Fatima Tandai is only around 38 years old but the creases on her forehead deceive her age to be well above 50 years.
The one-room wooden house, which she inhabits with her parents and her three children, does not have a door and looks like it won’t survive another rainy season. Her total material assets constitute a buffalo, a goat, a pet dog and around one dozen birds. At one end of the courtyard lies a pile of wood meant for the construction of a new house. She hopes to start building it after Eidul Fitr.
Fatima’s village, Soomar Tandai is located around 15 kilometres away from Sujawal city. She belongs to a classic Sindhi clan - where women actively partake in social and economic activities, bearing in mind that ‘social norms’ are not disturbed.
“We [women] are well capable of doing men’s jobs,” she says proudly. Fatima looks after her two sons, a daughter and her aged parents who she lives with. Her husband, who has not worked ever since she can remember, visits her once every few years.
Fatima’s day starts when it is still dark. In a society where most men laze around at tea stalls, watch movies and waste their time in pointless convrsation, Fatima takes great care to use each minute efficiently. “I am not interested in TV dramas,” she waves away. “What will they help me achieve?” she questions.
What is even more surprising is that except for a few days of training, she has never been inside a classroom. Fatima can recognise some digits now but cannot read or write. Her strength, however, lies in her managerial and entrepreneurship skills.
Around two months ago, Fatima participated in the entrepreneurship training organised by Shell Tameer in Sujawal. On her last day of training, she was presented with a low-cost solar lamp, which she sold for Rs1,000 within an hour. “The training was the turning point in my life,” she reminisces happily.
“I was ecstatic,” she says as she remembers that first successful deal. On the second day, she paid an initial deposit Rs1,500 for which she was given 10 lamps. “Each lamp is to be sold for Rs1,000 and gives me a profit of Rs139,” she explained.
Fatima, visits nearby villages almost daily and has sold lamps worth over Rs50,000 since her training. “I don’t ask people [women] for cash on the spot.” She claims that she demands the money depending on the customer’s economic position. “I know who can afford to pay how much and when I will get the money,” she says with a smile. “They don’t cheat me - people are honest.” This belief in the goodness of people and ability to place her trust in them has made her quite popular among her clientele.
“It is a durable lamp and illuminates the entire house,” Fatima describes the lamp’s features. “It doesn’t need a charger or fuel. Just hang it outside for a whole day.“ Her sales pitch is confident. One can easily see why customers are drawn toward her.
What is remarkable about Fatima is that what she lacks in the form of an MBA degree, she makes up with sheer hard work, honesty and punctuality. “Trust is everything,” she says seriously. “If people stop trusting me, I will lose everything.” She strongly believes, however, that her hard work and dedication will pay off soon.
Fatima’s cousin, Razia Tandai, who is a widow and mother of three, has also joined the same business. The demand for the lamps is high and business is good for the two cousins. They are careful with their transactions, though, not wishing to step on the toes of either their customers or their wholesaler, who they refer to as ‘Ada Mukesh’. Both the entrepreneurs first give all the money to the wholesaler before they claim their own profit. “When you get a bulk amount as profit, it is much easier to manage the finances,” Fatima says wisely.
Developing enterprises for the youth of Pakistan is meeting a significant need by providing alternative career options and helping individuals achieve socio-economic stability. Shell Tameer is working with its partners to transform young people into entrepreneurs that are not only self sufficient but who catalyse sustainable social development within their own communities. Join Shell Tameer to create opportunities for the youth of Pakistan by contributing generously to any of the following enterprise development funds. Your contributions will be matched by Shell.
For SOS Technical Training Institute Enterprise Development Fund: Account No. 01-1334859-02 Shell Livewire Trust - SOS Technical Training Institute. Standard Chartered Bank.
For The Hunar Foundation Enterprise Development Fund: Account No. 01-1334859-01 SHELL LIVEWIRE TRUST - The Hunar Foundation Technical Institutes. Standard Chartered Bank.
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*Contributions will be matched only during Ramazan 2014 to a maximum of 100 trades per organisation
Published in The Express Tribune, July 18th, 2014.