Caught in the Conflict Rebuilding womenâ€™s livelihoods in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan
This photo documentary is dedicated to those brave women that despite adversity showed resilience, courage and hope. Photographs and text by Alixandra Fazzina/NOOR Images
ACFâ€™s first intervention in Pakistan was in 1979 in the context of the Afghan crisis and the arrival of thousands of Afghan refugees. After the country-wide torrential rains which began in late July 2010 and affected 17.2 million people, ACF scaled up its programs responding to the emergency, initially with life saving activities and later on with livelihoods restoration. In Maidan, in the northwest of Pakistan, ACF supported some of the most vulnerable households with unconditional cash grants and business re-start grants for those whose home-based businesses were heavily damaged or destroyed in the floods. Female headed households (mainly widows) originally affected by the conflict and later on by the catastrophic floods were assisted to rebuild their lives and support their families with income. This photo documentary is dedicated to those brave women that despite adversity showed resilience, courage and hope.
The boundaries displayed in this map have not been authenticated and are not endorsed by ACF, and are presented for a solely illustrative purpose.
Nooruwara Surrounded by her chickens, forty-five year old widowed mother of five Nooruwara lives in a small two roomed mud house located in the backstreets of Lower Kotigram. Located next to Swat, the area was directly affected by the war against the militants that still simmers on the borders. “My husband died fifteen years ago- he was murdered in a dispute about some land in what is almost a local custom where we lived in Upper Dir. I was pregnant at that time and my youngest son Musaffar who is disabled was born after his death. I had to flee with the children when my husband was killed and I would never, ever go back to that place. Still it scares me that something can happen to us. I took my five sons to my mother and father’s house here in Kotigram and we were helped by my family and survived on the charity from local people. During the fighting we stayed put here. The frontline was just ten or fifteen minutes away in Ouch which was completely occupied by the militants. Because of the war there were shortages of everything back then and sometimes we went without anything to eat. Although we received some donations, we didn’t have what our bodies needed and the children were hungry. My eldest son works to help the family but his job as a bus conductor earns him just 150 Rupees a day and at times he can be jobless. After the floods last year, he couldn’t work for three months and even now the rains have closed the roads so the buses don’t run. When he can’t work we have to borrow from the local shopkeepers but their generosity is almost exhausted. Two months ago Bushra Gul came to my house along with a man from the livelihood recovery committee. A month later I received 10,500 rupees (€90) from ACF. I’ve used some of it to get out of debt and am planning to buy Musaffar a sewing machine since he can’t walk properly and won’t be able to find work. He is currently training, sitting with a tailor in the village and hopefully soon he can begin his own business which would give us a small income each month. It’s the first time in my life that I saw so much money, even when I was married. The money is more than its value to us and hopefully it will help us in the future when Musaffar starts working. I consider it a blessing from God”.
Khatira Heading up through the muddy, narrow lanes that criss-cross the hillside above Kumba Bazaar, an old wooden door leads into an open courtyard split in half by a low wall. On one side of the tiny house under a ladder that leads up to a flat roof piled high with fire wood and hay, widowed Khatira sits in the dark, smoky single room that she shares with her daughter and seven grandchildren. Feeling weak following a stroke, she talks almost breathlessly as she pours milky chai from a dirty flask onto a saucer that she passes to her grandson Liaba to stop him from crying. Khatira doesnâ€™t know her age; she says that she is too old to remember. â€œMy husband used to work as a watchman but then he lost his eyesight. He died recently during the fighting. I remember it being midnight; he got up to go to the bathroom and lost his balance. He collapsed and fell down steeply and was badly injured, after that he was sick for about a month before her passed away.
The fighting here was very fierce. When the tanks were firing the dishes would rattle and break and the children would cry and cry. The whole of Maidan was a battlefield. It started with shelling from the jets, then from the tanks and then the firing became incessant. The militants were up above us in the mountains and would come very close to our house. The war here was so sudden; nobody knew it was coming- people just ran in the middle of their lunch or in the middle of their dinner”. Following the stroke that she says was brought on by the sound of the bullets, Khatira and her family escaped from the war by foot across the mountains of Dir, finding refuge first at an IDP camp in Talash and then further afield in Charsadda. Without anyone in the household to support her, Khatira has since survived only on the kindness of her friends and the owners of local shops who give her maize, flour and sometimes a little money. The family’s only other funds come from her eldest grandson who has recently found work cleaning in a hotel, “We can’t manage to put the children in school. Even this house is too small for us. We share with another familyin winter the place is too cold and in summer we have to sleep on the roof because it’s too hot”. Last month Behrawar, a village elder, highlighted Khatira’s plight to ACF during a survey of vulnerable women in war torn Maidan. Like hundreds of other widows surviving in abject poverty in the aftermath of conflict, Khatira was given a cash grant of 10,500 rupees (€90) to assist her. “The money was really a blessing for us. I’ve never seen that amount in my life. The first thing I did was to give 1,000 rupees to my daughter as she’s the second wife of her husband so her life is miserable. I purchased one big bag of rice and some ghee. It was the best we have eaten in a long time”.
