Pakistan: Remarkable women in remarkable places

3 August 2012 at 08:00 12 comments

By Anya Raza | KF18 | Pakistan

Racing against the onset of monsoon season and the holy month of fasting, Ramadan, my female colleague Shazia and I challenged ourselves to travel 1,500 km across South Punjab to meet with seven borrowers in three days.

The mission was to complete an audit of sorts, known as a “borrower verification.”

What may seem like an awkward, laborious task is in fact most fellows’ favourite part of their fellowship — the chance to travel and meet borrowers in the flesh.

To meet Rani, we had to park our car under the sole tree on that lane and continue by foot into a tiny village divided by railroad tracks. Overseeing a bustling home with children, goats and neighbors casually popping in and out continuously, Rani shared with me the ambitious story of her seamstress/farming endeavors made possible through Kiva loans over the past five years.

“It takes two hands to applaud,” Rani emphasized, highlighting her need to supplement her husband’s income as a mason.

A candid family moment with Rani.

With the help of the loans, she was able to save enough money to transition her family from a ‘mud hut’ to a solid home made from bricks and cement. She was also able to send her five children to school. Clad in a pink ‘shalwar kameez’ (traditional South Asian outfit) in a highly organised pink bedroom, she shyly mentioned how she was also able to purchase the neatly stacked crockery (seen in the background of the picture above), which she uses only for special occasions.  Yes, it was clear pink is her favorite color.

After having spent nearly two hours ‘gup-shupping’  (chit-chatting), Rani started to receive one phone call after another. Clearly she was a busy lady who could not indulge in idle talk all day, and had things to do, unlike the rest of us. Laughingly, Rashida, (her neighbor and also a Kiva borrower) and I decided to continue taking pictures despite Rani being on the phone.

Call me maybe?

After spending less than a half hour with our next borrower due to a death in her family, we were told to rush to Multan to meet Robina, who had a court hearing the next morning.

Robina had been brutally assaulted by her neighbors earlier in the month, ironically — as she puts it — due to the success of her grocery store (helped by a Kiva loan). Robina’s face still showed bruising, although the incident did little to bruise her lively personality.

Me and Robina

Robina’s daughters and grandsons

A few years ago, Robina was widowed, casting her into a spell of worry about how to support her family. Having now taken out three loans through Kiva’s Field Partner Asasah, Robina was able to consistently purchase new products, contributing to her ever-growing clientele. With her savings, she had bought a freezer and managed to pay for her oldest daughter’s wedding expenses.

My first night ended with a lovely welcoming meal with Asasah staff, and a peaceful night under the stars of one of the oldest cities in the world — Multan.

Rising with the sun, the City of Gard, Garma, Gada o Goristan (Sand, Summer, Scroungers and Spirits) woke me bright and early, and at 6 a.m. we visited four of Multan’s most famous ‘mazars’ (shrines) and ‘masjids’ (mosques), beating the crowd.

The glory of the city is a pre-Mughal mausoleum built between 1320 and 1324, known as the Shah Rukn-e-Alam. Located on a hill overlooking the city, this masterpiece is considered the second largest dome in the world after the ‘Gol Gumbad’ in India.

Shah Rukn-e-Alam

One step inside and I am transported away by the mystical qualities of the shrine, the air heavy with silent prayers. Admiring the detailed interior preserved over centuries, I could not help but recognize a paradox: If we had invested the same time and devotion in our fellow humans for all these centuries, would we still be so desperate for the spiritual guidance we seek today?

Solitude in Multan

Ameera was the last borrower we met. A recent widow, she explained how her last loan covered the funeral costs for her late husband, who had passed a few months ago. She had taken out a loan to continue her livestock business buying and selling buffaloes and goats.

Ameera and her granddaughter

Risks like illness, death and natural disasters put people like Ameera in very vulnerable situations. Their incomes tend to barely cover their living expenses, so unexpected events can throw them right back into poverty. Ameera explained how — had she not had any savings to cover the hospital bills and funeral expenses — her family would have fallen deep in debt to local loan sharks for years to come.

