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Women taking the lead in recovery after the Pakistan Floods

2011-10-01

Pakistani women improve lives of children affected by floods, as well as their own

By Naveen Qayyum

THATHA, Pakistan - Sitting beside children on a colourful mat, helping them with their games, 31 year-old Mumtaz Bibi cannot go unnoticed. She is the only woman visible in the dusty surroundings of Lemon Mallah, the latest stop on this day for Child Friendly Space (CFS) mobile bus. Mumtaz has been working for the last two months for one UNICEF's implementing partners in Sindh which operates he mobile CFS program.

With many children still suffering from the devasting effects from the flood and not yet able to return to school or even to their homes, the CFS mobile bus provides education, recreation and psychosocial support to children, mostly from families displaced by the floods. It creates a safe environment for children to come together, play, and have caring people like Mumtaz, who strive to bring them to normailty.

Empowering others, and herself

"For me taking care of children is not difficult. I am a mother of a young daughter myself. I can imagine what these children are going through as a result of this massive flood. From games to study sessions, singing and dancing to activities like washing hands and keeping clean, we try to provide healthy and educational experiences for the children at the CFS. By keeping kids busy and in a safe environment, we try to reduce the risks of abuse and exploitation that can occur after these kinds of disasters," says Mumtaz.

A graduate from Thatha Degree College, Mumtaz is one of the few women in her family who works. "Since I have support from my family, I cope with the challenges very well. For me it is an advantage to be a woman, as I can relate to mothers of children from displaced families. In our culture, it is easier for them to approach me and share issues, then to approach a man. Because I am like their sister and it is easy for us to talk.

With each woman I meet, it's an opportunity for us to bond as Pakistani women. It's also an opportunity for me to help her change her life – by explaining health and basic hygeine practices and the importance of educating her daughters.

Creating a balance

Mamtaz explained that getting parents to allow their children to come to the mobile space is a serious challenge. "We had more boys and fewer girls coming initially. At community meetings, I share my own experience with parents - how education has helped me. I tell parents that sending your girls to school will create confidence in them, and economic independence in the future," she said.

Now you can see we have many girls," said Mumtaz pointing towards a group of children.

Better future for all

Mamtaz is one of many women working for UNICEF implementation partners who are helping more than 223,000 flood-affected children in Pakistan get back on their feet. Increasing girls' access to education is a vital component of their work.

"I feel the floods have brought the issue of girls' literacy to the forefront, though it has always been there. For me it is an opportunity encourage more girls to get educated. The girls are so excited when their parents change their minds and allow them to come to the child-friendly space. It's a joy to see them playing and participating in the activities we organise," says Mumtaz, "For my own daughter and all these girls, I wish for a better future, where they could live with dignity. By working at UNICEF's mobile children friendly spaces, I am doing my part, making a difference in children's lives and my own.

To help with recovery efforts, please donate to our Pakistan flood relief fund.

For further information:

Stefanie Carmichael, Communications Specialist, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8866; Cell: (647) 500-4230, scarmichael@unicef.ca.
Tiffany Baggetta, Director, Communications and Brand, (416) 482-6552 ext. 8892; Cell: (647) 308-4806, tbaggetta@unicef.ca.