Wednesday, 4 January 2012

BLISS: Education, Entrepreneurship and Empowerment for Young Girls

As a matter of fact, most young girls in the rural areas of Pakistan drop out of school before or by grade 5. That is only, IF they get a chance to go to school. While having no money to pay the school fee is more than often the reason why girls drop out of school, even free education becomes almost impossible to attain when families depend on their girls to earn during the day time so that they may share a meager meal before going to bed. BLISS (Business and Life Skills School) has come to the rescue to at least one such rural area, Attock, a small town in northern Punjab, province of Pakistan.

BLISS is unique in their approach and model. It is a model that allows young girls to use their talent to earn money and study under the same roof, so that they don't have to make a choice between the two. This solution is actually customised to the core reason why girls were dropping out of schools in Attock. In Attock, young girls are bread earners for their families and the only source of income for most girls is carpet weaving, a highly labor intensive job that pays very little for the amount of effort and time it demands. Girls are usually working 12-14 hours a day and one carpet can take up to a month to complete. Even then, the money they earn is not always enough to support their families. With 12-14 hour long work days, there is absolutely no hope and time for education. BLISS instead diverted these talented hands onto making something that takes fewer hours and earns a lot more money than carpet weaving. These are beautiful embroidered designer hand bags. Girls can spend 1/3 the time and earn higher wages by selling these bags into the cities in Pakistan and also in the international market.

A lot has been said and applauded about BLISS in the media over the past one year but I believe no amount of words and recognition are enough to support a cause like this midst the sea of social, non-profit causes where it becomes almost impossible to decide who is the most deserving of your donation. Saba Gul, the founder and director of BLISS is an inspirational youth figure who has put in her mind, skill and time into devising this scalable, sustainable, social entrepreneurial model for girls across rural areas in Pakistan. BLISS is different from other NGOs that only provide funds for school fee, or provide free education - where it is difficult to track whether the money was ever spent on education or on other needs of the family, or to monitor attendance of each and every student in the rural school. With BLISS, the parents are encouraged and almost forced to send their girls to school where they learn how to make these designer hang bags, which are then sold to provide for the family. Sending girls to school is a source of income for the parents and a source of education for the girls where in addition to 'bag making' they also study the regular school curriculum.

After going through the achievements BLISS has made over this short span of just over a year, I was highly enthused to support their cause. I have volunteered to help with introducing their products to the international market here in Canada. This is something BLISS had already planned on venturing out on after their successful exhibitions in major cities of Pakistan (Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi) . They have recently tied up with international ambassadors in UK, France and Seattle to market the brand and build a customer base outside Pakistan as well. (Link:Bliss goes global). I hope we can soon add Canada to the list of their international buyers.

If you're in Canada and interested in owning a BLISS bag that will help a girl stay in school - here are some pictures of their 2011 collection, Sozaankar. I have ordered a couple of pieces already as samples, so if you're concerned about quality and value for your money - you can always look at the real thing by getting in touch with me via my blog.

More on the BLISS Story: Check out this great MSN video - Bags for Bliss: Design for social change

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