The plight of daily wage earners was made conspicuous by the harsh winter of 2018 leading to the Prime Minister’s express decision to offer them immediate relief. In first of its kind, public service initiative by the state for the needy and vulnerable workers resulted in the setting up of the Panahgahs.
Pakistan is a low-income country and according to the reports published by Finance Ministry, 29.5% of people are living below the poverty line indicating that 29,500 people out of every 100,000 people are living a life of despair. UN Statistics show that Pakistan has around 20 million homeless people and their number is increasing at a rapid pace as the poor segment of the rural population comes to big cities in search of livelihood.
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s commitment to make Pakistan a welfare state in harmony with the tradition and values of the all-time shining example of Riasat e Medina. Panahgah program focuses on helping the people save their hard-earned money which is drained off by the high expenses of lodging and food. The vision draws on the fact that money saved can be ploughed back by the toiling workers to their families living below the poverty line.
The first and foremost challenge is to fight the ravages of homelessness which takes a heavy toll on morale, physical and mental health shattering the sense of protection which the welfare state owes to its citizens. Homelessness is far more than rough sleepers. The number of needy people falling through the crack of an unjust society comes through the early glimpses of the poor citizens putting the stigma of “Creatures of Footpath” as an easy way to deal with them. It is an opportunity that must be carried forward with leadership and focus to deliver measurable results illustrating Prime Minister Imran Khan’s commitment to the people of Pakistan.
Over the years, the program has evolved from just a shelter home to a place providing a healthy standard of living to people. Sailani Trust has taken the task of providing free food to the residents three times a day. Panahgahs have also become a hub of labourers and are becoming known to people and corporations. Like “Islamabad Chamber of Commerce has adopted a Panahgah in Barakahu area of Islamabad” is an example of how the management is taking this concept in a multidimensional way.
During the year, several Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have stepped forward in helping the government in this venture. Strengthening Participatory organization has installed handwashing booths in Panahgahs that has given the people awareness about the importance of handwashing.
Panahgah team is emerging as a strong and credible voice for the long-neglected poor and needy workers, creating positive space for public private civil society collaboration. The advocacy efforts have been gaining ground due to positive response from philanthropic individuals, Parliamentarians (Senators, MNAs and MPAs), and civil society including young individuals and volunteers.
There is no doubt that the poor is a central actor in national development and poverty alleviation initiatives. Better access to food, shelter, water and sanitation is not an option, it is a fundamental right. The Panahgah represents a shining milestone in Pakistan’s quest for laying a solid foundation in the true spirit of the “State of Medina” to alleviate poverty.
The author is an M&E professional based in Islamabad.