Qurat-Ul-Ain Bakhtiari

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Pakistan
Fellow since 1999
This description of Qurat-Ul-Ain Bakhtiari's work was prepared when Qurat-Ul-Ain Bakhtiari was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1999 .

Introduction

Quratul Ain wants to transform the approach to educating people whose job it is to articulate and act on the needs of local communities. She wants to move the field to more in-depth analysis of local community needs and away from the top-down, donor driven orientation that characterizes too much of the preparation for community work offered by Pakistan's schools.

The New Idea

Drawing on thirty years of experience as arguably one of the best community organizers in Pakistan, Quratul Ain proposes to move away from the current model for training development professionals to a wholly new approach that bypasses government and academia and ties communities and workers into a web of learning centers.
Quratul Ain's new approach attempts to organically ground community workers in the community where they work. Rather than bring students to universities for an extended period, Quratul Ain proposes to bring students into a shared environment for an initial period of three months where the staff and students live together, raise their own produce, and learn community development precepts by working together as well as through lectures and discussions. Each student then goes back to their community with a specific assignment/project to undertake for a period of three to six months. Each student's work is monitored by Quratul Ain's faculty members, who travel to the district where the student is working and interact with a local "panel" of people who review and comment upon each student's work. In the final stage of the program, the student returns to Quratul Ain's Center for a three month period of reflection in which the student presents the results of the work to a panel of faculty members at the Center and spends more time studying and discussing how to strengthen and broaden his/her work.
By focusing on select areas in Baluchistan and Punjab for her initial students, Quratul Ain proposes to make the faculty field review process economically feasible, while concentrating on a number of graduates who can, in turn, form their own community learning nodes, creating a center like hers and reaching out to train other community workers.

The Problem

The development process in Pakistan is heavily influenced by donor-designed projects executed by a cadre of local development technicians. Local activists and community workers find themselves sidelined in favor of people with theoretical training but little or no understanding of communities' real needs. As a result, much of what passes for development is misguided and unsustainable. Resources often flow into the trappings - air conditioning, offices, and cars, lush salaries by local standards, and bureaucracy rather than into communities. This breeds a pernicious mood of cynicism. Local NGOs dependent on donor and government money are commonly referred to as "NATO," which stands for "No Action, Talk Only."

The Strategy

Quratul Ain opened her first Center for Development Studies, comprised of a small group of dedicated activists/teachers and whose size, mode of operation and scale will be easily replicable. She has set up the Center in Queta, Baluchistan, an area removed from the well-traveled and more populous areas where academic institutions exist. The provincial government has given her a former school and surrounding land to use, on the basis of Quratul Ain's success in dramatically increasing female literacy in the province in the past.
Quratul Ain believes that, to be successful, the people she trains have to share common philosophical underpinnings and a willingness to dedicate their lives to the service of their communities. By living in relatively spartan conditions and by teaching students to understand the communities and not want for their physical and emotional needs while undertaking this important work, Quratul Ain believes that a new generation of community development professionals can be properly trained to be creative and courageous in articulating and fulfilling the needs of their communities.
Quratul Ain sees each graduate of her courses as a member of a broader fellowship of properly oriented community professionals. She expects that these people will act as educators; and, buoyed by a common view of their calling, work in concert and collaboration. This is one of the reasons that she is focusing her student recruitment on particular districts in particular provinces - so she can build a critical mass of graduates and work with them to figure out how best to organize this group as a potent social force.

The Person

Quratul Ain grew up in a refugee camp on the outskirts of Karachi. Despite limited financial resources, her parents insisted that all five children attend convent school. At the age of sixteen her parents arranged for her to be married to a dental surgeon twelve years her senior. Three children quickly followed.
Quratul Ain began working in refugee camps after the '71 war turned East Pakistan into independent Bangladesh. Her work escalated to a point where her husband told her to choose the work or her family. She chose the work, and moved out, leaving her husband and his family to raise the children.
In 1980 Quratul Ain began a lifelong collaboration with a mentor, Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan. Under his tutelage she led a project installing pit latrines in Orangi, a refugee camp housing three hundred thousand people. The pit latrines project led her to create a network of community schools in Orangi & Baldia Township that initially grew out of her attempts to provide camp residents with the basic literacy to maintain the latrines. Orangi is a widely cited example of the success of focused, persistent community organizing.
Quratul Ain reconciled with her family in 1990 but moved to Baluchistan to launch a home school movement. Her continuing experience with the negative influence of international organizations, both in Orangi as well as in Baluchistan, left her with nagging concerns about the corrupting influences spreading throughout Pakistan's NGO community. In 1995 she began to discuss her idea for a different approach to training community development professionals. After an attempt to share her ideas with a Karachi-based university ended in failure, Quratul Ain redoubled her efforts to build her own Center, convinced that existing institutions did not have the capacity or vision to take up the task.
Currently her Center is drawing community workers from Baluchistan and certain districts of Punjab. She has taken one group of students through a nine month course of study and is overwhelmed with applications for subsequent course offerings.