The power of community participation in development was highlighted by Akhtar Hameed Khan through his famous Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi in the 1980s. Due to the fact that Orangi was a squatter settlement, it did not qualify for government aid. As a result, Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan organised and mobilised the local squatter community to identify their need, collect funds and through the technical expertise of Dr. Khan and his team, solve their own sanitation problems. Similarly, in the same period another social development project was being initiated on the lines of community participation in what is now Gilgit-Baltistan.
The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme was started by Shoaib Sultan Khan in the early 1980s and instead of making the choices for the villagers of these remote and harsh terrains, the programme focused on a “partnership with communities” and learning-by-doing. It was the villagers who were to decide what they need, how they will go about it, and how will they manage and utilise the funding provided by the Aga Khan Foundation. This participatory approach to development has since then led to countless achievements in Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan.
From the construction of countless bridges to significant increases in the income of the residents, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme spearheaded development in these remote regions of Pakistan. Over 90,000 hectares of land was reclaimed while more than 30 million trees have been planted. Irrigation channels have been made the programme has mobilised over 4000 community organisations on a small to medium scale, along with groups that manage over 8 million US dollars of savings.
While these are the tangible achievements of this initiative, the intangible change in lives and attitude that the people of these remote areas have gone through is perhaps worth much more. Micro projects of hydro-electricity now supply electricity to over 50 per cent of Chitral, and what makes these projects successful is that all are thought out, implemented, managed and maintained by the communities that benefit from them.
Aga Khan Rural Support Programme changed the lives of over 1.3 million villagers in the northern parts of Pakistan and it did not end there. The network spread its wings to villages all over the country; Shoaib Sultan Khan’s pioneering model was replicated in at least 11 countries and has over the course of time, changed the lives of millions of poor for the better. Although such heroes are content with just that single smile of a hardworking villager in the face of poverty, we must honour them.
There are countless such men in this country that are giving of themselves towards the betterment of the lives of people they do not know and perhaps will never see again. These are the real heroes of Pakistan, and if we must erect monuments of public figures, it should be of such stars of our country rather politicians buried in corruption.
It is said, and I quote “the true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit”. There may be very few men and women who come to the spotlight such as Akhtar Hameed Khan and Shoaib Sultan Khan, but we must not forget them, for they not only serve Pakistan, but also humanity. It is people like them that prove Pakistan has hope and that it takes courage to change lives. Not everything that happens in this country is wrong, even though it is difficult to sometimes acknowledge that glimmer of hope shining through all the chaos that surrounds us, but there has always been and there will always be… hope.
The author is a policy analyst and a social worker from Islamabad who believes that the glass is half full. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org