Ever wondered how important housemaids are to your households, especially when you are too time-starved to cope yourself? They know more about your house than you know. You confide in them more than in anybody else and leave them in charge of your worldly belongings. Even your most precious assets – your children – are entrusted to their care when you are away.
However, despite their extraordinary importance in people’s lives, very few employers bother to look out for their qualities, strengths and weaknesses while hiring them. In fact, they are not expected to have any additional qualities.
All that is desired is that they should be honest and punctual. The reason is simple: An honest person does not steal and a punctual one does no indulge in absenteeism. Sometimes, they are hired despite the fact that they know nothing about the task they are supposed to perform. It is expected of them to learn their skills through trial and error once they get a job.
So one thinks the job of a housemaid is a general one and there is no need for housemaids to develop additional skills or add value to their work. “No, this is not the case. The job of a housemaid is as challenging as any high skilled job can be.” argues Ahsan Ali Syed, Chairman, Chenab School, Sialkot district.
At the school, he runs a unique project, which focuses on comprehensive training of housemaids and development of multiple skills, which they lack. This programme was launched and is implemented in collaboration with the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Reform Support Programme of GIZ. This is a multi-lateral initiative co-funded by the European Union, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the Federal Republic of Germany.
The training course, Ahsan explains, comprises several modules, including those on duties and rights at the workplace, necessary mathematical concepts within a household, healthy and safe environment, use of household equipment and household machines, organisation and basic preparation of food, preparedness to respond to emergencies, communication skills, care of elderlies in a household, avoiding sexual harassment at the workplace and so on.
To begin with, he says, a pilot project for 50 housemaids was launched in Lahore. The project duration was three months and the trainees were offered a three-hour daily training throughout the length of the course.
Muqaddas Asif, a trainee with intermediate level education, says she has learnt a lot during the training. She worked as a housemaid with a family, headed by a renowned physician, for around nine years, without discontinuing her studies. Muqaddas says she wanted to progress in life but with no skills at hand she could on only dream of this.“Today I am trying for a job of front-desk attendant at an outlet of an international food chain. Thanks to this training, I can use computer, make calculations fast, greet people in modern English accent, handle complex situations, use advanced electrical equipment and what not. What else employers want?”
Ahsan says, he took up the project with a missionary zeal and treated the trainees as his daughters. He adds that some parents had reservations but when they visited the site of the pilot project and saw his whole family working on the project they agreed to send their daughters.
In Chenab School, which is located in a rural area, they were confronted with a major issue: regular suspension of electricity supply, which is sometime as long as 16 to 18 hours. The training is highly dependent on energy supply as trainees get hands-on experience on household machines such as microwave ovens, refrigerators, deep freezers etc.
“We forwarded our request to GIZ regarding the meeting of energy needs from a renewable source of electrical energy,” says Muhammad Talal Syed, head of the machining section. He adds that the development agency took no time to find a solution and managed the installation of a 6 KW solar energy system for the entire premises of the Chenab School,.
The total cost of the solar energy system and the machinery, including electric appliances, handed over to the project management team, amounted to around Rs 4.5 million. Talal says, housemaids have to use highly complex and costly electrical equipments in their jobs. “They must know enough about them for the safety of this equipment and more importantly their own safety.”Reaching the venue of training was by no means an easy task for the trainees. Safia Allah Ditta, a housemaid in her teens and daughter of a rickshaw driver, had to face a lot of initial resistance from her close and distant male family members. Later on, her relatives met the project team members and got convinced that she was as safe with them as she was in her own house.
Her relatives had objected to her enrolment in the training as she had to walk a long distance to reach the training venue. On her way she had to ward off gazes of onlookers and advances of eve-teasers.
“Ultimately, we decided not to travel alone and go there in groups. This helped us a lot. Those irritating people are still there but now they rarely tease us,” says Safia.
Mrs Fatima Bilal, a trainer and project team member, says the project has helped them learn a lot about the needs of housemaids and the issues they face. They hardly took care of their health, knew little about first aid in spite of being exposed to risks of all types, for example electrocution during work. “We have taught them how to take care of gas leaks, handle uncovered electric wires, use safety kits including gloves, go for first aid and medical treatment when needed and so on.”
They have also been taught on how to take care of the elderly in the family and check pulse and blood pressure. “You can well imagine how much these skills can go to increase employability and pay packages of our graduated trainees,” Fatima states.