Op-ed: How Social Welfare helped Pakistan out of its first pandemic in 1950

There was a continuous need for creative adaptation for social thinking and practice to have the required cultural impact to be registered. These recommendations, policies, and practices set the tone for Pakistan’s social welfare policy and planning that would later emerge in the form of ‘professional training’ in Pakistan. 

Partition was the first pandemic we faced in Pakistan and COVID-19 is the second. The first batch of social workers was selected in 1953, to be trained for training sponsored by UNTAA – United Nations Technical Assistance Administration alongside the Government of Pakistan. This was a turning point in the history of social welfare work in Pakistan, changing its dynamics from a charity based voluntary activity to a modern scientific process.

The thought process was not constructed overnight but was years of effort of our Founding fathers and our leaders, to take the country towards a new path of progress and modernization and to tackle the immense social challenges being faced by the country at the time.

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Emerging into the world with a plethora of problems

Despite being just four years old, Pakistan was larger than life. The big task was to set up a system of equitable governance and manage the rising refugee crisis in the country. Karachi alone had a refugee count of 300,000 in 1947 (3000 refugees a month) to about 1,300,000 in the next 4 years. The civil services at the time were unable to cope up with an uncontrolled populace, ten times the capacity. Elsewhere in East Pakistan, similar problems were seen with a severe shortage of ‘trained manpower’, which would lead to major socio-economic problems in health, education, employment and industry.

Pakistan had lost 75% of its trained nurses during migration to India as a large number of trained doctors and nurses were Hindus who proceeded to flee Pakistan, leaving a massive challenge of effective ‘resource mobilization’ and a depleting manpower average, with one male doctor for every 6000 persons. There were labor force challenges with over 85% of the then population living in rural areas, leaving the country with a high number of unskilled workers- a huge drain in industrial productivity.

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Creating a pathway to survival with whats available

The then government acted with meticulous integrity in identifying the most specific problems of those times which included:  1) Inheritance of dangerous socio-economic conditions. 2) Transition to the newly established government while managing the breakdowns of the earlier local government. 3) Rapid Industrialization. 4) Shifting population.  International agencies were present in the nation in Karachi, the former capital at the time when the acting advisor for social welfare in Pakistan sent out a request to the United Nations to formulate a systematic social welfare strategy.  It was then decided by the government of Pakistan, to study the existing facilities and create a pathway, then known as the ‘schools of social welfare’.

The earlier true meanings of the word ‘social welfare’ were discovered at this point. In Pakistan at the time, anyone who donated generously to the cause of humanity outside of their own families or anyone who gave monies as a support for the needy was considered a social worker. The scope of social welfare was extremely vast, from religion-based charity to sophisticated modern-day development work by the government. The origins of social welfare were then classified into three basic units 1) Government –led programs. 2) Private sector initiatives. 3) International agencies program.

Teamwork makes the dream work

Government- The role of the government comprised of addressing issues related to ‘welfare and housing’ with the Ministry of Health and works. On statutory provisions required for enforcing certain important laws pertaining to juvenile justice including beggars, orphans, the disabled well as a repeat offender, the Ministry of Interior and Education were put in charge.

Problems of resettlement were handled specifically by the Ministry of Refugee rehabilitation, while employment of labor welfare officers to manage the bulging employment challenges was overseen by the Ministry of Industries and Labor. The Armed forces and Naval services were kept within their specific scope of influence in maintaining peace on the borders and providing disaster relief support on calamities and emergency situations all across the country.

Private Sector- The role of the private sector was pivotal to sustain the nation during the initial period as they were more responsive to human needs and more organized. Private philanthropy was introduced through the imminent institution of its time – the Sind Muslim Madressa, held in high esteem for the amount of human talent produced which included Mohammad Ali Jinnah – our father of the nation.

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Free education was provided through numerous charitable trusts and endowments by Muslims, Hindus, and Parsis, much before the partition, including the Oija Sanatorium, DJ Science College, The Jaffer Fadoo Dispensary, The Pakistan Red Cross Society, YMCA, and APWA- headed by the legendary Rana Liaquat Ali Khan and supported by Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah-Sister of the Quaid E Azam.  From 1947- 1949, the private sector efforts in the most difficult post-partition years of Pakistan were tremendous and commendable.