“The money was really a blessing for us... I purchased one big bag of rice and some ghee. It was the best we have eaten in a long time”.
Shumsul Sahar “I learnt about bringing respect and harmony to this conflict affected area and some tips that will help my children in the future.” Bordering the Swat Valley, the landscape around Lower Kotigram still bears traces of war. ACF is currently rehabilitating a road leading out from the rural village that will eventually provide access for the surrounding farming communities to the local school and hospital. Now though during the rainy season, it is passable only on foot. Twenty minutes walk away lays a cluster of single storey houses one of which, only half completed, still looks like a building site. Seven families are squatting in its unfinished brick rooms. Without doors or windows they share a makeshift kitchen that was designed to be a stable and a single washroom, although most of the children use the surrounding farmland as their toilet.
Behind a flimsy red curtain, Shumsul Sahar, her name meaning morning sun, does her best to control her twelve children who are all crammed into a small room sheltering from the driving rain outside. As the bad weather continues, Shumsul Sahar is struggling to keep up with the laundry that covers the three charpois the family own. There simply isn’t space for everybody and by night rush mats are laid out on the mud floor for the children to sleep on. “My husband has been sick for the last nine years. He has a kidney disease which stops him working although sometimes he’s well enough to find casual labouring jobs but they only earn us around 200 rupees. We struggle and have to survive on the help of others- sometimes the local shopkeepers have been kind enough
to let us borrow goods. It’s quite common that we don’t even have flour and the children eat only white rice, which isn’t good for them. We don’t have anything covering the door and window so these days we are freezing. We have just three beds which are not enough and don’t even have proper blankets. Two months ago Bushra from ACF came to visit me at home and a month later I received 15,000 rupees (€130) to start up my own business. I went for three days of training where as well as some basic skills, I learnt about bringing respect and harmony to this conflict and flood affected area and some tips that will help my children in the future. When we first arrived at the training we were asked about our skills and expertise but I’m not educated so I proposed to
them that I ran a small shop from my home. It’s a long way to the bazaar so I decided I would sell snacks such as popcorn, chips and sweets which my son helped me to buy wholesale. My house is now very popular and is always full of children spending small change. For now I am only getting a little profit and my earnings are not really sufficient but I have plans to expand and start stocking things like detergent and soap to attract more customers. So far with my earnings I’ve managed to buy a washing machine which is really helpful to me since I have so many children. The money from ACF has really helped us. We are so poor and are badly in need”.
Bukhtsila Heading along a winding road north from the conflict devastated town of Lal Qila (meaning the Red Fort), many of the small, detached farmhouses in the mountainous countryside still bear the scars of war. Behind a boundary wall that was blown away by the heavy shelling that persisted across Maidan during the military campaign to oust the militants in 2009, forty-seven year old widowed mother of eight Bukhtsila spends the day at her hand cranked sewing machine. Following her husbandâ€™s death eight years ago, she has struggled to bring up her children alone. Using the familyâ€™s meagre savings, Bukhtsila set up a small shop selling cloth to local women and tailoring them suits from her home in Jarmasha village. The modest income was just enough to buy essentials, without turning to begging among the community, like so many other widows in Maidan have been forced to. War however robbed Bukhtsila of the dignity she had earned.
“Shelling has shaken the whole house so that what’s left is not even stable. We are too scared to sleep in the rooms now so at night we stay in a temporary shelter. I remember when the operation started and the jets were dropping bombs, all the children were screaming. I was alone with no man in the house and we were all so scared. We left as soon as we could and fled to Peshawar. Not only was our house in ruins when we returned but the animals and all my stock of cloth had been looted”.
local women quickly made their way to Bukhtsila’s home, searching through the trunk where she stores the colourful fabrics and placing orders for new clothes. Bukhtsila now makes her shopping trips almost every Sunday as the flow of orders increases and her twelve year old niece Rashma helps her at the sewing machine.
“When we returned to Jarmasha we had no flour, no rice, no ghee, nothing. On the first day I started my business I sold “Bukhtsila now two suits; I was then able to buy makes her shopping everything we needed, it made a very big difference to us.
