learn how to make different kinds of bed, equipments and machinery for washing and cleaning which they learn how to operate, various cooking sections including baking stations, etc. Apart from this, the foundation regularly invites guest speakers and alumni to share their experiences after having graduated. Just one year into running, the foundation boasts of having placed above 50 graduates into well paying working environments. Much like an ambitious kid with lots of potential, TAFF has introduced its pilot course on elderly care for which the course has been designed in collaboration with two local hospitals where they would be given practical training in the final phase of their diploma, and where many of the graduates may find prospective employment.

Next on Aatiqa’s agenda is to collaborate with a teaching facility that can provide the students with necessary mainstream education then direct them back to the foundation for vocational training. She also intends to expand from a compact two-floor bungalow to an elaborate self-sustaining campus and to keep introducing more modules along the way. “I have gotten a lot of requests for well-trained receptionists and sales representatives, so that is definitely where we’ll head next. Hopefully we can also set up a computer lab soon where the students can be taught more technical skills alongside,” she reveals with excitement evident in her voice.

Dedicated to societal development

There are a number of other institutes in Karachi that have dedicated themselves to educating those who are impoverished and are surrounded in challenging circumstances. Karachi Cocational Training Centre for the intellectually challenged is one such space. Located in the posh Defence area, it caters especially to the intellectually disabled with the goal of “socially integrating the individuals into the mainstream Pakistani society,” according to its site, by training them in different skills and placing them in the market so that they may be able to earn a decent livelihood. The well-known Hunar Foundation operates near Tariq Road to train “illiterate, semi-literate and literate individuals in technical, marketable, customer-oriented and industry specific skills,” says its official Facebook page. Aman Tech is another state-of-the-art vocational training institute, located in Karachi’s Korangi Industrial Area, which states to have been “designed to transform the youth of Pakistan into productive members of society by teaching them both, vocational and soft skills and aligning them to the needs of the local and international labour market”. The institute trains its students in 13 different trades, making them market-ready in just six months. The campus is spread over a vast area of six acres and has modern facilities comprising of 23 classrooms, 26 workshops, 14 fully equipped computer labs, an extensive library, sports grounds and a student breakout area. Much popular among the ladies in Karachi is the ZVMG Rangoonwala centre which, its website claims, offers “more than 70 courses, including cooking, baking, English language, computer, typing, textile designing, fashion designing, sewing and cutting, fitness, grooming, beautician, visual arts and handicraft”, with the mission to enable for its students “long term and sustainable upliftment in all fields, simultaneously promoting self reliance”.