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Alumna increasing COVID-19 awareness among Pakistan’s marginalised communities

Posted: 8 October 2021

Pakistan, Alumni, COVID-19, Impact,

Australia Awards alumna Rabia Rauf has been instrumental in implementing widespread COVID-19 awareness-raising campaigns in schools, health facilities and amongst marginalised communities in remote areas of Pakistan.

Rabia completed her Master of Environmental Science at the University of Melbourne in 2016 with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship. She is currently the Senior Manager Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), heading up the Emergency and WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) division at Action Against Hunger – Pakistan.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Action Against Hunger launched an awareness-raising project in Pakistan’s Sindh province, targeting the districts of Thatta, Tando Allahyar, Larkana and Shikarpur. Through the project – which was supported by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid (ECHO) – Action Against Hunger delivered information-sharing sessions to marginalised communities and schools, and distributed information packs to schoolchildren. In addition, the project created public education campaigns, which were broadcast on radio and cable television channels in each of the four districts. To help limit the spread of COVID-19, the project established handwashing stations in government schools, primary and secondary healthcare centres, and marketplaces in all target districts. The project also facilitated the COVID-19 response of frontline workers by distributing personal protective equipment to primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare centres. The project was successfully completed in May 2021, having reached more than 300,000 households.

Subsequently, Rabia and her team have successfully obtained funding from both ECHO and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) for Thatta, Mirpur Khas and Badin districts, where underprivileged and vulnerable communities are already affected by floods and droughts. Food security in these areas has been significantly reduced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The project’s focus is on supporting communities through conditional and unconditional cash grants, disaster preparedness and disaster risk reduction via community mobilisation actions. The SIDA-funded project was launched in June 2021, with the ECHO-funded project following it in July.

As the sector head for DRR, Emergency and WASH at Action Against Hunger, Rabia’s role includes developing programs for funding opportunities, providing technical support to field teams to implement activities and building the capacity of staff. She also develops research opportunities for synergies between WASH and undernutrition and represents Action Against Hunger at provincial and national forums for DRR, WASH and Emergency response.

“The Australia Awards alumni network has helped me during my work by linking me to experts for water, DRR and research,” Rabia says. “I have also used the alumni networks to approach Australian universities for partnership opportunities regarding a pilot project for water conservation in urban areas.”

Since returning to Pakistan following her Australia Awards Scholarship, Rabia says her proudest achievement has been developing and procuring funding for a three-year nutrition-sensitive program in 10 districts of Sindh, where pilot activities were introduced to counter climate change. These pilot activities include a food system mapping study in Sindh, bio-fortified wheat and paddy fish farming for food security, as well as promotion of rainwater harvesting in rural communities.

Rabia speaking at Action Against Hunger’s seminar that was funded under Australia Awards Small Grants Scheme

Rabia is also a beneficiary of the Australia Awards Small Grants Scheme. She received a grant that supported her and Action Against Hunger to launch a seminar advocating for Pakistan’s potential to produce ready-to-use therapeutic food locally rather than relying on imports from France.

“My Australia Awards Scholarship has helped my career in numerous ways,” Rabia says. Beyond the skills she gained from her master’s degree and her ability to access the Small Grants Scheme, she mentions that simply having the Scholarship on her CV has given her advantages. “My Australia Awards experience has opened doors for better working opportunities through its alumni network”, she adds.