Strengthening Participatory Organization (SPO) held a conference on ‘Local Initiatives in Development’ on March 17, 2011. Speakers of the conference emphasized capacity building of local communities to enable them to build a democratic, just and peaceful society in Pakistan. Introducing the objectives of the conference Naseer Memon, Chief Executive SPO, said that the struggles of marginalized and local communities tends to be ignored in the mainstream media and discourse of development. ‘This conference brings together people from different regions of Pakistan to share inspiring stories of local community who are contributing to create critical mass’ he said.
Dr. Tufail Mohammed, Chairperson SPO, welcomed the participants and briefed about SPO’s programme that strives to address the needs of marginalized communities and tackles challenges of development. Dr. Tufail’s briefing shed light on SPO’s programme areas and its response to emergencies, like earthquake in 2005 and flood in 2010.
Sharing the work of SPO and its role in the development sector, Sadiqa Salahuddin stressed the need of changing the current paradigm of development because the affectees of anachronistic paradigm are people. ‘There is a dire need to encourage local initiatives because they are cost effective and sustainable’ she asserted. She highlighted the importance of continual review and renewal of strategy to meet emerging needs and demands of people. Sadiqa termed development as political, therefore there has to be political education of people. She lauded the endeavors of SPO in building capacities of local communities and organizations. ‘The reason behind capacitating local communities is that they are in a better position to articulate their needs and negotiate with power structures’ Sadiqa said.
Renowned intellectual Harris Khalique termed the work of SPO especially its component of political education as heraldry. ‘SPO works as a catalyst in bringing potentialities into reality’ Harris said. Harris laid great emphasis on understanding the role of political workers because political education enables them to enact their role with a clear vision. Explicating the idea behind the endeavors of empowering the marginalized sections of society, Harris stated that SPO follows Gramcian model through which it strives to empower human agency, which can change the power system. ‘Our support to civil society in Pakistan is basically connecting community with the state. Incessant control of undemocratic forces over the country, a disconnect has been created between the state and society. SPO’s support to civil society organization aims to establish the connection’ Harris Khalique observed. He urged to make professionalism subservient to community.
Elaborating the dialectics of social justice in Pakistan, Development practitioner Arifa Mazhar stressed the need of creating awareness in society. ‘Only by changing the minds we can be able to empower the marginalized communities in Pakistan’ Arifa stated. She further said that empowerment enables people to change policy in their favor and paves the way for democratic, just and tolerant society.
To introduce the unsung stories of interfaith harmony and peace Allama Ramzan Tauqeer and Hamad Ullah Farouqi shared their experience and trial and tribulations in their struggle in restoring peace and harmony in the sectarian torn Dera Ismail Khan. Allama Ramzan reminisced about once peaceful D.I.Khan. He regretted the fact that peace in D.I.Khan was shattered by the forces who are bereft of reason and resort to violence instead of logic. He lauded the efforts of Sunni scholar Hamad Ullah Farouqi in bridging the divide between Sunni and Shia communities. Providing perspective from Sunni community Hamad Ullah Farouqi stated that he himself was attacked twice in which he was severely injured and lost two colleagues. Despite the threats from militants he continued his struggle for peace with the help of Shia scholar Allama Ramzan. Ultimately, their effort bore fruit. However, he was the opinion that peace is a long haul. In order to ensure sustainable peace it is imperative to resolve to continue struggle and never succumb to militants who are hell bent upon killing innocent lives.
SPO partners, political party steering committees, local community members, civil society networks and elected representatives shared the experiences of local initiatives in development in different regions of Pakistan. They presented inspiring stories of struggle by the marginalized communities who have succeeded to reopen schools, securing National Identity Cards for women, resisting force marriages, securing fisherman rights, burial of Hindu girl in Muslim cemetery, restoring land donated to welfare and interfaith harmony. The participants especially appreciated stories of the struggle of Sindh and efforts for the restoration of peace narrated by religious scholars Allama Ramzan Tauqeer and Hamad Ullah Farouqi in Dera Ismail Khan. The conference was attended by a large number of people from, Funding partners, civil society organizations, academicians and government officials.