Aga Khan Rural Support Program, Pakistan. (AKRSP) The Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP) is a non-profit, private organization established by Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) in 1982 to assist in the enhancement of the quality of life of the villagers of Gilgit Baltistan and Chitral (GBC). [cite] AKRSP gives importance to people and focuses on the development of their abilities and skills and making them independent. Their core principle is based on that local communities have incredible potential and are capable enough to plan and control their standard of living, once they are established and offered access to vital skills and capital. AKRSP mainly focuses on the development of economic and social development of GBC. Their major accomplishment includes the empowerment of woman in society, construction of more than 4000 infrastructure developments, plantation, modern and efficient methods of farming and irrigation and with the help of local governance established Local Support Organization (LSOs). Currently, 67 LSOs in GBC region are establishing direct collaborations with government, local and foreign donors to strengthen the opportunity and outreach of essential services for their representative communities. [cite] This paper argues the importance of establishing AKRSP in GBC region, the tensions and the impact of their presence in this region. Gilgit Baltistan Chitral (GBC) region is situated in northwest and north of Pakistan, where 3 mountainous ranges intersect: the Hindu Kush, Himalayas and Karakorum. Approximately 1.3 million people live in extreme poverty with little to no resources and poor infrastructure. Generally, many government projects for these rural areas have been failed due to inconsistency, no appropriate feedback and no political rationale. The planning and execution of the projects are inadequate with vague research, no appropriate financing, mediocre supervising and most projects are devised keeping plain areas of Pakistan in mind, rather than modifying them according to the mountainous region. Most of the rural areas of Pakistan have a dictator approach in their villages, so the leader of these villages and his family often gain the maximum advantages through their socio-political power in the area. Which always leaves poor villagers and tenants with limited privileges and benefits. Majority of the people in the GBC region are depended on farming and animal grazing, living their lives in poverty with limited access to necessities. With no electricity in the area as the government have no proper plan to expand the grid to these areas because of the topography, the majority of people uses firewood and kerosene for heating and cooking purposes. Which have serious health and environment concerns plus, these firewood and kerosene are expensive, and often these villagers end up spending 1/3rd of their income. AKRSP is the pioneer in the upliftment of rural communities in Pakistan. The development of the economic sector reflects on the quality of life in society. AKRSP to strengthen the economic pillar developed some economic infrastructure such as agriculture and livestock development, market development, capability development, resource and civic infrastructure development. In GBC the improvement of physical infrastructure was one of the fundamentals factors in economic approach by AKRSP. Physical infrastructures include proper bridges and road to link villages to main town and markets, better and efficient irrigation methods, clean and regular supply of water and small electricity regeneration schemes. To avoid the usage of firewood and kerosene, AKRSP constructed mini-hydro plants all over GBC which are managed by local villagers. This green efficient and community-owned plants provide clean, consistent and affordable electricity and job opportunities. Moreover, AKRSP has done major work in the improvement of agriculture and livestock development. With modern and new methods, making agriculture more sustainable and efficient results in farmer buying new lands, having surplus sales, there is also an increase in productivity and supply. To make these marginalized people independent and capable, AKRSP started training sessions, improving their skills by different workshops and making them aware of new methods through seminars and conferences. Both men and women are trained under the umbrella of this program improving their expertise in agriculture, environment, craftsmanship and livestock management. Time to time they are trained to have a grasp on new equipment and technology. Moreover, they have educated especially youth on the market-related issues and hardness. AKRSP with their extensive research on factors of the market and economy-related hurdles developed a program called Labour Market Assessment (LMA). This program not only helps in the primary or secondary sector but also in the tertiary sector as well, developing marketing skills and how businesses are done in urban areas, making them aware of government policies regarding markets and alert them from any fraud. AKRSP is also providing them with a platform that links them to market powers and policymakers so that they can bargain their points and policy and can no longer be harassed by market policies. This market program helps them to manage their business, expenses, enterprises, their process of production and to gain surpluses by performing collective farming. Another, main and noticeable work of AKRSP was the empowerment of women and youth in Gilgit Baltistan Chitral (GBC) region. As in most rural areas of Pakistan and especially the GBC region contribution of women towards society and economic growth is almost zero. The contribution of women toward society is very essential as 40 to 45% of the population of any nation are women and we are not using these percentages for economic welfare. In 3rd world countries men are seemed superior to women, so women empowerment was the first important step towards declaring gender equality in these regions. Consequently, to elevate the status of women in these rural areas within the boundaries of their religious belief, their traditional, cultural and societal values was a big challenge for AKRSP. [cite] Just like in developed countries where women are independent, are aware of their rights, are educated and considered equal in society with laws to protect them. On the other hand, the situation is 180o inverted in developing countries. Here men are the only source of income in the house, the sole role of women is to raise kids and stay at home, with no proper education, economically depended and less to no laws to protect women are some of the main reason for gender inequality. To break these social stigmas, AKRSP introduces Women Organization (WO) and Village Organization (VO). The VO is the local villagers club for the development of the village in social and economic sectors. VO is used as a bridge that connects national and international agencies with villagers. Weekly meetings are held, and the presence of every villager is compulsory. On a weekly bases, members of VO must make some deposits so later can be used for the improvement of physical infrastructures. In these meeting villagers are told about new programs and training, the personal reflection and transparent information about infrastructure plus, meeting minutes are also recorded. AKRSP in GBC region was able to establish more than 2,371 VOs with approx. 94,000 people as a member of these organization. VOs encouraged the villagers to seek the solution of any problem in unity, harmony and cooperation. Women Organizations (WO) were quite a challenge to set up in these areas, as mostly because of the conservative approach of villagers and their traditional and cultural values. But it was important to set these up so that the female population of the area can get access to resources and become capable and economically independent. WOs were established to provide services and to up uplift women in these rural areas. WOs trained and educated these women on various subjects to make them capable in the society, these include mastering in computer and IT, becoming experts in fishes and nurseries, food and vegetable processing, in livestock and having hives of honeybees. This program helps these women to have jobs and employment right next to men and support them in every possible way. To develop the potential of women, more workshops were being held to teach them skills of craftsmanship, embroidery, woodwork, cooking, designer. AKRSP collaborated with other local and international organization to increase the partnership of WOs, to generate more funds and jobs for women and youth of the areas. To have more than 1,367 WOs in the region with over 47,000 women was an enormous achievement giving the circumstances. AKRSP as a non-profit organization close the open patches left by the government and public services agencies and make the GBC region economy stable not only that it also raised the literacy rate above 90% in the area. By establishing economic and social pillars with their great research and policies in these regions was a step toward the betterment of the standard of living and to help these marginalised people in society.
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