PESHAWAR: Most of the beneficiaries said the vocational training centres set up in Swat are on track to meet the desired goals of empowering women to fight poverty.
Talking to The News at a handicraft exhibition held in Peshawar, those associated with the centres said these were originally set up by the Pakistan Army for women and girls to learn skills such as knitting, sewing, machine embroidery, dress designing, computer courses, spoken English, porcelain work and makeup. They said the centres had now been handed over to the Sarhad Rural Support Programme (SRSP), a non-governmental organisation working in the development sector across the Khyber Pakhtun-khwa and Fata. “The training centres are meant to empower women in the Swat valley to fight poverty and make them financially independent,” said Nusrat Bibi, who acquired the machine embroidery skill at one of the vocational centres.
The centres provided the women with an opportunity to learn knitting, sewing, embroidery, computer, language, porcelain, glass painting and cosmetology courses. Female education and employment were banned when the Taliban militants virtually ruled the valley with an iron hand from 2007 to 2009.
“Thank God that the situation has improved now in the area to a great extent. We suffered a lot in the last few years due to the troubled situation. I feel as if I am a newborn,” said Uzma Nawaz, administrator of the Al-Nisa Vocational Training Centre, Barikot, Swat, while taking to The News. She said students were evincing keen interest in computer and spoken English language courses. About 300 girls and women have taken classes at the Al-Nisa in just one year, she added.
The education centres have opened new opportunities for women. “Since childhood I had the craze to become a painter, but here, in our education system this course isn’t offered,” said Afshan, 25, a student from Thana area at the institute. “Although it’s too late for me, yet I want to fulfill my dream.”
Faiza, 12, of Barikot who has signed up for English lessons course said: “Academically I am good and the centre offers me the best opportunity to gain fluency in English,” she said. “Apart from English, I am also interested in computer education as nowadays without computer literacy life is completely dull.”
A beneficiary, Kulsoom said her parents wanted her to receive modern education because they felt men and women should have equal opportunities to learn. “I want the government to give opportunities to girls from poor families who cannot afford to study,” she added.
Shakeel Khan, the monitoring and evolution officer of the SRSP, said over 800 girls and women had completed training in Swat and were now running their own businesses. Col Arif of the Inter-Services Public Relations, Swat, said: “Our mission is not to rule the area. Gradually, we are handing over administrative affairs to the local authorities as the situation is now improving. We have reduced the number of checkpoints in the region and we want to restrict ourselves to security affairs.”