International agencies- Post partition, the UN agencies played an integral part in terms of assistance in areas of social welfare, instrumental in the provision of technical manpower expertise, and establishment of new institutions. WHO provided health care by introducing Mother and Child Healthcare clinical expertise, identifying the need for medical care and staff requirements across country station points, and created the key component of health and welfare that would later define ‘medical social work’.

UNESCO was highly effective in providing ‘literacy tools’- books, literature, advice, and training on adult education and community development while FAO helped in developing the training and planning programs that would greatly benefit the rising younger population of those times. The primary objective of all these agencies was to support the government of Pakistan to review areas of improvement that included:  1) Lack of coordinated efforts in social work. 2) The limited concept of social services. 3) Delayed actions of the government in organizing social services on the national level. 

Educating the masses

The reason why the 1950s was the defining decade for Pakistan was mainly because of the quality of development work and social welfare initiatives successfully implemented in the larger interest of the nation-something that failed in Pakistan from there on due to illiteracy, nepotism, and corruption.

Today, in the post-pandemic age- we need to go back to basics. We need to revisit the policies of that time and fast forward back to 2021 with a prudent implementation plan as correctly highlighted for the 1st time by the recently elected government and the only government rightfully addressing the issue of ‘Pakistan as a prominent social welfare state since the 1950s.

The education plan of the 1950s was mainly focused on basic training in all Key Result Areas and was divided into 4 phases. The orientation courses were developed from sociology, economics, psychology, and cultural anthropology, which explored the nature of human behavior, basic society, fields of social work, and social problems of Pakistan.

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Setting the right foundations for a new country

Next was the technical phase covering the functional aspects of social work, such as medical social work, community organization, public welfare policy, medical information for social workers, rural welfare, social services for children, and administration of social agencies-taught on an introductory level. The third phase was the fieldwork-hands-on experience with people, visiting the slums, taking notes, taking pictures, highlighting the problems, going back to the drawing board for solutions, and strategy towards creating end-goals. Finally, the last phase was evaluation- not a formal examination but a peer review in groups supervised by faculty and groups of experts to really set the right foundation of effective learning.

These first experiments took place simultaneously in Karachi and Dhaka and it was a learning experience both for the UN and its recipients. It was not easy to introduce a program to an alien culture, lacking prior knowledge of the psychosocial behavior of its society and its population. It was a new country with constantly changing demographics. In the Dumpton Reports, the UN identified the shortcomings and the training-related needs for Pakistan and how to convert needs into actions. There was a continuous need for creative adaptation for social thinking and practice to have the required cultural impact to be registered. These recommendations, policies, and practices set the tone for Pakistan’s social welfare policy and planning that would later emerge in the form of ‘professional training’ in Pakistan.

Social Welfare: a way out of poverty

Social Welfare is a powerful phenomenon. Training and Development beyond the conventional is the need for the current times. We have somehow gone back instead of forward in the dark ages – starting from the 1970s to the mid-2000s. We need to re-do and re-tract our progress back to how it began in the 1950s. The web of illiteracy has been woven very firmly within the roots by anti-state elements, some of which are still a part of our system today. There is a huge need for trainers and training and a dire need for honesty and credibility- the right people for the right jobs to ensure new beginnings of ‘Meritocracy’.

A clear linkage has been established today between the development of effective social welfare programs by the government and onward positive economic growth. This is how nations rise out of poverty and we have a long task ahead as enablers of change.  Future training should go beyond the use of digital interface by incorporating the core social, cultural, and economic values of the ‘social welfare’. Training today must be aligned and attuned with the economic conditions of our country, to identify and forecasts economic trends and create value addition.

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Future training programs in 2021 must take into account the existing opportunities as well as limitations, tapping the culture and diversity of our people, our educational backgrounds, our incomes, and our living conditions in order to ensure a policy that is implemented to help create the most productive workforce in the country. We need to be openly adaptive and openly critical at the same time for the greater good of the nation and the people of Pakistan.

Zeeshan Shah, Director at Children Nature Network Asia, writes on Global Affairs, Climate Change, Governance and Public Policy. Zeeshan is an Environmental Journalist & Change Maker, with over 20 years of expertise in Media, Education and Banking sectors. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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