Social development is utmost priority: Naseem Riaz
Noted social and human rights activist, Naseem Riaz, is the Chairperson of Safar Welfare Organisation (SWO). She hails from Bara Shekhano - a former tribal area of Peshawar. She has a dynamic personality, having more than 20 years of experience in development sector. She has outstanding interpersonal skills and is capable of addressing complex issues. She also has experience in interacting with the government institutions and is well-versed with the government policies.
She spoke to Sunrise Today about her life and challenges being faced by her in her career.
Sunrise Today: Why did the idea of social work hit your mind?
Naseem Riaz: In early 2000, there was a primary school for the children in my area which was in miserable condition, especially for the female students. I used to visit the school and arranged meetings with teachers over there, but all in vain. Then, I started a small school in my village which had a very little fee. I used to take the fee from the students just that the teachers could earn something in order to meet their expanses. In addition, I had also opened an embroidery center for the girls of the area so that they could get skills and earn their livelihood in a respected way.
ST: Why did you start social welfare from your own village?
NR: I used to interact with the people of my village on regular basis regarding different types of social and welfare works. During that time I realized that there was lack of education and vocational skills among the folk. Similarly, the domestic violence was at peak and child marriages were common; even I was married in my early teenage, that’s why I decided to start the social welfare at my hometown.
ST: How did you establish the SWO?
NR: I was also working as a social worker in different organisations and was using my energies for the betterment of the people. Some of my friends motivated me to establish a non-government organization in order to work in an organised and uniform way, so I decided to do so. In 2006, my organization – Safar Welfare Organisation registered with the Social Welfare Department.
ST: How was the treatment of the people in the initial days?
NR: People used to respect me but unfortunately, some people used to see my program on a different angle. They used to say that I was doing financial corruption in welfare funds and I take money from the government and international NGOs to make a huge bank balance. But with the passage of time all the misperception was eliminated.
ST: Was it not difficult to work in such a hard area and conservative people?
NR: Indeed, it was too much difficult but I had a strong determination and affirm stance to work for the people of my hometown. When I got married I was studying in class 7th due to which my education disturbed. Then I decided to not see any other women in such a miserable condition like mine and then started struggle for the uplift of the women.
ST: What was the initial strategy of the SWO?
NR: Well, first of all we opened training centers in various nearby villages, where we used to train girls. We used to develop their vocational skills and give them basic education. Due to which we not only developed their household skills e.g. soup making, surf making, mushroom growing, kitchen gardening sewing, embroidering, but also encouraged and motivated them for earning a respectable livelihood.
ST: What about the progress of the SWO?
NR: We have worked in almost all the districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including merged tribal districts. These days our projects are only in Peshawar. Our progress is satisfactory and it is hoped that we will bring some change the society.
ST: In which areas does the SWO work?
NR: We work in different areas, especially child marriages, water and sanitation, health, women empowerment and education but these days we are working in health, education and water and sanitation.
ST: How is the feedback of the people?
NR: The feedback is very good, especially in education and skills development sectors. Through our vocational trainings, the female learn how to spend their time in a useful way. We not only develop their interpersonal skills but also prepare them for market dynamism.
ST: What do you think about the capabilities of women in the KP?
NR: Believe me; the women of the province have excellent capabilities, especially the skilled women who make different types of household items in their houses are of high quality and I don’t expect that a great workman can do it. The main reasons of the unsatisfactory progress of our women are the unviability of proper platform and limited space and freedom for them.
ST: How do you view the current education for female in KP?
NR: The new education system has created troubles due to which I am very much upset with it. Many females from far flung areas can’t afford regular education, or they are too far way to go for education. First problem in BS system is this that it is too expensive and the second is that it is not easily accessible; every girl can’t go to a college or a university. That’s why a large number of females are unable to get education.
ST: What message do you want to give to the people?
NR: I want to communicate to the people that kindly take your daughters and sisters to the educational institutes. It is a dire need of the time that a woman should be well-educated. One more thing, kindly avoid the child marriages. The last thing, we need to be united and work for peace.