Lessons from escaping poverty

Thirteen years ago, Jawaad, 13, was a carpet weaver in Pakistan, working 10 hours a day with his older brother, mother, sisters, and cousins. They earned enough to survive, no more no less. They were poor by any measure of poverty.

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Now, Jawaad is a graduate of computer science from Kabul University, and works at Bamyan provincial government as a database manager. He earns enough to support a family of four. He could not imagine working in an office, and surely not as ‘the computer guy’.

His family is proud of him. He has been able to get himself out of carpet weaving. But, the rest of his family are still weaving carpet.

So, what happened in the past thirteen years? Their family returned to Bamyan, and worked as carpet weavers. He wished to go to school, and so did his other siblings. For the first eight years, he weaved carpet early in the morning from 6 to 8, and in the afternoon from 1 to 6. He attended school from 8am to 12pm, and did his homework after 6pm. When he graduated from high school, he sat at the university entrance exam and got accepted in computer science faculty at Kabul University. Four years of university were very stressful. While at the university, he lived in a room with 6 other students, he ate often one to two meals a day, and he worked any part-time labor jobs that he could find. His family in Bamyan would cut back from their food, clothing, and anything they could to support him financially. In winters, he would go back to his family in Bamyan and weave carpet with them. After graduation, it took him 8 months of sending resumes and meeting people to land a job somewhere. He finally got into an entry-level position at the provincial government.

Jawad’s story tells us a few things about poverty.

First, it takes a long time to get out of poverty. One and a half decade is long, probably 1/4th of life expectancy in Afghanistan.

Second, he did not do it alone. It took a family of 12 to lift a single person out of poverty in 13 years. His own personal hard work and perseverance had been significant in this journey, but if his family did not or could not send him a little money every couple of months, he would never be able to finish university.

Third, he and his family must have truly understood and appreciated the value of education. A lot of people knows the importance of education, but keeping the motivation alive for 13 years only to take the first fruits of education requires a strong valuation for education.

But, let’s not forget that the rest of his family is still weaving carpet. His education and income alone are not enough to break the cycle of the poverty for his family. As it took a family to lift an individual out of poverty, it takes a community to lift a family, and a society to lift a community.

*It is a composite story of many people, and the name and job title are changed to ensure anonymity.

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