About Khwendo Kor

Before I met KK  I was supporting the other four members of my family by selling basic handmade products. But I sold little and couldn’t earn enough. KK gave me new design skills and business links I needed. Now I have a mobile phone for communicating with the marketing section of KK and other customers, a monthly income and a flourishing business”

This is the summary of an interview with a woman from a family in a remote village in northwestern Pakistan.  It typifies much of Khwendo Kor’s approach.

An introduction to Khwendo Kor

Khwendo Kor (KK) is a non-profit, non-political, non-governmental organisation (NGO).  Registered in Peshawar, it works in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the Newly Merged Districts (formerly known as the North West Frontier Province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas), both located in the northwest along the Pakistan-Afghan border.  The main focus of KK’s work is improving the situation of women and girls.  They are rarely literate or able to get medical help or resist abuse and they cannot inherit property.  Rates of death in childbirth and infant mortality are amongst the highest in the world.

Established in 1993 by 5 women including Maryam Bibi, who is now CEO, Khwendo Kor means “Sisters’ Home” in Pashto, a local language.   Although at the start KK was very small, with success it has grown rapidly and now employs a staff of over 200.

KK works in dangerous areas.  FATA is the main base of the Pakistan Taliban and military operations against them have at times displaced hundreds of thousands of people.

Despite the difficulties, Khwendo Kor works with local people to provide schools and basic health services.  It helps women get the identity cards needed for voting and state benefits as well as enabling them to set up economic activities.  In addition, it supports groups of activists, responds to the needs of people displaced by war or natural disaster and works with other NGOs to press for policy change.

In 2003, KK set out to establish education for girls and women in FATA.  Such was their success that the Taliban issued a “fatwa” against Maryam Bibi and threats to fine villages that collaborated with KK and mine their fields.  KK was forced to withdraw for a time though not for long.  Since then, more than 1300 girls and 400 boys have enrolled in their schools, and the villages from which they had been expelled have asked them back.

The secret of this success lies in Khwendo Kor’s values, their approach and their models. Let’s look at these ingredients and some of their other achievements.

Khwendo Kor values

KK seeks ‘a compassionate society where women and girls live with dignity and self-reliance’.  This vision fits with the fundamental values of Islam and the desires of the men and women with whom KK works. Like people all over the world, villagers in these areas want to earn a living and care for their families in flourishing, secure communities where children are educated and no one lacks the health services they need.  There is, however, a deep distrust of Western agencies and a fear they will expect people to relinquish the Islamic values they hold dear.  Local NGOs like Khwendo Kor also have to prove that they will help people without conditions. Work without this support is dangerous and ineffective.

Their approach

To achieve its vision, Khwendo Kor promotes resilient communities and empowered women.  It works with people, not for them.  It involves them in decisions about what should be done, forming committees of men and women to manage services.  It uses land and buildings provided by the villagers, employing local people and providing them with the skills they need to act as birth attendants, entrepreneurs, political advocates for their interests and volunteers of different kinds. It links villagers to others who can meet their needs.  It supports activists who get together to work for change. Here are the words of a woman engaged in local decision-making for the first time in her life:

Problems and issues are part of life but when we get the skill to handle all these problems wisely then in my opinion it is success of the community. It is my first experience of being part of a community institution and now it is inspiration for me and all other that collectively we can make change… a real change… in behavior, how we see the problem and how the problem will be solved. Thanks KK for giving me and other women the strength and power to speak for our rights”.   

The ‘viable village’ model

Khwendo Kor calls its core method of work the ‘Viable Villagemodel.  This means that KK partners with villages or wider communities that wish to work with it.  Typically it uses a method called ‘participative rural appraisal’ (PRA) to agree on the needs of the village and the priorities for tackling them.  A full plan then specifies what part KK, the villagers, and others, such as the local authority departments, will play.  Success depends on forming local groups of men and women to guide the development and actions at different levels; the pressure that Khwendo Kor brings to bear through its advocacy; the links it nurtures between the villagers and other local groups; and the voter registration campaigns it supports allowing women to play a full part in the electoral process.  Other villages observe this process and, wishing to copy it, approach Khwendo Kor.  Success thus spreads ‘virally’ and through a process more akin to a “movement” than traditional top-down development.

Khwendo Kor achievements

Despite the difficulties caused by Pakistan’s continuing conflict with the Taliban, KK has:

  • Acted in partnership with key organisations including Oxfam GB, Oxfam Novib, USAID, UNICEF, Developments In Literacy, NED, and other important donors
  •  Worked in over 200 villages
  • Established hundreds of community based primary schools for girls, from which many thousands of students have graduated
  •  Established Adult Literacy Centres for women
  • Trained village based young women as teachers
  • Developed and trained female and male Village Education Committees to manage and supervise the schools in their villages
  • Trained Traditional Birth Attendants who are now providing hygienic and skilled services in their localities
  • Provided training and micro-credit to women enabling them to gain income from raising livestock, growing vegetables, tailoring, creating craft goods and so on
  • Represented the views of these village people throughout the world at meetings with, among others, the President of Pakistan, and US Secretary of State

Want to know more? 

To find out more information about Khwendo Kor and their work you can visit their website www.khwendokor.org.  For those interested in reading background material about the development of the ‘viable village’ approach in particular, see ‘Female Education and Development in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan – An Action Research Project‘.