Twenty-five participants coming from diverse regions of Pakistan recently converged in Islamabad for a workshop focusing on the implementation of the Toolkit «Nurturing the Spiritual Development of Children in the Early Years: A Contribution to the Protection of Children from Violence and for the Promotion of Their Holistic Well-Being.»
This event was co-organized by Arigatou International – Geneva and Islamic Relief Worldwide, in collaboration with both the Pakistan Country office and its headquarters in the United Kingdom. This marked the inaugural training of its kind within Pakistan and the fourth to be conducted globally since the Toolkit’s launch in November 2022.
Conducted over five days, from 25 to 29 September 2023, the workshop served to enrich participants’ understanding of holistic child development and equipped them with concrete tools to nurture children’s spirituality to enhance the protection of children from violence.
The participant group included religious leaders, child protection experts from across Pakistan, child psychologists, early childhood experts from the Aga Khan Foundation and a representative from Search for Justice – Pakistan. Many of these participants occupy roles as program managers or coordinators in child and women development initiatives at Islamic Relief Pakistan, maintaining direct interactions with widows, orphans, and children at risk.
Realizing the profound connections between spirituality and child protection was an ‘aha’ moment for many participants. “With 40 years of war we have totally lost the meaning of spiritual well-being,” shared one of the participants. Given their day-to-day engagement with children impacted by adversity, this newfound awareness became instrumental in supporting the cultivation of resilience in children. Moreover, the workshop underscored the detrimental impact of violence on the well-being of children, providing invaluable insights into what we can do professionally and in our personal lives to nurture the flourishing of the child.
A significant highlight of the workshop was the visit of Mr. Khalid Naeem, a member of the Pakistan National Commission on the Rights of the Child, who joined the group as a special guest for a session that delved into the context of children in the country. Mr. Naeem stressed the importance of addressing the needs of the most vulnerable children, with a particular focus on children with disabilities. Additionally, Mr. Naeem underscored concerning statistics: 22.5 million children aged 5 to 16 in Pakistan, constituting 44% of the population, do not attend school, while only 42% of children under five have their births registered, hindering the realization of other essential rights.
Ms. Ayesha Raza Farooq, Chairperson of the National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC), also visited the group. She shared invaluable insights regarding the significance of nurturing spirituality during early childhood and expressed the desire for future collaborations with NCRC.
During the workshop, participants were introduced to the main components of the Toolkit and reflected on the rights of children, particularly looking at how the Convention of the Rights of the Child provides a framework to support the holistic development of children and affirm their human dignity. They explored the principles of the Convention and how they support the creation of respectful, empowering and loving environments for children to grow and thrive.
Participants also engaged in discussions highlighting the critical importance of the early years of life, as they form the bedrock of brain development and holistic growth, including spiritual well-being. “[I learned that] it’s important to adapt your approach to the child’s age, interests, and individual needs. The goal is to help them develop a sense of purpose, values, and inner peace that will guide them throughout their lives,” said a participant. Through dynamic, participatory activities like dialogue and role-playing, participants explored strategies to create positive relationships, safe environments and empowering experiences for children.
A significant outcome of this workshop was the commitment participants made to integrate the Toolkit into their work in the communities, targeting parents, caregivers, educators, social workers, community members, and activists. Through these adults, 3,575 children will be reached during implementation, to contribute to improved mental health, greater resilience building and strengthened social and emotional capacities.
A standout characteristic of the Toolkit is how it can be adapted and tailored to diverse contexts. This feature is vital in the case of Pakistan, and for Islamic Relief Worldwide as a humanitarian organization, where some beneficiaries are impacted by displacement due to climate crises in the region. The implementation of the Toolkit is being shaped to address these unique regional challenges.
The training team included Mr. Azhar Rehan Saifi, Child Care Coordinator, and Ms. Afshan Jamal, Child and Women Development Manager, from Islamic Relief Pakistan, as well as Mr. Anwar Ahmed, Orphans and Child Welfare Manager of International Programmes from Islamic Relief Worldwide. Arigatou International – Geneva was represented by Ms. Maria Lucia Uribe, Executive Director, and Mr. Suchith Abeyewickreme, Program Lead.
As we reflect on this significant milestone, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to the committed participants and our partners, with special recognition to the Fetzer Institute for their unwavering support, making this training a reality.