WASHINGTON, DC — To improve the lives of Pakistanis, many of whom are desperately poor, the Archdiocese of Lahore has stepped up efforts in education and skills training.
“We have assessed and studied that – through education, then vocational training and other vocational training – this is the only way out of poverty,” said Archbishop Sebastian Shaw of Lahore, who leads the archdiocese since 2013.
Beyond faith formation – already a priority within the diocese – “we operated our summer schools, which were only high schools. In Pakistan, high school goes (only) up to 10th grade,” Shaw told the Catholic News Service in a July 26 phone interview from Brooklyn, New York.
Shaw was in Brooklyn for interviews with Aid to the Church in Need/USA. ACN supports the pastoral work of the Catholic Church in Pakistan. He also came to the United States to help a priest in his diocese celebrate an anniversary of ordination.
“When people have more education, like sewing or a hairdresser, or maybe become like a plumber or an electrician and a lab technician or nurses and nursing assistants, that’s how people come out (out of poverty),” Shaw said.
“But where there is no education” in the midst of poverty, “people are slaves,” he added.
In the Archdiocese of Lahore, “we have established three colleges,” said the Pakistani-born archbishop. One is co-ed and the other is for men, while the other is “exclusively for women; some parents want their daughters to be in a separate college,” he added. While formal education ended with Grade 10, schools added Grades 11 and 12 in 2014. Students can now attend “Grade 14”.
“Now their level of education has increased. Now they are very happy to be given the chance,” Shaw said. Master’s degree programs exist in the fields of education, chemistry, physics, and information technology.
“And that’s very good; also, we are happy. Our young people are eager to become more professional in education,” he added. The addition of doctoral programs is now within the realm of possibility.
Regarding vocational education, “we have started a sewing center for women. A lot of girls, they were sitting at home, uneducated, without skills, and they had to go out as servants. So we decided to do an experiment, so we started 15 girls and a sewing center for young girls,” Shaw explained.
“We bought machines, started the center” – called “Time for Mary” in Urdu – and “from September to May they finished their sewing in eight, nine, 10 months, basic sewing, sewing, a bit of embroidery,” he added.
One problem remained: the girls had the skills but no way to show them once their training was complete. “So we should give them something, a sewing machine as a gift: ‘Now we’re going to give you a machine so you’re not dependent, so now you’re a money-earning family member'” , Shaw told CNS.
The Archdiocese plans to open four more sewing education centers in different areas of the Archdiocese.
The next step: “We also plan to start at least one (sewing) centre, on a trial basis, for boys. … This path will lift people out of misery. I say, doing charity will not lift people out of poverty.
“We have to do a bit of charity but… it’s not giving (them) food to eat every day, but a fishing rod too,” he added, echoing the oft-quoted statement. that give people a fish and you feed them for a day, but teach them how to fish and you feed them “for life”.
The expansion of educational efforts does not stop there. Shaw wants to try another experiment: a school for dropouts in the brick kiln districts of Lahore, where whole families, from the youngest to the oldest, try to repay the debt inherited from their ancestors while the kiln owners impose new spending in an endless cycle of poverty.
Among kiln workers, “there is less value in education,” Shaw said. “And now, with our efforts going house to house, house to house, visiting children and parents, they have received a training order. And after a year of training, the children were more confident and better prepared to move on to mainstream school.
Centers dedicated to strictly professional activities, such as becoming electricians and plumbers, are also in sight, he noted.
In partnership with the local church, ACN has developed specific programs to combat abductions and forced conversions of young Christian girls in Pakistan.
Christians in Pakistan face many challenges and the church remains “one of the unique institutions” representing disadvantaged and marginalized communities, an ACN spokesperson told CNS.