Thatta Kedona

Culture is a Basic Need

New Social Movement

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Dr. Senta Siller

There is nothing that does not or has not already existed; but there are things that are frequent because they are carried out frequently (graffiti in university library).

The first encounter with people in a traditional Punjabi village in Pakistan took place in the autumn of 1990 at the invitation of a former student. There are over twenty thousand such villages in the densely populated Punjab province of Pakistan. To put it generally, the first impression was the following: a poor village, a poor region with no roads, no sewers, no schools, no electricity, no toilets. Shooting a documentary film, setting up a public health service, establishing an NGO, building an NGO-financed school were the first measures towards creating a village development project, which was followed from 1993 on by projects that generated income for the rural population. Ten years of Pakistani-German co-operation at NGO level have provided a clear view and have increasingly shown that Pakistan is a rich country with traditional, cultural, natural and social resources.


Bi-lateral agreements between countries have in the past ensured economic developments and changes. This is not the place to judge the extent to which something did or did not make sense. It is, however, a fact that in many cases the majority of the population in an assisted country has not benefited from the envisaged and anticipated changes, but instead distribution of the benefits has been from top to bottom. Even if hardly anything perceptible arrived at the "bottom," this is particularly where there were and are the most drastic consequences, most neither anticipated or desired.

The forms of support - probably occasionally even well meant are an underlying output of urban cultures, which due to an absence of knowledge and a lack of ability to judge its significance, restrict rural culture at best and at worst even cause it permanent damage. It is difficult to imagine a stop to this practice; nonetheless it is at the grass-roots level, in the countryside, where traditional cultures still thrive that resources are redefined and used in projects. The approach necessary for this differs greatly from standard approaches.

Development phases

Project development in Thatta Ghulamka Dhiroka can be divided into five phases:

  1. 1991 - Amjad's Village: Establishment of first contacts, creation of a documentary film, first showing in Germany, fund raising for a school for boys, first private health center to provide medical care for the villagers.
  2. 1993 - Thatta Kedona: activating the village women and resumption of the tradition of making dolls. Parallel to this, training is given Ð virtually from the very beginning a successful attempt is made to generate income for women living in rural areas.
  3. 1995 - Village Toys from Pakistan: Initially the hand-crafted dolls are offered and sold on the local market at bazaars. Ethnological research results are brought in and ethnic dolls are dressed in the traditional costumes of the various provinces and minorities. A new women’s center is set up and powered by photovoltaic energy. The first invitations abroad follow.
  4. 1998 - Handicrafts from Pakistan: Together with the Export Promotion Bureau, handicraft products are exhibited abroad for the first time with other NGOs. First orders placed by foreign customers follow. Young village men are brought in and, independently of the women, make tin toys and ecotechnological products. Invitations from foreign women’s groups lead to a network for the project Dolls of the World. An international network joins the local network of domestic NGOs; the women’s group initiated by the Pakistani village NGO also works with other NGOs in Cameroon and Columbia. Health assistants are trained and a health center set up in order to improve the health of the villagers.
  5. 2001 - Gogera Development Program: Growing numbers of people from elsewhere in Pakistan as well as foreigners visit TGD in order to find out about the project and the example of life in the village. This requires involvement of the region in the project. The pre-Pakistan history is an important factor here.
Volunteers in the field (young, middle-aged, old) and honorary nature of work

Three forms of involvement have evolved in the course of time. Work should be in an honorary capacity. The advantage of this is a certain degree of independence; this independence opens up the possibility of adopting unconventional approaches. However, independence also means neglecting certain areas of the culture in question such as politics, religion Ð as well as preconceived models for solutions and approaches to work.

The three forms of involvement relate to age and circumstances and are also to be seen in connection with the respective financing: One, senior citizens with professional and job experience, and independence of external pressure can be deployed in a useful way. Age groups, which in their own countries are only of interest in terms of the national economy, have the opportunity to implement the concepts and ideas of NGOs. Two, middle-aged persons who are interested have the possibility of taking time out and shaping developments in a completely different environment, with the added side-effect of starting afresh with new insights upon return to their own country. And three, young persons are as a rule either just starting their careers or still undergoing training. In sharp contrast to their previous concepts of trades and jobs, existing professional ideas and goals are now being reinforced and new aspects and insights are shaping their attitudes to life and work.

Theoretical training is frequently accorded a higher status in Western countries even though it is well-known that particularly the combination of practical experience and theoretical insights makes it possible to change or strengthen structures.

NGO members sent abroad

The prerequisites for useful deployment abroad on the part of NGO members are knowledge of the project, i.e. those concerned need to be well-informed about the effect, function and activities of the NGO in question. Thanks to Western influences, this refers to an ISO certification, which is nothing more than saying that the right hand is supposed to know what the left hand is doing and why.

Project work reflects life in individual businesses, etc. This is why it can never be pre-determined, but must be capable of reacting flexibly within certain parameters to problems that occur in actual practice. Knowledge of structures and possible ways of reacting as well as dependencies help NGO members to engage in activities outside their own countries.

In view of the contacts that have been developed, the United Arab Emirates, Germany, Iceland, and the United States should be mentioned in the case of Pakistan. NGO members were able to gather experience in the United Arab Emirates (Dubai Shopping Festival), Germany (Import Shop Berlin) Iceland (International Week and Workshop). Further activities are possible and are being processed.

Integrated approach
The best way of describing the present organization structure is as "international NGO co-operation with sales markets in the project countries as well as in industrialized countries.” It requires a cohesive view within the project and the networking of projects. Use of the technological means of urban culture (e-mail, etc.) is of vital assistance in this connection.

The experiences with a Pakistani-German NGO initiative upon which these remarks are based show the accuracy of what has been said. The Pakistani NGO is part of a network which by now also includes Cameroon, Colombia, the United Arab Emirates, and Iceland; customers are in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand; IT makes it possible to find markets, however it will never be possible to compete with the production figures of an international company; marketing remains extremely tough and is dependent on assistance of a wide variety of kinds, and, unfortunately, no consideration is given to the benefits not in money’s worth (dissemination of living culture, schooling of individual taste versus industrial products and uniformity in many areas of life: food and beverages, film and television, dance, music and painting education and upbringing, changed perception of colors, forms, etc.).

It is easy for critics to dismiss the possibilities that have been outlined, but is actually the microcosm of a village development that reveals the problems of a macro economy.


It was Max Weber who coined the term of the responsible citizen. He has always existed even if forms of government have been different. A wealth of experience leads to wisdom, something has been experienced in actual fact, lived in reality. An abundance of theory in projects in rural areas is only grist to the mill of city dwellers.

Dr. Senta Siller, Voluntary Director, Women Art Center TGD

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