An island of hope

By Lubna Jerar Naqvi
Tue, 12, 22

This week You! takes a look at an initiative by Heritage Foundation in Pono Colony, Mirpur Khas, Sindh and Rojhan, in district Rajanpur, Punjab, where women have been trained to build flood-resistant low-cost structures like bamboo homes and clay and lime stoves...

An island of hope

At the end of July 2022, Sita was living in a makeshift tent with her large family just outside Tharparkar. The flood was in full force and people were scurrying to safety. She had set up a makeshift tent for her large family waiting for help. However, even after a lapse of so many months, she is still living there. With the cold setting in, her family of ten barely squeezes into two makeshift tents of sheets and plastic bags.

Sita is one of the hundreds of thousands who are affected by unprecedented floods washed across Pakistan, submerging one-third of the country. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed and displaced, as their homes and livestock were swept away. Months later, thousands are still waiting for help. As severe winter sets in, it may prove fatal to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people, especially children and the elderly. The authorities are struggling with the situation and are unable to provide the basics. Meanwhile, NGOs are trying to fill in the gap which is still not enough.

Amidst all this chaos, there is a story of hope for flood survivors and this is the story of Pono Colony. Pono Colony is tucked away at a 20-minutes’ drive from Mirpur Khas, District Sindh. The flood did come to Pono Colony, but its hundred families didn’t have to leave their homes and lands, and continued their lives as usual. It was made possible due to the smart planning and a joint venture, initiated by Heritage Foundation and Bank of Punjab.

An island of hope

“After the last floods, homes were damaged, and people had to relocate. One important point was noted that people had raw food material but were unable to cook as their homes were flooded including the stoves and fuel – wood and manure. We studied this situation and planned to construct low-cost homes to help sustain the population in such difficult times,” tells Naheem Hussain Shah, project manager, Heritage Foundation.

The Foundation began by training women to build structures like bamboo homes and clay and lime stoves. Yasmeen Lari, founder of Heritage Foundation and a renowned architect and heritage conservationist, ensured that the skills these women learned also helped them earn a living by selling these structures to other villages.

Lari’s vision of ‘The Heritage Foundation of Pakistan Initiative for Flood-Affected Communities’ was to not only provide shelter to the population but also to empower women of the community. The women construct dome-shaped homes or Emergency Lari Octagreen (Log) Shelters - the prefabricated bamboo shelters are constructed within a day by women.

Here the role of Bank of Punjab (BOP) comes in, which is working on various women-oriented projects like ‘Women’s Entrepreneur Finance Scheme (WEFS)’ to help empower women. And it was logical for the Bank to help in bringing Heritage Foundation’s vision into reality in Pono Colony.

An island of hope

“This project is part of the Bank of Punjab’s most recent foray in the domain of CSR, in collaboration with Heritage Foundation Pakistan (HFP). We are working to sustainably rehabilitate the flood-affected regions across Pakistan with the initial undertaking to the inhabitants of Pono Village, in Mirpurkhas, Sindh, and Rujhan, in district Rajanpur. BOP and HFP have committed to facilitate the provision of safe rooms (with flood and earthquake resilient properties), simple toilet facilities, clean drinking water, and earthen stoves,” shares Nofel Daud, BOP’s Chief of Staff and Strategy.

“BOP has enabled the financing of climate-resilient, low carbon, low-cost shelters/huts designed by HFP under the leadership of renowned social infrastructure architect Yasmeen Lari. In the first stage of the initiative, we have not only helped finance 100 of these shelters in Pono and 25 in Rojhan, but we have also provided in-person assistance to construct these shelters via our volunteers. These two areas - Pono and Rojhan - represent the starting point of BOP’s broader ambition, to expand the reach of this initiative across Pakistan, to all areas that require sustainable, affordable, post-disaster reconstruction,” elaborates Daud.

An island of hope

“This initiative is a representation not only of the Bank’s strong culture of CSR but is also relevant to our area of expertise (as BOP is a market leader in low-cost housing) and is in line with our long-term objectives of near-universal financial inclusion, financial literacy, and the financial empowerment of women. In addition, our collaboration with HFP in Pono and Rojhan is a manifestation of the Bank’s commitment to advancing the Green Banking agenda - incentivising projects that are environmentally friendly and sustainable,” he explains.