Two months ago, ACF identified Bukhtsila during a survey of vulnerable house- trips almost every holds in Maidan and award- Sunday as the flow In the past everybody was telling ed her a cash grant of me not to work here as a female of orders increases 15,000 rupees. (€130) The but I tell them ‘Come here, put scheme to help boost the and her twelve year yourself in my position and walk local economy by assistfor a day in my shoes- I am a widow, old niece Rashma ing home based businesses alone with eight children’. After that were affected by the helps her at the my husband died I was so stressed conflict and the devastatand depressed all the time. I used sewing machine.” ing floods has revitalized to think that the world was against many women in the comme and I couldn’t do much more munities than sit and cry. Now the other women are all jealous of me. My Upon receiving her funds from ACF, Bukhtsila immediately set out to build on the business is strong and all my children are doing well and in school. I think I’ve done a great jihad business she had started before the con(struggle) despite all the hard work by putting all flict. Setting out with her eldest son Umer my children in the best position. One is already at Khan, trips were made to the bazaars of medical college and another at the university in Timegara, Swat and Peshawar to purchase Peshawar. My ambition is to send each and every beautiful pieces of cloth not available in one of my children to university”. any local market. Attracted by the quality,
Clasping her face in her hands, a young girl stands in the back streets of the conflict devastated village of Hayaseri in Maidan.
Bukht Jan â€œOut of the money I gave half to charity to give something back to those who have been helping me through these difficult times.â€?
Perched up in hills of war torn Maidan above an army base that sits close to a strategic river crossing, ninety one year old Bakht Jan rests on her haunches in the tiny, dark mud built hut that has been her home for as long as she can remember. Without any children or family, Bakht Jan has been struggling to survive on a daily basis since her husband died prior to the region’s conflict. “My husband was very sick and died just before the fighting began. Although he was deaf he had a job as a caretaker at a local primary school, cleaning the classrooms and maintaining the grounds. Then he had to have surgery for a cyst so I used to do his duty at the school on his behalf but then the people got angry at me for working because I’m a woman. We had nothing but a local police officer Thanadar was very helpful to us and friends helped us with the doctor’s fees. Now I go to see my friends every night to sleep because I am afraid I will die here alone. Back when the fighting started I continued to stay here for a whole month. The fighting was furious; the bullets were coming straight over my house so I just used to shelter right inside in the back room. It was very hard and I had almost nothing to eat.
One day a soldier saw smoke coming from my cooking fire and got very angry with me. He told me I should have left along with everybody else so I had to make my way on foot to a nearby village called Ranri”. Identified during a survey two months ago, ACF recently gave Bakht Jan 10,500 Rupees as part of an unconditional scheme to help support the lives of conflict and flood affected widows and vulnerable women in Maidan. Living only on the charity of her poverty stricken neighbours whose mud and stick shacks surround her on the hillside, she has been overwhelmed by the donation that she sees a great blessing. “Out of the money I gave half to charity to give something back to those who have been helping me through these difficult times. I also treated myself to a good amount of beef and rice, which I cooked and ate with the people. I believe in God, in his messengers and in the angels and all the books of the Quran. I believe there will be a day of judgement when the pious and good people will be happy. The bad people will ask God to give them another chance to go back to this world once again and do good things and obey God’s orders. Sometimes when I sit here though, I wonder whether this life will be all in vain”.
Sahib Jan â€œIt was truly a blessing. I have nothing and we can barely find the food we need to surviveâ€?.
“I am old and am just passing my days on the floor, rising in the morning and finding the food for me and the animals. The money was like a miracle”. Hidden away behind a military base in the war devastated village of Hayaseri, sixty year old widow Sahib Jan lives along with her cattle and goats in a dark, crumbling mud stable located in the grounds of a farmhouse shared by three poverty stricken families. “My husband died because of cancer. I had two children, a girl and a boy, but my son died shortly after his father. During the fighting I fled across the mountains to Shar Banday. I was gone from here for a year and in that time the house was destroyed by shelling and four of my cows were dead. Since then I have spent my life living by the grace of others; people have been kind to me”. Last month, Sahib Jan was identified during a survey of vulnerable conflict and flood affected widows in Maidan and awarded a cash grant of 10,500 rupees ($120) by ACF. “It was truly a blessing. I have nothing and we can barely find the food we need to survive”. Sitting in the filth of the farmyard, Sahib Jan spends her time caring for her three year old grandson Kashif and tending to her animals, “I am old and am just passing my days on the floor, rising in the morning and finding the food for me and the animals. The money was like a miracle”.
Seen from the air, the town of Timegara spreads out across the valley floor along the River Dir in the mountains of Pakistanâ€™s Khyber-Pakhtunwa north-western province.
