“It actually made us feel quite depressed,” said Asad Mallah. With a heavy sigh he continued, “…to work for hours under the scorching sun, putting in maximum labour, only to get a scanty number of fish and a substantial amount of disappointment. Yet every morning we would leave our homes with a new ray of hope.” His voice finally caught a cheerful tone and he said, “By the grace of Allah, truly nothing makes me happier than knowing that it is all in the past now.”

Asad Mallah, a resident of a village in Chotiari, Sanghar district is a fisherman by profession and, just like the majority of the locals in the area, depends on fishing as his main source of livelihood. The area, which once had an abundant supply of fish stocks, is now on the verge of deterioration due to increasing industrialization and use of plastics in daily life. Dumping of untreated waste has made the water unsuitable for fish and other aquatic life, including plants, to thrive. The fishermen in turn use unsustainable fishing methods to meet their catch requirements, which further adds to the problem. This has led to a significant decrease in the quantity of fish, thereby making the locals more vulnerable to the situation.

In order to provide better living standards to these people, WWF-Pakistan with financial support of the Japan Social Development Fund (JSDF) and the World Bank is implementing a project titled Indus Ecoregion Community Livelihood Project (IECLP) at four sites in the Indus Ecoregion. It aimed to improve the livelihoods of local communities through improved natural resource management and focused on linking farmers to markets to strengthen value chains, facilitate rural non-farm income; and reduce risk, vulnerability, and gender inequality. The project resulted in the improvement of the lives of local people in Keenjhar, Manchar Lake, Chotiari Reservoir and Nara Canal. With thorough training sessions and capacity building programmes, people have not only learnt useful income diversifying skills but also applied them on a larger-scale.

Under the project, a mobile repairing training workshop was conducted, which lasted for a month. Twenty-four people participated in the training session and were taught hardware related skills; they were not only given theory lessons but were also provided with rigorous practical application training. After a month of this tough course, the participants were equipped with useful skills. Asad Mallah claimed, “We learnt all the skills in one month, which otherwise require at least six.” Indeed, this was one of the biggest successes of the project where a large group of unlettered people where trained on a technical skill.

With enthusiasm, Asad Mallah recalled, “I was so excited after the training that as soon as I reached home I experimented on my own mobile, implementing the skills I had learned”. The training programme not only educated people in terms of teaching necessary skills and then applying those practically, but also ignited a spark of excitement and enthusiasm to pursue those skills. Asad Mallah’s motivation and his thirst for learning, paved way for his success. Mallah started with small-scale mobile repair work in his village, and later set up his own mobile repair shop in Chotiari town.

Mallah, while remembering his old days explained, “I used to work for eight hours a day to catch fish. Even after that, I was barely making PKR 4,000 to 5,000 per month. With such low income, fulfilling the basic needs of my household was almost impossible.” It was the thoroughness of the training and Asad Mallah’s constant determination to gain more knowledge that allowed him to increase his monthly income to approximately PKR 13,000 now. Asad rejoiced and exclaimed, “The condition of my household has improved significantly. People have shown a great response to my mobile repair shop. I sometimes even earn PKR 15,000 per month!”

Asad Mallah expressed his extreme gratitude and satisfaction for the training sessions. Not only did he acquire the necessary skills during the training, but he also got the opportunity to network with new people, which expanded his social circle. He also claimed that it was after this training that he became more aware of his surroundings, which helped him grow as an individual. Asad Mallah now looks forward to attending more training programmess like this. “I have learned so much about hardware. I would love to learn the dynamics of software as well.”

Mallah, upon observing the problems in his area, came up with the idea of installing solar panels. He believes that lack of electricity is one of the biggest hurdles that people in his community face. With an adequate supply of electricity, locals will be able to earn more in a given time, which in turn will help them increase their standard of living. It is only a matter of time until Asad materializes this plan for his area.

WWF-Pakistan, through the IECLP project, is not only providing various kinds of vocational trainings to people as an alternative path for generating income, but is also working towards addressing the environmental issues that led to such problems in the first place. The organization believes that conservation and protection of the environment, accompanied with providing alternative earning methods will reduce the dependency and vulnerability of the locals on natural resources, and will help in the sustainable development of society as a whole.

Asif Ali Sandeelo is Coordinator Communications at WWF-Pakistan.