Skills training such as sewing, education ‘only way out of misery’ for Pakistan’s poor

Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore, Pakistan, chats with congregants prior to celebrating a Mass for Catholics of Pakistani ancestry at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Hicksville, N.Y., July 24, 2022. Archbishop Shaw was in New York for talks with Aid to the Church in Need/USA. ACN supports the pastoral work of the Catholic Church in Pakistan. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

WASHINGTON (CNS) – To improve the lives of Pakistanis, many of whom are desperately poor, the Archdiocese of Lahore has ramped up its educational and vocational training efforts.

“We evaluated and studied that – through education and then skill training and some other professional training – that is the only way out of misery,” said Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore, who has headed the archdiocese since 2013.

Beyond faith formation – already a priority within the diocese – “we have operated our summer schools, which were only high schools. In Pakistan, high school is (only) up to 10th grade,” Archbishop Shaw told the Catholic News Service in a July 26 phone interview from Brooklyn, New York.

Archbishop Shaw was in Brooklyn for talks with Aid to the Church in Need/USA. ACN supports the pastoral work of the Catholic Church in Pakistan. He also came to the US to help a priest from his diocese celebrate an ordination anniversary.

“When people have more education, like sewing or a barber salon, or maybe become like a plumber or electrician and laboratory technician or nurses and assistant nurses, that is the way people will come out (of poverty),” Archbishop Shaw said.

“But where there is no education” amid the poverty, “people are slaves,” he added.

In the Archdiocese of Lahore, “we started three colleges,” the Pakistani-born archbishop said. One is co-ed and one is for males, while one is “exclusively for ladies; some parents want their girls to be in a separate college”, he added. Whereas formal education ended with 10th grade, the schools added 11th and 12th grades in 2014. Students can now attend through “grade 14.”

“Now their standard of education has gone up. Now they are very happy that chances are given,” Archbishop Shaw said. Master’s degree programmes exist in education, chemistry, physics and information technology.

“And this is very good; also, we are happy. Our youth is looking forward to becoming more professional in education,” he added. Adding doctoral programmes is now within the realm of possibility.

Regarding vocational education, “we started a sewing centre for women. Many girls, they were sitting at home, no education, no skills, and they were forced to go out as domestic workers. So we said let us do an experiment, so we did 15 girls and a sewing centre for young girls,” Archbishop Shaw explained.

“We bought machines, started the centre” – named “Time for Mary” in Urdu – and “from September to May they completed their sewing in eight, nine, 10 months, basic sewing, stitching, a little embroidery”, he added.

One problem remained: The girls had the skills, but no way to display them once their training was over. “So we should give them something, a sewing machine as a gift: ‘Now we are going to give you a machine so you are not dependent, so now you are an earning member of the family,'” Archbishop Shaw told CNS.

The archdiocese plans to open four more sewing education centres in different regions of the archdiocese.

The next step: “We are also planning to start at least one (sewing) centre, as an experiment, for boys. . . .This way will bring people out of misery. I say, giving charity will not bring people out of misery.

“We have to do some charity but . . . it is not giving (them) food to eat every day, but a fishing rod also,” he added, echoing the oft-quoted statement about giving people a fish and you feed them for a day, but teach them how to fish and you feed them “for a lifetime.”

Expanding educational efforts does not stop there. Archbishop Shaw wants to try another experiment: a school for dropouts in Lahore’s brick kiln districts, where entire families from the youngest to eldest try to work off the debt inherited from their forebears as kiln owners impose new expenses in a never-ending cycle of poverty.

Among the kilns’ workers, “there is less value to education”, Archbishop Shaw said. “And now with our efforts going from home to home, house to house, visiting children and parents, they were given a training order. And after one year of training, the children were more confident and more prepared to move to the regular school.”

Centres dedicated to strictly vocational endeavours, like becoming electricians and plumbers, also are in the offing, he noted.

In partnership with the local church, ACN has developed specific programmes to address the abductions and forced conversions of Christian girls in Pakistan.

Christians in Pakistan face many challenges and the church remains “one of the unique institutions” representing the underprivileged and marginalised communities, an ACN spokesman told CNS.

Photo: Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore, Pakistan, chats with congregants prior to celebrating a Mass for Catholics of Pakistani ancestry at Our Lady of Mercy Church in Hicksville, New York, on July 24, 2022 (CNS Photo)



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