Monday, 13 March 2017

Pakistan blog series | Day 1 - Visit to Akhuwat’s office: so much more than microfinance

In February 2017 I was lucky enough to visit our microfinance partner in Pakistan, Akhuwat. Please read my series of blogs to share my experience and insights into this inspiring organisation.

As part of my job I am privileged to visit parts of the world that I wouldn't do otherwise.

One of the most memorable and inspiring trips I have taken recently was to Lahore in Pakistan. Despite the negative impression of Pakistan that the media sometimes present, it was memorable not because of danger lurking round every corner.

It was because I have never come across a more inspirational group of people than the staff of Akhuwat, led by their founder Dr Amjad Saqib.

The city and airport were much less frenetic that I'd imagined (although perhaps landing in Lahore at 2am had something to do with that!)

I had been to Delhi some years earlier and I still vividly remember how many people were at the airport.

It quickly became apparent that westerners are a rare sight in Pakistan, even in large cities such as Lahore. It took a few days to get used to being stared at, but I soon realised that as soon as I smiled, people would shyly smile back. And it wasn't long (in fact, I think it was the next morning in the hotel lift!) before I was asked for my first selfie - and it wouldn't be the last that week!

Day 1 - Visit to Akhuwat's office: so much more than microfinance

Akhuwat, Lendwithcare's microfinance partner in Pakistan, was established in 2001 with the objective of helping improve the poor's standard of living by providing interest-free microfinance.

Drawing on the principles of social justice and brotherhood, Akhuwat strives to alleviate poverty by creating a system based on mutual support in society.

You can find more general information about Ahkuwat on our website here or on their own website.

Having worked with Akhuwat for a number of years, I already knew how impressive their interest-free model of microfinance is. But it wasn't until I witnessed their operations first-hand that I could really appreciate the extent of their commitment to helping the poor.

When most of us see a problem in society that is out of our control, we'll think to ourselves "how sad", but we're unlikely to do anything about it. Akhuwat staff are different.

Under the leadership of Dr Amjad Saqib, they will see a problem, plan a solution, and put it in place.

One example of this was right outside their office window - a group of "gypsies" had set up a camp, which could only be described as a slum, made of nothing but loose pieces of tarpaulin and other items.

Dr Amjad had noticed that there were a lot of children running around all day, not getting an education. Within a matter of weeks, Akhuwat staff had set up a school, hired teachers, and invited the people living in the camp to send their children to school for free. This is typical of Akhuwat.

Interest-free microfinance is just the tip of the iceberg of Akhuwat's services. They also provide:

Akhuwat Transgender
My colleague Ajaz has previously written before about Akhuwat's work to improve the lives of one of the most marginalised communities in Pakistan's society. Akhuwat's aim is to create a society where transgendered people are treated as equal citizens, free from prejudice or discrimination.

You can read more about their work in Ajaz's blog here or on their website here.

Akhuwat Clothes Bank
The Akhuwat Clothes Bank, an extension of Akhuwat's Financial Services, is based on the same model and philosophy. Akhuwat collects clothes from well-off families, they are mended, washed and dry-cleaned, and then they are packed up, to be given as a gift to poor families. Akhuwat aims to collect and disburse over 10,000 pieces of clothing to the under-privileged community every month.

Akhuwat Health provides health facilities based on prevention, cure and rehabilitation for low- to middle-income groups by establishing clinics and medical centres which make mutually beneficial links with other health service providers.

Akhuwat Schools, an Akhuwat University, and an internship and leadership programme
It is evident how much Akhuwat values training and education, from the 300 schools already set up, the fee-free university they are currently establishing, and their inspiring internship programme.

Tracey Horner
Head of Lendwithcare

Click here to read the next blog in the series: Day 2 - meeting the entrepreneurs in person

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