New Hope

March 05 2019 | by

IN JUNE 2017, on the occasion of the feast of our Saint, Fr. Giancarlo Zamengo, General Director of the Messenger of Saint Anthony, asked the readers of the Messenger to “mark the occasion with a special donation to a project that is very close to the hearts of Saint Anthony’s friars.” That project was to build a vocational training centre in Khushpur, Pakistan, a small village “where the love of Saint Anthony shines bright and clear. Women will learn real professions which will set them up for life,” he said, “taught by people from the village who know what a lifetime of struggle against poverty and justice is really like. This new Centre will quite literally be a new lease of life.” Following the inauguration ceremony in September 2018, the Centre opened its doors, offering hope to the poor and the promise of that new life.

Khushpur is a Christian village in an overwhelmingly Muslim country, where not only are the women desperately poor, but as Christians, they are marginalised and oppressed, have little hope of finding employment, and with it, a chance to escape poverty. The intention of the project was to support religious minorities in Pakistan and, in particular, those Christian women – the weakest and most persecuted. Concrete job opportunities would be created through the provision of skills training to meet the demands of the local market, as well as the skills necessary to produce footwear, sportswear, accessories and components for other garments. The construction of a vocational training centre was envisaged to meet those training needs. The staff of the Centre would be expert teachers with technical competence in the field of professional training, experts who can evaluate products made and the professionalism of the job, who would provide a training course of 3 to 6 months. At the same time, the launch and support of small autonomous activities would be encouraged together with access to micro-credit.


Shahbaz Bhatti


When Fr. Giancarlo visited Pakistan in 2016, he met Dr. Paul Bhatti, advisor to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on Minority affairs, and the chair of the trust set up in his brother’s name – the Shahbaz Bhatti Memorial Trust (SBMT). Shahbaz, a former Federal Minister for Minority Affairs, who dedicated his life to the “struggle for human equality, social justice, religious freedom, and to uplift and empower the religious minorities’ communities,” was assassinated in March 2011. The Trust’s mission is to continue the initiatives and projects established and funded by Shahbaz Bhatti in the fields of education, creating dignified work, social justice and advocacy for minorities. It is through SBMT that the project in Khushpur has been realised.

Construction work began on the Centre in October 2017 and progressed well, with completion expected in April 2018, however “unexpected heavy rainfall resulted in severe land flooding and it took significant time for the land to be drained and dried out,” says Dr. Lesley Anne Leighton from SBMT, “Then, in May and June it was Ramadan – a period of fasting and prayer for Muslims – and this period saw temperatures between 45 and 50°C which naturally affected the ability of the contract workers to work to their full capacity.” However, with some perseverance and patience the work was completed in September 2018.


Great hope


An inauguration ceremony was arranged for 5 September 2018. “People from different walks of life came to celebrate,” says Dr. Leighton. “They represented religious leaders, human activists, politicians and, of course, residents of the Khushpur community. During the ceremony great satisfaction with the project was expressed by both women and men from the community, who also stated their determination to run it zealously.”

In order for training to commence, a series of meetings were held with groups of 45 to 50 women from Khushpur to discuss what work skills training would be needed for future job opportunities. A shortlist for the first intake of women to receive training at the Centre was compiled.

“The poor people are very hopeful and excited for positive change,” Dr. Leighton continues. “There is no question the Centre is a tangible expression of God’s love for them expressed through the generosity of St Anthony’s Charities. We are confident that this opportunity will bring transformation to the entire community as they now have the assurance that they can make it with renewed hope for the future of their precious children.” There is little doubt that through learning new skills, the women will be more productive and economically secure. Having a clean working environment close to their homes gives both them and their families a sense of security. The men, too, are enthusiastic: “The men in the village have longed to see the women in dignified and reasonably paid work in the village,” explains Dr. Leighton. “Work which would enable them to also have time to continue to guide their children, and of course to know that they are safe.”


Deep gratitude


Following the establishment of the Centre, some women who were oppressed, treated as slaves and under paid have left their jobs. They no longer have to travel 45-60km daily to work in Faisalabad – a stressful journey in itself, requiring leaving home early and returning late at night. Huge difficulties were faced on many levels, and especially for those with young children in need of their mother’s care. Three of the women wrote to express their gratitude and thoughts regarding the new Centre:

“I think the vocational training Centre is a great gift to the people of Khushpur, especially for women” says one woman benefiting from the centre. “Khushpur faces many serious problems because of its poverty. Our women often had to go to Faisalabad – a city 45 kilometres away – to earn their living from very low pay. But now they do not need to go there: they will earn their living here and will earn more than before. We are really thankful.”

“Vocational training enables women to earn an income and build crucial life skills,” says another. “It can play a key role in helping women get a job. This training programme will help the women of Khushpur to build a wide set of soft skills such as team building and communication, which they can use in a variety of jobs. Thank you and God bless you.”


Blessings and love


“We are very thankful for the vocational training Centre,” adds the third. “It will be very fruitful for the people of Khushpur, especially for women. They used to leave the city to earn money for their children, and it was very difficult. Sometimes they would get insulted and were not paid correctly for their hard work. We are very thankful to St Anthony’s Charities and the readers of the Messenger of Saint Anthony. Thank you very much for your love, support and concern. May God bless you and keep you in His lovely hands.”

“On behalf of the people of Khushpur I would like to express my heartfelt thanks and deep gratitude to St Anthony’s Charities and for the precious donations given so freely in support of our marginalised women in the now joyful village of Khushpur,” concludes Dr. Leighton, adding, “Blessings and love in Christ.”

Updated on March 05 2019