It is the World Environment Day, the year is 2008 and WWF-Pakistan, a nature conservation organization is celebrating the day with different schools and Hong Kong Shanghai Bank (HSBC) at the Wetland Centre. The participants wait eagerly in the conference room for the presentation to commence; the spirits are elated ideally with an appetite for the plantation of mangroves, a plant commonly found in the coastal region of the Indus delta. HSBC has been a dedicated promoter of the environmental day, showing their commitments in the previous years as well. So, at the very time the participants from the corporate sector get settled in, the author, Conservation Officer at that time steps in the podium and searches for something in his back pocket getting the attention of the audience. He holds out a five hundred rupee note and questions the audience if they would be interested in having it. The participants reply in unison with a cheeky smile on their face. The resource person inquires again, only after folding the five hundred rupee note a couple of times, twisting it and curling it. In response, few hands rose for acquiring the bad quality PKR 500 note. The officer, tested the patience again by throwing the 500 rupee note on the ground and stepping on it, asking again if anyone would want it? This time only a couple of hands rose up, so he concluded, the five hundred rupee note has not lost its value, since every time I came up someone wanted it, the same way the corporate group had not lost its value as they had come up for the cause of conservation. At that point the CEO applauded warmly for making a point, for marking an approach.
A year later, WWF-Pakistan’s site office of Indus for All Programme is facing some problems regarding community based work in a small coastal town of Thatta, Keti Bunder. A new team has been formed who are trying to introduce innovative ideas and to get up close with the community in solving their problems. However, certain groups continue to influence, creating work problems. Moreover, the team leader, Hafeezullah played a pivotal role in the management of the issues working closely with the influential persons and building on their capacity and working out their relations and ties with relevant community members whom they had a conflict with. On the other hand, the visibility of the organization was limited to their work area, which drastically changed with the community work by the Natural Resource Management Officer and co-operation efforts by Community Mobilizer, Environment Education Officer and Finance and Admin Officer. The approach was simple, the team work led, based on cricket, a game loved all over Pakistan. At first, the employees of the organization started playing cricket with a thought to pass their time in the evening with a notion to fulfill their physical exercise quota. However, it soon changed as the community was called on from adjacent villages and they started to show interest, soon after which a proper team was formed. It wasn’t until later that the combined team of community and the organization started inviting teams from other villages. In this manner, during the matches crowd began to appear in large numbers. Those large numbers were the laymen who were always engaged in their daily routine of attending their work in the agricultural fields who had not been able to outreach, sensitize or made aware of even about the organization, its role or its existence. When the community from different villages came to spectate they asked question regarding the players from the organization, it was then when they came to know about the presence of an NGO working in their area for the betterment of their livelihoods. This encouraged the working staff of the organization to outreach those who could not have been done in the previous years.
Another example such as this was of the time when the team went for a community meeting in an inland village of Keti Bunder of Haji Moosa Jatt. There the community raised some of their concerns in which they highlighted that an embankment is needed around their villages to protect them from floods during the summer season when the tides are high. The visiting team expressed that it is beyond their scope however, with a suggestion more importantly an approach applied by the NRM officer it was told that we could write a petition to the District Coordinating Officer with signatures from the adjoining villages who face the danger of being flooded. In about a week’s time, the petition was submitted to the District Commissioner Officer with officials from the organization and representatives of the community with around 300 signatures. In the following week the work was initiated and the embankment was being constructed.
Today, the WWF-Pakistan’s staff is friends with the community and working effectively for the better management of the livelihoods. The success does not lay in the type of work they are doing but the approach that they have taken while working with the community. This attitude has paved a way for them to make the community understand that the mere purpose of the organization is to support them in their ways of earnings, empowering them slowly and gradually. Same as should be the case with any governing body, rather then becoming an alien invasive species they must organize their practices in a way that should enhance the communities to build on their resources by ensuring them that they are the real owners. No region, country, community or village could be run on an ad hoc basis, rather an approach which marginalizes the concerns, while building a relationship of trust can only help make a better and prospering Pakistan.
The author is Umair Shahid, Tuna Fisheries Officer/North Indian Ocean Coordinator, WWF-Pakistan