The Spillover Effect
How International Nonprofits are Establishing Stronger Communities Through Art and Culture.
Ajrak is a highly complex woodblock print textile with natural dyes that is native to the Sindh region of Pakistan. Its rich colors of crimson and deep indigo with white and black outlines of geometric patterns create a symmetrical design in a process that takes at least one month to produce from start to finish. The importance of Ajrak to the Sindhi people goes beyond its historical roots and dates back to the 2500 BCE Indus civilization. This sacred cloth is a representation of the Sindhi culture and is used in every aspect of life from birth to death. It serves as the Sindhi people’s binding identity and is also utilized by the NGO, Indus Resource Center, not only in its logo but also in its precise efforts to create a sustainable community. This is my journey to the village of Khairpur in the interior Sindh region of Pakistan to learn about how Indus Resource Center is making a difference through art and culture.
After completing the first semester of the Arts Administration & Policy program at SAIC, I challenged myself to take concepts I learned in my courses, Arts Organizations in Society and Management I, to understand how they are applied in the real world. Traveling to Karachi, Pakistan this past winter break gave me the perfect opportunity to not only investigate my curiosity of how NGOs use art to facilitate social change, but also to examine how international NGOs are similar or different in executing these changes from NGOs in the United States. Seeing many of IRC’s craft stores, Khazana, in the city of Karachi, I was even more intrigued about their work and wanted to learn about how and where these crafts were created. I got in touch with the founder and executive director of IRC, Sadiqa Salahuddin, who invited me to do an onsite visit at the organization’s main office in Kahirpur where Khazana craft center is located.
I flew out to Khairpur from Karachi and used this trip as an opportunity to do fieldwork and collect data on the initiatives Indus Resource Center is implementing in this region. IRC is a nonprofit that is dedicated to developing a society of equality through education and literacy, sustainable livelihoods, and governance and advocacy. With more than 200 schools built and managed by IRC, other international NGOs such as UNICEF and Dutch NGO Butterfly Works are also stakeholders in its overall mission and goals. Subprojects such as the Khazana Craft Center, Khazana meaning Treasure in Urdu, is a craft workshop and retail store that produces and sells the craft-works of the Sindhi women artisans. Carried out in a pilot program by the Dutch NGO Butterfly Works, The Skillful Artisan is a project that aims to empower craft works by providing training programs that improve the link between artisans and markets both locally and globally. IRC, in a combined effort with Butterfly Works, has provided an opportunity for these women artisans to generate income and enhance their skills. But Khazana serves more than just a workshop or a store; it has become a safe social space for women and children where they can promote their Sindhi cultural and social heritage through the embodiment of skills that have been passed down through generations.
When I reached the IRC offices in Khairpur, I found a world that was beyond my imagination and a humbling experience overall, one that I will carry with me from years to come. As my car drove past the gates of the entrance, I saw a whole community that was living and thriving on its own. To the right of the entrance was a nursery filled with all assortments of plants and trees and on the left was a greenhouse in front of a library that is open to the public. As we drove further down the road, the Khazana craft center and store was located adjacent to the outdoor cafe that was decorated in different quilts of ajrak. There was a central amphitheater-like lawn in front of the café and the main office was the furthest down where the 2017 annual meeting was taking place when I arrived. Here I met with Mrs. Salahuddin, and she jumped right into giving me a tour of the area while explaining the establishment and development of IRC in Khairpur.
The IRC office building is not only a community center for students and the locals, but also carries a vital historical significance for the area. Khairpur was a princely state before the government of Pakistan acquired it, the main office building IRC is using was a deserted official building of the ruling Talpur dynasty. Some of the schools in the area were also converted from previous royal buildings as well. The Kot Doji Fort is a main tourist attraction to the ancient site and the locals have a deep connection with their ancestral lineage. Mainly an agriculture land, Khairpur is also situated next to the Indus River that runs north and south through the Sindh region. The village’s centrality is key to imports and exports due to the highways that connect it to the north, west, and south areas of Pakistan.
Mrs. Salahuddin was telling me that the importance of providing education is more crucial now than ever since the outside world is catching up with these remote areas. She told me how IRC has incorporated ajrak textile as the official uniforms for the schools and how she personally fought to have the regional language, Sindhi, be taught alongside English, which is the official language of Pakistan. “The fact that these kids are learning in their mother tongue is a big deal. Sindhi is what connects them to their land, their history, and their identity. They need to be knowledgeable about their land because it’s been their livelihood for generations; even their folk songs celebrate the land. As for the school uniforms, everyone has ajrak at home and using it this way gives them ownership of their education, making it something the entire community participates with and is invested in.”
As we walked past the nursery, she showed me the plants they keep in the greenhouse for the kids. She explained that, “this land was baron when I got here, there was nothing here. But I brought it back to life and it flourished.” In that moment I remembered what my purpose was when I decided to pursue a graduate degree in arts administration and policy. The arts and culture are tools that act as facilitators to bring communities together to give them hope, agency, and incentive to prosper. As arts administrators, we work with communities and not for them. We fight for the arts to thrive because it creates a vital cultural life for communities to experience what is known as the spillover effect, or improvements in social stability, economic revitalization, education, and healthcare. In the case of Khairpur, where a visual textile, a historical and agriculture connection to the land, and the spiritual embodiment of skills and crafts, all assert a binding identity for these things to develop, I ask you as artists to find a community and help it to prosper through your art. And if you find yourself in a place that doesn’t have a community, then plant yourself there, and grow one!
Among the multitude of grains (in the world), mine is this grain (you)
(now that) you and I have grown to be friends
we have no need of anything
we need have no debt to anyone
O live, live, my darling breath
(Among the) multitude of grains, the grain has
this lovely pearl has stolen my heart
may you live long, live long!
You have stolen my fragile heart
Full presentation on Marketing Plan for Khazana can be found here