In her small traditional house in Kahna, Lahore, Bilquees Rafeeq sits on the floor, busy packing colorful rod shaped pappur (Pappadam – a light crispy snack that resembles crackers) into polythene bags. With the help of her husband, Bilquees runs a small pappur business. Four years ago, Bilquees’s husband was unemployed. Her four children often had to go to sleep on an empty stomach. Reflecting upon those days Bilquees says, “My children would cry all night and I would be completely helpless.”
The Branch Manager of Kahna recalls that in 1999, when Kashf Foundation was forming a group of women who would receive a loan, majority of the members were unwilling to include Bilquees in their group. These women feared that Bilquees was too poor and would be unable to return the loan instalments and they would have to pay for her.
Bilquees has received four loans worth Rs. 4,000, 6,000, 10,000 and 20,000 respectively from the Kashf Foundation. Bilquees invested this money by buying huge pots and pans for her pappur business. Once a month her husband goes to Faisalabad to buy pappur. She fries the pappur at home and packs them. Her husband helps her with the packing. Bilquees has hired two additional women who come in for two hours every day and help her with the packing. Bilquees pays them Rs. 20 per day. Bilquees says that shopkeepers from the adjoining areas come to her house every day to purchase pappur which they subsequently sell in their shops. According to Bilquees, her monthly profits are Rs. 5000 – 6,000.
From last year, Bilquees has started sending two of her young sons to school. Bilquees says, “I want my children to acquire education so that they can improve their lives.” Currently Bilquees and her family live in a single room rented house and pay Rs. 550 per month. In the morning this room is used to pack the pappurs and at night mats are laid out on the floor where the six members of Bilquees’ family sleep. In February 2003, Bilquees and her husband purchased some land in order to build a house of their own. Bilquees plans to start building her house by next year.
Bilquees says, “Kashf Foundation has helped my family to become self sufficient. We no longer have to beg relatives and friends for money. If Kashf had not lent me money I would have been working long hours as a laborer in some factory.” From the days when she had to worry about not having enough money to prepare meals, Bilquees has come a long way.
The Kashf Foundation (KASHF) was set up in 1996, and introduced the Grameen Bank approach for poor women in the Punjab province of Pakistan. It aims to work towards the alleviation of poverty and the economic empowerment of rural women, by focusing on value adding to women’s existing economic activities. In order to achieve these objectives, it provides collateral free loans to rural women for various income generating activities. Initially Grameen Trust approved and disbursed an amount of US$ 10,000 to Kashf Foundation and later an amount of US$ 57,000 was provided to Kashf to expand its Bedian-Lahore branch.
As of August 2003, Kashf has disbursed a total of US$ 14,946,758 to 50,612 borrowers through its 30 branches, with an outstanding of US$ 7,370,645, maintaining 100% rate of repayment.