Yasmeen At the back of a muddy yard in Tazagram village, a net curtain leads into a dark brick room of a house filled with bangles, socks, hair grips, ribbons, threads, toothbrushes and crisps. Run by thirty year old mother of two Yasmeen, the shop has become increasingly popular over the past few weeks and swarms with local women who can visit freely due to its location inside a home. Following the recent conflict and her husband Sherzada loosing his vision three years ago, until recently, Yasmeen has struggled to bring in an income for her family. “When the war started we came under a bombardment from the front of the mountains and helicopters were coming, circling over our house. We had to flee so we went to my father’s house in Munda and stayed there for three months until things became calmer. When we returned, our mud house was in ruins because of the heavy rains and the stationary shop we ran in the main street had been completely looted- all we found was around 200 rupees of damaged stock”. Yasmeen, her husband and two young girls moved into a partially built rented brick house in Tazagram’s narrow back streets, paying just 400 rupees a month for two basic rooms without doors or windows. “The local villagers were very kind to us and gave us Zakat (Islamic charity). I collected together some small donations to restart a business from the house. It wasn’t like the shop we had before and we could only afford low quality stock like cheap crisps and sweets but I wanted to at least try to earn some money again”. One month ago, Yasmeen received a one-off cash grant of 15,000 rupees (€130) from ACF. Identified by community worker Bushra Gul and a village livelihood recovery committee, Yasmeen was just one of hundreds of women given funds by ACF to help revitalise home based businesses and regenerate the local economy in the aftermath of conflict and the catastrofic floods. “When I received the money the first thing I did was to make a trip to Mardan and Peshawar to buy stock. We tried to be clever with the money and bought good quality items so that we would get more customers. Now there is a big difference between the old shop and the new one. The most popular items I sell are the combs, lipsticks and creams and some days I’ve even had as many as sixty customers which can bring me as much as 1,000 rupees profit. Inshalla’ah, the business will keep growing. We are thinking to maybe rent a shop once again in the village bazaar and the grant will make this possible. My wish is that my children will go to school and one day, we can think about buying our own house”.
Naz Parwar With three rooms of her home in Hayaseri village totally destroyed during the recent conflict, widowed sixty-three year old mother of eight sits in a temporary shelter next to her granddaughter as she watches over the children. Living with her sons, their wives and children, sixteen people share the rural mud built farmhouse. â€œMy husband died more than twenty years ago. He had a liver disease and because of this sickness we suffered so much economically. We went through so much crisis in the family that all we could do was to borrow money from the people. One of my three sons is working as a driver and earns around 3,000 Rupees a month and another is labouring in Karachi. Times are really hard but we are just about living. Last year we left our house on the second day after the fighting started. We fled over the mountains to Timegara and our feet were completely sore and swollen. After that we went to Mardan and spent five months living in a school along with hundreds of other IDPs. When we returned home that Ramadan, the house was completely empty. Everything we had had been looted by the militants- all the charpois, the blankets, the dishes and utensils were all gone. Worst still, our home was totally destroyed by shelling. There were huge holes in the walls and they had literally caved in. All that we have now are the items we were given in the camps of Mardan.
“I want so much that all the children go to school so that they can learn the difference between right and wrong but we just can’t afford it.”
We took out a loan to try and rebuild but we used cheap concrete blocks and the walls are not well constructed. If there’s ever an earthquake, then for sure we will have to run fast. When it rains, the water seeps through the roof and so we often have to spend the nights in a shelter that an NGO gave us. A month ago some ladies were conducting a survey in Hayaseri among those that are most vulnerable. I received 10,500 rupees (€90) from ACF- it was a blessing for me because we are really in need and don’t have any money. Every month we are short and we are two hundred thousand Rupees in debt. One can live without good clothes but not without food. I want so much that all the children go to school so that they can learn the difference between right and wrong but we just can’t afford it. Of the money I received, I spent some on medicines since I have problems with my knees and it’s hard to afford the drugs. 1,500 Rupees went to a new suit, some soap and some hair oil- just the small things we human’s need. The rest of the money I’ve given to my son so that he can invest it in a small shop. Hopefully it will help us in the future”.
On a visit to Shumsul Saharâ€™s remote farmhouse, a member of the Lower Kotigram Livelihood Recovery Committee shelters under an umbrella as he makes his way along a muddy road that is currently being rehabilitated by ACF.
Founded in 1979, ACF International is an international humanitarian organization that delivers programmes in over 40 countries. Recognized worldwide as a leader in the fight against hunger, our mission is to save lives through the prevention, detection, and treatment of malnutrition, especially during and after emergency situations and conflicts. From crisis to sustainability, ACF tackles the underlying causes of malnutrition and its effects. By integrating our programmes with local and national systems, we further ensure that short-term interventions become long-term solutions.
The European Commissionâ€™s Humanitarian Aid department funds relief operations for victims of natural disasters and conflicts outside the European Union. Aid is channeled impartially, straight to people in need, regardless of their race, ethnic group, religion, gender, age, nationality or political affiliation.
This booklet has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Commission. The views expressed herein should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of the European Commission.