Nazo Pirzada and Shehneel Gill are Senior SRHR Trainers at Aahung who are LSBE experts. Having been with the organization since 1997, they have weathered all the storms, experienced all the challenges, and tasted sweet success. More than 20 years ago, when Aahung set its long-term strategic vision, these two owned it. They worked at the grass-roots level for 23 years, making inroads into communities, carrying out research to assess needs, often bearing the brunt of community back-lash. But they persisted. In 2018 the vision to go mainstream saw fruition. It has been a wonderfully exciting journey. Let’s learn a bit more about it:
Tell us a bit about the initial challenges you faced
S: When we started working, we were the first organization in Pakistan to venture into this field. It was a great opportunity, but also a great challenge to make inroads into the community. But even at the very beginning we believed we could make it work, because we believed in the organization’s capability and the importance of the program itself. At that time when we tried to tap government schools, it was quite depressing- there was no respect for time, too much bureaucracy, and very little professionalism. When we set the strategy to make the LSBE curriculum mainstream, it didn’t seem realistic. There were people who asked for kick-backs upfront and were very brash about it. We were shown the door many a times. Though there were these challenges, we still believed we would make it. Where there were many who behaved this way, there were also a handful of individuals who were very encouraging and welcomed our interventions.
Also, at the time, there was nothing we could present. When we go into a new school administration now, we not only have excellent material to present, we also have a lot of fresh research being carried out each day. After we developed this material, we gained a lot of confidence and could speak with more authority about SRHR and LSBE in particular.
N: It is easy to work in communities but very difficult to work with the government. I never doubted that Aahung could do it. But I knew it would not be easy. It was quite discouraging at times. There was an instance when after having carried out a series of meetings with a government school administration, when it was time to roll out the training, we discovered that the main point of contact, who we had spent so much time and energy sensitizing, has been transferred. We had to start afresh so many times. There were times we would lose hope. Because there were times that we had had to wait for six months to get a simple permission letter from a single school. If someone at that point were to tell me that one day we would be able to go mainstream, I would perhaps not have believed it.
Besides that, we didn’t have any culturally appropriate material in a consolidated form in the early days. The current LSBE curriculum has evolved over many years. At the onset there were no clearly laid out strategies either. In 1996, there were many NGOs talking about maternal and child health, but no one had ventured into SRHR. So it was a very new field as well.
What encouraged you to keep going at it?
S: Where there were the naysayers, there were also those who were instantly impressed by Aahung’s work. They recognized the worth of what I was doing and considered this training as crucial and immediately made arrangements to carry out pilot trainings. They owned the program and were even ready to face backlash from the community themselves. Then we carried out our testing and gained hope that yes, this was truly possible.
N: And through this initial testing, our program evolved and developed further. When we were welcomed in these few initial schools and were successful in our programs, we gained hope. Even in the face of bureaucracy if the community itself is open and receptive, we do have hope.
What is the one factor that has contributed to Aahung’s success?
S: Persistence. Being positive and hopeful in the face of resistance. That is the reason for its steady growth over the years. We ignored everyone who said we couldn’t do it, and just put our head down and carried on with our work. N: Establishing a relationship of trust. When we approach an institution, we are very straightforward in our communication, we don’t make tall promises, and work in a very transparent manner. I think that is the reason why we have so many long standing relationships.