Ameera’s grandson

My trip ended with a visit the Pakpattan shrine ‘Baba Farid.’ Hosting ‘Heaven’s Gate,’ this 13th century Sufi shrine is visited by millions each year. Unmanned metal detectors and lax personnel ‘guarded’ the shrine, which had been bombed during Ramadan in 2010, killing six and injuring dozens.

With the powerful voices of the local ‘qawalli’ group guiding my visit, I noticed the scars in the wall, yet the festive atmosphere that Thursday afternoon could do little to dampen people’s spirit.

Despite my exhaustion, girls will be girls, and I was informed that I must get my ‘mehndi’ (henna) done. Contradicting Pakpattan’s ultra-conservative society, talented men swiftly decorate women in a matter of minutes, through syringes filled with chemical-laced ‘mehndi’, leaving behind stunning pieces of art.


Heavily doused in culture, creed and Kiva, we drove back to Lahore, grateful for the rich experiences of the last few days.

Stay tuned for Ramadan adventures in Vehari and Faisalabad next week!

Anya Raza is a Kiva Fellow stationed at Asasah, a microfinance institution in Pakistan. You can lend to one of Asasah’s borrowers here, join the Pakistan lending team, and keep reading Anya’s posts to learn more about the organization and the many borrowers it helps fund. You can also follow Anya on Twitter at @anya_raza

Entry filed under: Anti-Poverty Focus, Entrepreneurial Support, Facilitation of Savings, KF18 (Kiva Fellows 18th Class), Pakistan, Uncategorized, Vulnerable Group Focus. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Update from the Field: Kiva Products New and Old, Lender-Borrower Connections, and a Nice Glass of Cold Milk The Olympics and Microfinance in the search for Identity


  • […] These past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to travel all across Punjab. For a rendition of one of these journeys, here’s my latest Kiva blog! […]

  • 2. dianabiggs  |  8 August 2012 at 01:43

    Anya, the strength of these women is so inspiring! Beautifully told and fabulous images!

  • 3. Diana Stegall  |  7 August 2012 at 11:53

    Anya, you always do such a lovely job of capturing the spirit of the women you meet in Pakistan. I really look forward to all your posts, and they usually get passed around and quoted in emails back here in SF. 🙂

  • […] Pakistan: Remarkable women in remarkable places By Anya Raza | KF18 | Pakistan In this article, Anya takes us along one of her most laborious but rewarding experiences conducting borrower verifications. After attempting to travel 1,500 Km in three days in order to meet with seven borrowers, Anya recalls some of her most outstanding memories from this adventure for your reading pleasure. […]

  • 5. Rafia  |  6 August 2012 at 07:53

    Remarkable work anya, i am always tuned in with you for your interesting blogs and realy enjoyed your blogs. Nice pictures anya.

  • 6. tabinda alkans jaffery  |  6 August 2012 at 06:29

    great pics

  • 7. Naufil Naseer  |  5 August 2012 at 22:18

    Good Work Anya. Its good to see people making some difference in a society where things hardly moves. Appreciate if you could share your organizational profile and its work

  • 8. Jacqueline  |  5 August 2012 at 20:47

    You cannot but admire the zest for life these women have. Their glowing faces are such a stark opposite to the battle of survival they face time and again, Robina is just one such a woman. I admire you in your continuous efforts in improving the lives of those who seek change and who otherwise would be trampled. In other words – wow!

  • 9. muskanchopra  |  5 August 2012 at 12:00

    amazing photos Anya! you’ve captured some great people with great stories.

  • 10. Ceeej  |  3 August 2012 at 20:44

    Anya, I enjoyed your update. I am a ‘loner’ and am really enjoying being involved with Kiva!

    I am about to start up a blog that tells the stories of people who have improved their lives through microfinance and fairtrade involvement- ultimately I’d like to promote the work of Kiva. Would you have any stories of people you have met and photos like on your update that I could use – I will of course credit your material to you and recommend Kiva throughout my site. WDYT?

    • 11. anyaraza  |  22 August 2012 at 11:33

      Dear Ceeej,

      What a great idea! Let me ask Kiva about what the correct procedure is for this and get back to you!

      Thanks again,

    • 12. anyaraza  |  27 August 2012 at 22:34

      Hi Ceej,

      Would you be able to send me an email on with a little more detail on your project?


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