They used to sell potatoes now today they sell e-services

Hunza: Oct, 2013: Three years on, victims of a natural disaster including Elvina’s parents still live in temporary shelters. They have put their children’s education ahead of building new homes. And those kids are about to earn good incomes.

A few years ago, you could access the village of Gulmit in Upper Hunza by road. A lot of trucks used to pass very near here, along the Silk Road through northern Pakistan to China. But in 2010 a massive landslide resulted in the formation of a 24-km long lake in the Hunza River, affecting 25,000 people, completely submerging 13 villages, and parts of the Karakorum Highway—and cutting off the villages in Gojal, including its main village, Gulmit.

Gojal used to be famous for tourism, and for its potatoes. Since 9/11 terrorist incidents have destroyed the tourism markets, much of the agricultural land is under water, and the new Attabad lake has complicated the process of selling potatoes. “Getting potatoes to market is expensive when everything has to be loaded, unloaded and reloaded on to boats either side of the lake on the way to market,” explains Mubeen Muhammad, CEO of community organization KADO.

And Gulmit will remain cut off for some time yet. It will be another two years before work by Chinese engineers to build a road link to the village is completed. For the past three years, the local people have been totally dependent of food aid from China.

But in today’s interconnected, online world, it’s not just potatoes that Gulmit can offer. Thanks to the internet it is also possible to sell electronic services—“e-services”—to people on the other side of the world.

And that’s the way Gulmit is going. Before the landslide, it didn’t even have internet. Today it is on-track to become a centre of e-services.

That’s largely down to KADO—the Karakoram Area Development Organisation—a democratically run and community-based NGO which is active throughout the province. KADO has developed seven IT centres across the mountainous province of Gilgit Baltistan, including one in Gulmit. And now, using EU co-funding, and co-operating with German development agency GIZ, it is teaching young people skills like e-marketing, e-accounting, e-book publishing, online web designing and programming.

By learning the skills needed to use the world wide web, thinks Mubeen, Gulmit’s people can overcome their geographic isolation – and earn good money. Mubeen also believes that, within two years, there will be a fibre-optic cable coming from China, so that they’ll be able to get quality internet into all the homes in the village. He wants the village’s young people to be ready for that.

In Gulmit, Elvina has just finished a course in e-marketing and content writing organised by KADO and co-funded by the EU. It is one of many courses available here in Gulmit.

Elvina is one of those who lost their houses to the flooding in 2010. The government gave the family around USD 6,000 to rebuild. Instead her parents invested every penny of that money to educate their three children. Three years later the family is still living in temporary shelter in a village entirely cut off from the rest of the world for three months a year when the lake is frozen.

But that educational investment is beginning to pay off. Elvina now writes for a local internet blog. She is one of a number of people here working to promote the area to potential tourists through journalism, blogging, and promotional campaigns. Now she hopes to be able to make money on the side by offering e-marketing services, thus earning a living without moving away from the region that she loves.

In Upper Hunza, Elvina’s parents are not unusual. For example, in Gulmit the people are so committed to education that many graduates of its community school have won scholarships to Harvard and Oxford. In the 1980s Upper Hunza was one of the most backward places in Pakistan, says Shazia, GIZ liaison officer for the area. Then it received support from the Aga Khan Foundation, funded by the EU, which strongly emphasises both education and community self-help. Today the people of this area are the most highly educated in the country, with 96% literacy levels.

They also have an unusually strong commitment to community service. KADO’s courses are taught by professionals who now run businesses in other parts of Pakistan. But they are from this area, and responded to Mubeen’s soft but persuasive call to give something back.

If done well, this sort of work can yield a good living. Professionals with those teachers’ experience and reputations can earn USD 2,000 a month from performing e-marketing or e-accountancy services, building websites, or editing small films, for customers all over the world—including some from the United States. Work is offered online, you bid for it, and—if your price is good and you have a reputation for quality and reliability—you win.

Some graduates of KADO’s courses are already winning, earning up to USD 300 a month, a very respectable income even in the big cities.

And as Ali, another graduate of KADO’s courses says, you don’t need much to live very well in Gulmit. He reckons he’s learned more useful skills practical that will help him earn a living on this four-month e-marketing course in Gulmit, funded by the EU and the German and Netherlands governments, than anywhere else, including Austria. The project was implemented as one of the GIZ managed FIT projects.

Fact Box

GIZ Project

TVET Reform Support Programme At Glance


A “bit of a poet, a photographer, a blogger” he says he’s never been great at earning money. He’s a graduate of an Austrian tourism college, he’s worked for a tourist agency in Islamabad, but now he’s back in Gulmit “because this place is heaven”

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