ANTIGONISH, N.S. - When you consider the region Pakistan’s Naghma Qazi works in, you understand well the appropriateness of the name of her organization, which is commonly known by its acronym – PREPARED.
PREPARED stands for Pakistan Rural Initiative for Emergency Preparedness, Response and Development. Qazi, a director of operations with the organization, is currently attending the Coady International Institute and taking its Diploma in Development Leadership program.
“At the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan; that’s the area we have agencies,” she said, talking to the Casket Sept. 7.
Qazi, who has 17 years’ experience in the development and humanitarian work sector, noted she has been with PREPARED for less than a year and most of that time has been working with folks in the aforementioned area who were displaced as the government and military conducted security operations.
“Army, military operations work going on; it was a very severe operation which took place there … an aggressive operation,” she said.
“The government decided they would go and do this operation. The civilians who worked there were moved out; [forced to] leave their homes and everything … [moved] to camps in the urban areas.
“It was an interesting experience working with them; especially in the camps because the people who leave behind their valuables, customs, they just come to an area where they don’t know how to exist. That was very interesting.”
Qazi said she was particularly interested in being able to help the women who were put into the difficult situation.
“It’s a very conservative area; the women who were there, they would not really come out and do things, openly,” she said.
“I come from a very conservative part of Pakistan; I could understand, relate to those women. I could sit with them and talk about problems.”
A big problem arose as aid was distributed amongst the IDPs (internally displaced persons), as they’re commonly referred to.
“Men would not allow those women to participate in distribution, when we were distributing food items and things like that,” she said. “Those women, some of whom had already lost children or husbands, who would go and get their food … that was very challenging.”
She noted playing a role in creating a registration for the women in that situation and a separate distribution time and place where they could go and get the necessary items for their families.
Staying with her recent work, Qazi said it has changed, for the most part, with government allowing people to return to their home areas, but security remains very strict.
“Army has taken control of the area; even now you can’t get in without a non-objection certificate,” she said. “You have to get that for your projects because it demonstrates what areas you’re working in. They wanted to be more satisfied,” she said, referring to the rigid government and military rules.
She talked about mistrust for NGOs (non-government organizations) and her organization having an advantage because they’re considered local.
“Somehow there is a perception that NGOs come with a foreign agenda,” she said. “As a local organization, we had more opportunity to negotiate on these terms.
“And as a female, it’s a little difficult to go start in the community myself. I have to have those programs in place where I can go and visit the homes to see how they’re doing.”
Qazi, once again recalling the conservative area where she grew up, hopes the women and girls she works with can see her as a role model; someone who broke free of the restrictions and expectations in a male-dominated environment.
“Very religious … not only tribal, but very conservative,” she said of her community.
“It took me a long time to build up the confidence; I’ve fought a lot, all those battles there.
“It came a little easier for me because I come from a political background; my father was a political leader in the [Pakistan] Peoples Party and also an educated person who gave us a very good schooling.
“We had our own lines there; you can’t cross this line, that line, you have to cover yourself, you have to do this, not that … all of those things are there. I really fought my battles and there came a time, when my father passed away, and I moved out.”
Against some of her family’s opinions but with the support of her mother, Qazi moved to the capital city of Islamabad where she found more opportunities for “development and growth.”
“I’m in a position where I can help all of these women to come and do something,” she said. “It’s very important; they just need direction, a light, somebody needs to show it to them.”
And being at the Coady will add to her skills and abilities to become an even better role model.
“Coady has given me an opportunity where I can learn from colleagues and the facilitators who work here,” she said. “They bring a lot of knowledge and experience and they share it with us.
“It is really good to be here.”