Meher –Ul-Nissa: A Frontline Community Activist in Fight against COVID-19 Pandemic

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Meher was the one who agreed to lead her community. She got leadership and community management skills training to run better her community organization.

By Asmat Kakar

Ms. Meher Ul Nissa is a Councilor and community activist from village Memon Ki Wasi in Union Council Matiari of district Matiari. Her village socioeconomic conditions were surveyed in 2016 by the National Rural Support Program (NRSP) under the European Union funded Sindh Union Council and Community Economic Strengthening Support (SUCCESS) program. According to the survey, overall 53 per cent households in the village live below the poverty line. Total 62 per cent children including 71 per cent girls and 54 per cent boys are out of school in the village. The main reasons behind these abysmal socioeconomic conditions are; the reluctance of parents to let their children particularly daughters leave home and go to school, lack of access to quality education, early child marriage, poor working conditions and starvation wages, lack of decent work opportunities, and exploitation by the local feudal lords. Gender wise data show that women and girls of the village are the worst affected segments of the village by poverty and lack of basic facilities.

When social mobilization of the poorest households started in the village in 2016, all women were first reluctant to get organized their respective households into a community organization and second no one was ready to lead their organization. Ms. Meher was the one who agreed to lead her community. She got leadership and community management skill training to run better her community organization.

“Leading from the front I gathered all community members for organization even though I was not sure about the impact of the program at that time. Those days’ community dialogues about community driven development and SUCCESS program interventions including Community Investment Funds, Income Generating Grants, Micro Health Insurance and Community Physical Infrastructures looked like fairy tales because we haven’t seen such things in our life,” said Meher, President of Matiari Local Support Organization.

A few months ago, when coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic hit Pakistan and spread all across the country affecting peoples’ health livelihoods, and overall well-being, Ms. Meher was the one who led her community from the front in fight against coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

“These past few months have been very challenging for my community members and me. Almost, every household lost income because of no work opportunities and restriction on movement due to lockdown. To protect my community members from COVID-19, I along with my colleagues from my LSO started community awareness-raising sessions with support from the NRSP which trained me on COVID-19 preventive measures and relief activities.  I visited each and every household part of our LSO to nudge them on COVID-19 precautionary measures and provide them relief such a testing time,” said Meher.

In April 2020, when the Government of Sindh constituted Relief Committees at the Union Council (UC) level in every district of the province, so, Ms. Meher was also made part of the committee of her UC. She not only facilitated registration of poorest households with the Government of Pakistan’s flagship Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program but also spearheaded awareness raising and relief campaign under SUCCESS program and Government of Sindh support.

“I along with my colleagues from our LSO facilitated registration of 700 poor households with the Ehsaas Emergency Cash Program, distributed ration bags to 450 households through support of the Sindh Government Relief Committee and community philanthropists, and provided soaps to 500 households through financial support of WaterAid, Government of Sindh and community philanthropists,” said Meher.

She feels happy and contentment while helping and easing lives of her community members through her work. Sometimes she gets disappointed with the negative and discouraging behavior and remarks of some people but for her doing something good for the welfare of her community is a positive approach and has a greater impact and reward.

Besides, she has done many other things for her community which includes: tree plantation, facilitating linkages with the government authorities for development of 500 CNICs and other registrations, building sewerage system in her village, installation of 50 hand pumps in her UC and distribution of sewing machines among SUCCESS program TVST beneficiaries through support of other development organization.

To increase and sustain her household income, she got an interest free loan of Rs.50000 from community investment fund established by the NRSP through SUCCESS program. She has opened a grocery shop for her son who now runs the shop in the village.

“Now, when I see change in the lives of my community members through community driven interventions supported by the NRSP and linkages with government authorities, my motivation increases for provision of more such support to the poorest households in the village. The implementation of awareness raising and relief activities during the past few months of COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t have been possible without the support of activists from my LSO and NRSP which made things easy and coordinated for all of us,” said Meher.

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Asmat Kakar is a Development Professional. He has done M.Sc. in Social Policy and Development from The London School of Economics and Political Science.

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