Thatta Kedona

Culture is a Basic Need

The soul of the dolls

Ten years ago Thatta Kedona project started aiming to fight poverty and to support poor women living in the countryside in the district Okara. The products of Thatta Kedona project have earned a great reputation both inside and outside Pakistan, thanks to the voluntary efforts of designer and social scientist Dr. Senta Siller. The main products are handcrafted dolls dressed in the garments of the different provinces of Pakistan and of minority groups such as the Kalashi and the Makrani.

In the past ten years there has been much talk in both national and international organizations, and in smaller circles, about supporting women living in the countryside. The key words in these discussions were 'women empowerment' 'tender training.' A lot has been written about this.

Women in the cities were encouraged but what happened in the countryside, where most of the population lives? In the village of Thatta Ghulamka Dhiroka situated near Okara in the backwaters of Punjab, the local NGO has been successful in working practically on the small things in life and improving the situation of village women rather than leading discussions about urban culture and international theories. The pointing questions were: What can be done when a husband dies and the widow has to support their children on her own? What can be done when a wife is banished and needs to support herself and her children? What can be done, when heavy illness causes enormous difficulties in a family's well being? What can be done, when general conditions in the countryside deteriorate and lead people to migrate? What can be done to improve life in the countryside, to support the traditional culture, which is the wealth of a country and to change the socio-economic situation for the long-term?

For ten years now, practical improvements to life in the countryside have been implemented step by step by the village project, without prior spectacular theoretical announcements. Today, the arts and crafts project is one of twelve projects, in which the villagers are working together with Dr Siller and other voluntary workers.

State bodies have often praised the project and promised support - empty words as yet! A general acknowledgement of this work would not just be a good advertisement for official bodies, but they could use the village project in other parts of the country as an example of achieving step-by-step improvements in other parts of the country.

The words 'long-term effects' are always keenly used; where are the examples of long-term improvements, the illustrious development projects resulting from bilateral agreements? At present, the term 'success' is used in relation to industries and measured according to the masses. The small steps and achievements of the village project are no less relevant. They are culture-friendly and still economic. Why are they neglected by official politics? Because they are not spectacular!

The simple listing of economic enterprises along the N5 only looks at the existing facilities on 500 meters on both sides of the road. It points out the enormous developments without evaluating them. Parts of the original population living along the N5 road have moved to Lahore and have to comply with urban culture. More and more machines are used for farming, more and more tractors are driving to the sugar cane plantations and with the increase in electronic media, singing in the villages and conversations amongst villagers are disappearing.

Ways of living and the use of local materials such as clay are changing through the introduction of technology. A metal container is now exchanged with one made of plastic, clay buildings that are adjustable to the climate are being swapped for brick buildings. Now is the time to show the possibilities of the rich traditional culture and make its worth seen through its people, otherwise it will be very difficult and expensive to repair and to reduce the mistakes made by the classic industrial countries.

In the meantime worldwide urban culture is expanding and working with industrial principles. Parents send their children to school to have them educated, since this has been the right thing to do up until now, and it can't be wrong in either the present or the future. A good education calms the conscience and pays off in the form of well-designed documents and certificates: University of Lahore, College for Management, Institute for Management Sciences, Academy for Fashion and Technology, College for Information and Technology, University for Management Sciences, Institute of Education Management, and so on. How can one imagine that a well-educated person won't be able to find work later on? In the meantime one can live well from the educational funds.

These worldwide accumulations of mistakes can be discussed further at another time. It is not possible to reduce them, but looking at general perceptions of the environment can create an uncomfortable process of realization. Even areas that seem beyond these issues, such as that of the arts, are part of the, perhaps unintended, process of industrialization and its system of education and values. Whatever is taught is done so in a scientific manner, so that the skills of the past that are normally passed from father to son, are examined and taught academically as part of a curriculum.

The result can't be more than a flat generalization, which is spiced according to region and season and presented as a new discipline, maybe, institute for the acquisition of questionability and existential orientations?

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 11:16 AM,


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