Sitara Jabeen Zakria is Community Liaison & Training Officer for Malteser International in Pakistan. The 37-year-old social scientist from Rahim Yak Khan has been working in South Punjab in the areas of post-flood emergency, early recovery and maternal and child health services since January 2011.
What are your tasks as Community Liaison & Training Officer?
My tasks are to mobilise the community, raise awareness on various health-related issues, encourage vulnerable women and children to seek medical attention at the local Basic Health Units (BHUs), and to strengthen this system by developing a connection between the community representatives and the government for a sustained development in health. I also arrange and conduct trainings for the community.
What is the focus of your work in Pakistan?
During the emergency phase after the 2010 floods, I worked in the relief programme for the flood-affected population. After the early recovery phase, we started focusing on mothers and children as our target group. Our project reaches almost 160,000 people. We work to improve maternal and child health, to reduce maternal and child mortality, and to promote health and hygiene education in the communities. We also work to strengthen the women’s self-confidence.
What are some of the challenges you face in your daily work?
To our team as a whole, there are many challenges: the security of our staff in the field, finding adequate staff in the area of maternal and child health, mobilising communities with extreme social beliefs that often hinder our activities, and convincing the community to take ownership of the project and assume responsibility are some of the challenges we have faced in our project. To me personally, overcoming social prejudices in the communities we work with, encouraging community members to improve their socio-economic conditions, and motivating people to think sustainably are the greatest challenges of my job.
What progress have you seen so far in your project?
We have developed a successful collaboration with the government health department in our region, and have been able to successfully integrate maternal and child health services in the region’s BHUs. A lot of pregnant women are now coming for delivery to the upgraded BHUs. Also, the fact that Health Committee members now take full responsibility for the functioning of the BHUs is a very important progress.
What is your motivation? What gives you strength in difficult times?
When we do something for the people, and I see we’ve been able to create some positive social change in their lives, I feel fulfilled and want to do something more for their development. People’s cooperation and their positive attitudes toward my work give me strength in difficult times and keep me going on.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?
When the community starts to take initiative for their development process by themselves, it makes me very happy, because a good start can build momentum that they can sustain for a longer time. Also, when the community recognises my work – for instance, I once was given a traditional shawl from a local community. Their respect and request for me to participate in their traditional customs and events, these are the most beautiful compliments to me.
(Interview: Joice Biazoto, June 2012)
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