“Heritage Foundation trained women of Pono Colony to make these structures. The homes, which are made by women, are completed within a day and men help lay the roof. The cost of construction is quite low as the materials include bamboo, clay, lime, and mud. There is zero carbon and waste, and no steel and cement used,” elucidates Shah.

An island of hope

“While floods wreaked havoc in its path, destroying homes and lives, the residents of Pono Colony were busy decorating their homes. Their homes were completely unaffected by the flood water that came here. It was about a foot high, but it just flowed out without causing structural damage to the homes. Since these structures are constructed out of bamboo, clay, lime, and mud, they are not easily perishable by water,” adds Shah.

Dhani, a soft-spoken woman, wears a beautiful red local outfit, with her dupatta draped over her head and white bangles to her elbows. She, like the other women, adds colour to this region. “It takes us more than five hours to build one structure. We construct the whole structure ourselves and then the men help us to build the roof on top. And then we decorate the walls,” utters Dhani, one of the artisans who were trained by Heritage Foundation to construct these structures.

An island of hope

“Our new homes are better and safer, and the new stoves, that we were taught to make, are much stronger and have two burners and a chimney. We make them according to our needs,” states Dhani. While showing old structures, to this scribe, that have been damaged by the rains and floods, she says, “We are not repairing these as we have made new structures. These were damaged after the floods; you can see they have visible cracks in them. On the other hand, the bamboo structure remained unharmed.”

“The huts have been designed on the BASA (Barefoot Social Architecture) Framework, devised by Yasmin Lari, which promotes self-built, zero carbon, and affordable structures. This methodology, due to its emphasis on self-reliance, has enabled hundreds of households to attain their basic needs, with little to no environmental damage. The low-cost, low impact and extremely low-cost methodologies are imparted through in-person training and video tutorials (available on Yasmin Lari’s Zero Carbon YouTube channel),” explains Daud.

“Numerous NGOs and underprivileged households in Pakistan, as well as some in Bangladesh and Malawi, are employing these techniques to build earth and bamboo housing. Associated costs are reduced further by removing any intermediaries (developers, etc.) and by treating members of the local communities as partners in the construction process.

An island of hope

Each hut costs PKR 50,000/- to construct. It has been agreed that the finances extended by the BOP for the construction of 100 shelters (plus 50 shared Eco-Toilets) in Pono will be managed by the ‘Maa Madad Savings Committees’ of 25 local housewives. Each will be responsible for securing the repayment installments, as well as ensuring proper disbursement. A similar arrangement has been devised in Rojhan for the financing and construction of shelters for 25 families, initially. HFP will provide monitoring and guidance to ensure smooth implementation,” informs Daud.

Yasmeen Lari and her team also conducted training workshops to teach women of Pono Colony to construct elevated stoves made out of clay, mud and limestone. This was to enable them not only to have a roof over their heads but also to earn a living.

“In the last floods we saw it was quite difficult for people to find shelter, so our priority was to provide them with a roof and a place to cook even in flood. Many people had food items but nowhere to cook them; also, the wood and other fuel were wet and unusable. That is why we taught the people of this village how to construct these elevated and portable stoves to help them cook despite the floods,” comments Shah.

Last year, Heritage Foundation took a group of artisans from these villages to a training workshop in London. Dhani was one of the artisans who had gone to London with the Heritage Foundation where she interacted with artisans from other countries. She taught them how to make the stoves using basic materials like clay, lime, and mud. Champa is another brilliant entrepreneur and artisan trained by Lari’s team. However, she was away on a trip to conduct a workshop, but her husband spoke very proudly of her and said he was happy that his wife supported him to help take the family forward.

“I taught the other women how to make the stoves. And it helps to be a part of the process of constructing things we have to use in our daily lives,” shares Dhani.

The government should study BOP’s collaboration with HFP and support this initiative to finance and construct low-cost, sustainable, climate resilient housing serves to fulfil multiple strategic areas of focus and to to extend a helping hand to communities in need.

The government can also explore the services of ‘Maa Madad Savings Committee’ in Pono to manage loan disbursement and repayment. It would be a good idea if the authorities also think out of the box and team up with visionaries who are already working on the betterment of the communities by not only providing them the basics but also empowering them to lead a better life.