Allah Jawaya Dahar and Haneefan Mai are happy they made a good decision seven years ago when they admitted their only daughter Musarrat Mai to Madrasa Fatima-tuz-Zahra in Multan to get religious education. Being a vegetable vendor, Jawaya found it hard to financially afford his daughter’s education in some private college when she failed to get good marks in her matriculation examination and hence admission to a government college. A family acquaintance suggested Jawaya admit his daughter to the madrasa where she will not only learn the Quran but also skills, being imparted there with the help of a non-governmental organisation.
Though himself totally illiterate, yet Allah Jawaya believed his all children – a daughter and three sons – should get an education. Finding no way out to let her continue education in some private college, he decided to admit 17-year-old Musarrat Mai to the madrasa. During her first year at the madrasa, the girl was asked by her teacher if she would like to join some skill development courses – including garment stitching and candle-making. She happily accepted it. In eight-month duration courses each, she learnt both skills in one-and-a-half years. On the completion of the courses, she could make candles with the material provided as well as stitch clothes with a sewing machine, donated by the organisation, without any supervision.
She was not only completing her four-year madrasa education, but also earning four to five thousand rupees a month, and supplementing her father’s meagre incomes. Three years back, Musarrat completed her religious education and was offered not only a teaching job at the madrasa but also a supervisory role in imparting the skills to more students. Last year, she was married off by her parents, with a big dowry she had herself purchased with her income.
The madrasa management has set up candle-making and stitching units on its premises, with the help of an interest-free microfinance organisation. Dozens of female students like Musarrat have been earning money after their study hours. The money earned through the activity is distributed among working madrasa teachers and students at the end of the month.
Twenty-three-year old Sabeen Zahra also has a story to relate. She is also a madrasa student, though in Bahawalpur. She goes to her madrasa in the morning, and returns home after 3pm. Last year, she attended a ‘Computer Literacy & Typing Course’, which was organised by an organisation in her madrasa, Jamia Manzoorul Mashaikh. It brought about a great employment opportunity for her. She was lucky to be hired by a tuition centre for girls, situated at the University Chowk, Bahawalpur, soon after completing the course. From 4pm to 8pm, she not only works as ‘Admin In-charge’ at the academy but also gives computer lessons to beginners. Her younger brother drops her off at the madrasa in the morning and picks her up in the evening from the academy on a motorbike. She says she is getting religious education for the world hereafter, but she always wanted to get some job beyond the madrasa system, to supplement the income of her father, who runs a small grocery shop. And the computer course has helped her get the academy job.
There are dozens of similar stories one comes across at the madrasas, selected by The Media Foundation (TMF), a non-profit organisation, for skill development among women in southern Punjab districts almost eight years ago. Imtiaz-ur-Rehman, director programmes at TMF, said that the project was launched in 2015 for women empowerment through skill development among teachers and students of madrasas in three districts of southern Punjab including Multan, Muzaffargarh and Bahawalpur.
Imtiaz-ur-Rehman said that southern Punjab is one of the most underdeveloped regions in the country. Such interventions, he said, contribute towards reducing poverty among the local population. To ascertain the level of interest among madrasa teachers and students for learning some employment skills, and the job market needs, a survey-based research study was conducted in selected madrasas in three south Punjab districts. It was encouraging that, in response to a question, 100 per cent respondents said they wanted to learn employment skills in their madrasas.
The director said that a multidimensional approach was proposed to address the issue of poverty by imparting skills to madrasa teachers and students to increase their employability and engage them in community work beyond religious services. Memorandums of understanding were signed with madrasa managements, and established training centres/institutions in these districts were engaged for successful execution of the project.
In the first phase of the project, skills such as computer literacy, garment stitching, candle-making, health and hygiene, and beautician courses were offered to female students. More than 500 girls and 1,000 boys enrolled at various madrasas benefited from the courses.
Ayesha Anwar, a teacher at Jamia Jamal-ul Madaris in Multan, termed the intervention beneficial both for teachers and students. The 26-year-old herself actively participated in all skill development activities in her madrasa. She believed the skill development projects would not only benefit students but also their families at large. The madrasa teacher said that skill development should be made a part of the syllabus, so that students would have more options to make their living after graduating from madrasas. She says that English language courses should also be conducted in madrasas to enhance the chances of their interaction with the outside world.