It Takes a Village: Khairo Dero, Sindh, Pakistan
by The Charter
1 year ago
A seven-hour drive from Karachi, in the Sindh province of Pakistan, there is a rural farming village called Khairo Dero. This village of 6,000 is special — it is on the way to being named the first official “compassionate village” in the world. .
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Naween Mangi is a financial journalist. She is also the driving force behind the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust’s efforts to help Khairo Dero turn itself into a model village, with schools, sanitation, health services and income-generating activities.
Mangi was raised in a cosmopolitan city and attended the London School of Economics and New York University. She also grew up with the wonderful example of her grandfather — Ali Hasan Mangi — whose life story has the makings of a feature film.
Orphaned at a young age and responsible for his younger siblings, Ali Hasan was brought to Khairo Dero by his grandmother. After a childhood of poverty and deprivation, he went on to become a teacher, government official, successful industrialist and businessman. For more than 40 years, he was a member of the Pakistani parliament. Most importantly, says Naween Mangi, he was always a model of compassion.
“Even when he was a member of the national parliament, no one was ever turned away from his door. His instructions were, ‘The poorer the person, the sooner they should have access to me.’”
Yet despite all his success and power, Ali Hasan ultimately gave everything away. “Although he built a huge empire out of nothing,” Naween Mangi says, “when he died, in 1994, he had nothing to his name.””
STUDYING THE RURAL ECONOMY
When Mangi came back to Pakistan to work as a journalist, she wrote a series of articles about the rural economy. It was the first time, she says, that she was really exposed to the vast divide between urban and rural Pakistan and the way the rural economy functioned — or didn’t function. She saw that “people have been beaten down so much by the feudal system that their capacity to self-motivate, self-plan has been hidden away by circumstances.”
One of the places she visited was Khairo Dero, where she found people who remembered her grandfather with great fondness. Mangi says she felt a sense of disquiet after those visits. “There was a real restlessness within that I needed to address.”
Armed with her background in economics and journalism, she was determined not to make the mistakes her grandfather did with his philanthropy. “I didn’t want to be unorganized or give handouts,” she says. “I wanted to become a facilitator to help people lead their own development.”
Since the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust began with a simple water project in 2008, the organization’s efforts have all been based on the model of the community setting its own priorities and taking ownership.
Mangi says that in the beginning, it was difficult for the villagers to feel that they could contribute anything to the projects, existing as they did on roughly 50 rupees (less than U.S. $1) a day in a village that had seen little, if any, government aid in years. But a change did happen. The families who got freshwater pumps installed in their homes gave the laborers free room and board. And while at first there were no takers when the trust offered materials for some 25 homeless families to build new homes, the women of the group soon banded together to provide the labor for each other.
The heart of the village is the new community center, says Mangi. “Everyone comes at some point during the day.” Indeed, early in the morning, old farmers with walking sticks arrive to read the newspaper — it’s the first place in Khairo Dero where a newspaper is being delivered. Children from the school visit in the afternoon to use the library. Teens come for a course in computer literacy and women come for vocational training.
The local kids also asked for a park — another wish now fulfilled. The new expanse next to the center features a full cricket pitch and a football field.
And on the wall of the community center is a translation of the Charter for Compassion. It’s been a guiding force in the trust’s work in Khairo Dero. A group of young women meets weekly to read and discuss Karen Armstrong’s Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life and her Letter to Pakistan.
There’s also a “compassion counter,” a running tally of compassionate acts chalked on the wall and recorded in a register. “I wanted an easy way to make the concept accessible to them,” Mangi says of the counter. “Initially ... it seemed very conceptual to them, and I wanted it to be more real and applicable to daily life.” There are now nearly 450 acts recorded by Khairo Dero’s adults and children. The goal is to reach 1,000 by the end of the year.
IT TAKES THE WHOLE VILLAGE
It’s clear to Mangi that community-directed development has changed Khairo Dero. “I just felt so much despair when I was first working there,” she recalls. “Now, the whole texture of the village has changed; there is so much energy and hope.”
The community sets the priorities and, with the help of the trust, has taken on an air of motivation and hope that is the marvel of other, bigger aid organizations. When the trust helped build a village primary school, 1,200 children showed up the first morning for 120 places. Now, the school runs two daily shifts and the trust and village are in negotiations with Pakistan’s government to revive two middle schools that have been closed for a number of years due to government neglect. Also on the agenda is medical help, more housing for the homeless, and combination vocational-and-literacy training for the community’s women.
And in a testament to the transformative power of compassion, on the wall of the community center hangs a picture of Mangi’s grandfather.
Photos courtesy of Naween Mangi.