Fellow Since 2006
This profile was prepared when Muhammad Sirajuddin was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
Muhammad Sirajuddin works primarily in poor neighborhoods teaching young community volunteers and has combined his program with educational outreach focused on the importance of sound construction practices.
The New Idea
Siraj formed the Technical Training and Resource Center (TTRC) to offer comprehensive training and support to a new generation of young para-professionals, who can then provide advising, surveying and planning services for construction projects in their local community. He has developed a workshop and short term course on surveying, planning and estimation that is offered through formal courses and research groups of 10 to 15 young people. The community organizations that lobby for services and facilities such as water and electric, sanitation, and road construction to schools and clinics find that training local youth is advantageous in negotiating with government officials and private contractors. Additionally, Siraj is educating the community about the importance of environmentally-sound construction practices. Siraj supports the Organization of Para-Professionals (OPP) with advisory services and monitors the construction of projects. For house construction Siraj will provide design services and for urban design projects will offer advice on effective planning. Siraj has systematized the advisory services with booklets, posters and videos. The advisory service has improved the quality of construction, and improved efficiency and reduced costs in neighborhoods lacking access to professional design and construction services. To create a consciousness of good environmental practices, Siraj’s focus is on young children, with awareness efforts at primary schools delivered as part of a school improvement program.
Public investment in higher education has created a cadre of professionals in medicine, engineering, law, business management and other fields but has resulted in insufficient attention to developing the support professionals such as nurses, supervisors, and technicians. Formal training of technical support staff is recent, and the majority of existing technical support acquired their skills through experience or apprenticeship. Many of these people have become contractors to fill the vacuum for such services in poor neighborhoods, especially in urban areas. In rural areas, both professional and para-professional skills remain absent. At the same time, many young people acquire degrees but remain unemployed due to a lack of demand in those fields.Insufficient surveying, planning, design, and estimation skills restrain the activists in poor neighborhoods from lobbying and negotiating with government for the development of municipal services and facilities. Government staff generally plan development work by standards not rooted in reality—leading to duplication of work, replacement of infrastructure and poor quality construction. Government designs are generally expensive and often development works are not carried out due to a shortage of funds or approved works are only partially improved due to a shortage of funding midway through the projects.In the construction field, especially relating to house construction, low-income households are not able to afford the services of qualified architects and engineers and rely on contractors and masons for construction advice. In many cases, relatives and friends who have already constructed houses advise on construction matters, but houses are often built incrementally and the growth takes on an organic form with the owner losing control. The contractors, masons, friends and relatives lack an understanding of the principles of construction and their advice does not take into account a changing environment. Some low-income communities lack awareness about environmental considerations and do not know how to operate and maintain development works. They may even contribute to the practices that increase pollution and harm local facilities. Community members may seek personal gain by investing in undesirable development works that tax the existing infrastructure and facilities. There is a definite need for public education—through media and in schools and colleges—to improve environmental consciousness. However, sensitivity to these issues is not enough; people need a sense of belonging to be invested in public spaces.
Siraj formed the TTRC in 2001 to teach technical training—surveying, planning and cost estimation to young people in groups of 10 to 15. The short term courses, spread over three to four months, are a combination of formal coursework and engaged research. The interns work full time and apply their learning to problem solving in the field. Siraj is increasing his outreach by making presentations at meetings and seminars attended by citizen organizations and community groups working in low-income neighborhoods. For training in the rural areas, the participants make arrangements and the beneficiary communities cover the cost. TTRC has successfully used the OPP and other networks to expand his work to more than 28 districts.To provide construction advice, Siraj has developed booklets, handouts and videos. He visits the site, assesses the situation and provides necessary advice to the owners, masons and builders and leaves with them necessary instructions in the form of handouts and manuals. He also runs the video on cable television to reach a large number of clients and trains stonemasons to improve the quality of construction. More recently he established a production unit to provide standard building materials, especially pre-fabricated beams and roofing tiles. He is creating and training teams of volunteers in low-income neighborhoods to monitor the quality of construction, distribute handouts and booklets, and advise the owners on improving the quality of construction. The volunteer teams promote good construction practices and increase awareness about environmentally responsive designs, cost efficient techniques and materials, and socially responsive architecture.Siraj’s school program began mobilizing school administration to save money by purchasing supplies in bulk and carrying out improvement works collectively. He is conducting a pilot program with 15 schools in Orangi. Having gained the confidence of the school administration, he is introducing the children to good practices to maintain their neighborhood and to ways to keep the neighborhood clean and green. Having created the network of schools in Orangi, he is expanding the concept to other urban localities and villages. To do this, Siraj prefers using the radio, because most of his clients are disadvantaged and the radio is an effective way to relay messages to people in communities where information travels by word of mouth.Siraj’s strategy is to perfect his ideas in Orangi and to introduce the program within greater Pakistan. Key to implementation of the program is the training of local youth. To promote the concept he has developed a presentation to describe the idea to activists.From a grant to set up the program, Siraj saved enough to create an endowment that now funds the core activities, and research and development. He expects the prefabricated production line to contribute towards expansion costs but relies on community contributions for training and surveying. Presently Siraj is developing a housing credit program to help disadvantaged homeowners complete their homes and build a solid roof over their heads. With population density increasing, many households are looking to build additional rooms and to go vertical. To do this, many of them may require technical help from TTRC.
Siraj comes from a poor household and lives in Orangi, a low-income neighborhood on outskirts of Karachi. His dream was to become a fighter pilot but lack of exposure and knowledge about planes failed him in the interview. He then joined Orangi Pilot Project, a community organization, and became interested in the field of construction. Since then OPP remains a staunch supporter of Siraj and his work. Later, on the advice of his friends, he attended the polytechnic and was formally trained in what he had already learned in the field with OPP. After completing his formal education, he started his own construction practice. While running the construction company, he saw the huge demand for technical advice and training and decided to open the institute that later became the TTRC.