Never lose heart

28 April 2011 | News story

Maryam Bibi - Pakistan
 
For almost two decades Maryam Bibi has battled against prejudice and intolerance to improve the lives of women and children in some of the world’s poorest areas.

Maryam established Khwendo Kor in 1993 with four female friends. The organization, a Member of IUCN since 1997, is a non-profit, non-political, non-governmental organisation, which works to improve the well being of women and children in two of the poorest and most conservative areas of the world: Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Here, infant mortality and maternal mortality rates are high and female literacy is low, so, under Maryam’s leadership, Khwendo Kor focuses on improving the education, health and training opportunities available to women and children in the region. Khwendo Kor is Pushto for “Sister’s home”, but the organization works with both women and men to create strong and progressive societies.

Maryam has ensured that conservation activities and projects are an integral part of Khwendo Kor’s work:

She has helped village women to set up of forest nurseries and to run reforestation campaigns, in which school children are encouraged to buy and plant trees. This has provided the women with a modest income and has also improved the areas’ fragile forests. Fuel efficient stoves which have been distributed in the villages, are also helping to reduce pressure on these forests.

Maryam works tirelessly to empower women through the provision of education and training. Hundreds of community-based primary schools have been established as well as adult literacy centres for women and training centres for traditional birth attendants who can now provide hygienic and skilled services in their local villages. In addition, micro-credit loans and training have been provided to women to enable them to gain a measure of financial independence through activities such as bee farming, animal husbandry and vegetable production.

Khendo Kor has also been active in building ‘check and delay’ dams to improve the water supply to villages, supporting community agricultural activity which includes demonstration plots set up by the organization in collaboration with the Agriculture Department.

It’s hard work and Maryam and her team face many challenges. They have received death threats, and have also been threatened with kidnapping and physical violence. The increase in extremism and intolerance has made it difficult to sustain and expand the positive attitudinal changes taking place as a result of their work, for example the inclusion of women in some of the most conservative areas of Pakistan.

Nonetheless, Maryam stays strong and lives by the mantra: "Never lose heart and be ever positive no matter how difficult the circumstances may be”.

As a result of participatory approaches, Maryam Bibi has been able to gain the trust and confidence of men and women at the grassroots levels in very remote and poverty stricken areas. Khwendo Kor has grown from an operation in one village supported by four staff members, to having a presence in over 300 cities and towns, and is recognized as a credible and reputable organization both in Pakistan and abroad.

Mariam can be contacted at kkwcdp@khwendokor.org.pk