Meet Sabreena Sidiqi: Social Worker Who Works In The Backdrop Of Landmines & Cross Border Shelling

Sabreena Sidiqi

Sidra Nazir from talks to Sabreena Sidiqi, a Kashmiri social worker whose job involves working on LOC and in areas which are under security radar.

Tell us about yourself

To begin with my story, as you call it, I am Sabreena Sidiqi. I hail from Srinagar. I have done schooling from Presentation Convent School. After that pursued bachelors in Science from Womens College MA Road. I did Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from University of Kashmir with specialization in Marketing and Human Resource. Currently I am working as Project Officer at HELP Foundation for Mine Risk Education and Conventional Weapons Risk Reduction Project.

Tell us about your work with HELP foundation 

Currently we are operating in four border districts of Jammu and Kashmir-Rajouri, Poonch, Baramulla and Kupwara. All these districts are highly sensitive and mostly affected by conflict. Besides poverty and health issues, the people living in remote border areas near Line of Control (LoC) and beyond fence have suffered lot of death, disability and destruction due to landmines and cross border shelling. These deadly weapons don’t discriminate between any one. Not only civilians but even security persons have suffered many casualties. Physical Rehabilitation is one way of helping the victims. But there has to be another mechanism to prevent casualties. Thus need for Risk Education.
We provide safety and security briefing to people living in these areas as to how they can enhance their knowledge and change their behavior in order to avoid landmine or unexploded ordinance casualties. We also work on community Based Reporting System and make them understand how they can report the landmine incidents or its presence to the authorities. So the main objective is to prevent death and disability. We also coordinate with other partner for Physical Rehabilitation of victims and provide them Prosthesis and Orthosis. We also help the beneficiaries in earning their livelihood with dignity by providing them livelihood support and also provide financial assistance to children for education.

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Tell us about how you became a social worker ?

I still remember as I child when for the first time I helped someone. It was winter of 2002 , I visited my uncles home in the city outskirts. I loved the aura of that place especially the well and the rope. I used to frequently go near the well. I don’t know what was so fascinating about it. One fine day while roaming around I saw a small one room house. It seemed as if it was a house in nowhere. I still remember the face of that lady, sitting outside the house and feeding her new born. Other kid was playing with mud. Me and my cousin approached her. She smiled at us, that weak smile as if she had never smiled for ages. After a brief conversation I insisted her to let me go inside that house. As she opened the door I could see the darkness inside. The pain and suffering ; no carpet to walk over ; no bed to rest on. Few utensils and some clothes messed up. Her elder child who I suppose must have been 3 years old that time was continuously asking her something. Each time she pushed him away and told him to play with mud. When we asked her, she lowered her gaze and said he is feeling hungry. I don’t have much at home so I am saving it so that he can have it later. If he will have it now, he will feel hungry again and I won’t be left with anything to feed him. I felt shiver down my spine. I rushed back to my uncle’s home and looked for food. Initially I took food with the consent of my aunt but later I started to save it from my share and at times steal it. Rush to that lady and give it to her. That smile which she gave each time and the satisfaction it brought in my heart was something which made me to visit her again and again. I was too young to realize it by then and I never had an idea that there are many people like this who are in need, need for basic things of life. I left from that place and this incident slowly started to fade away.

Being a student of Management, my focus was to join corporate. I liked marketing and of course travelling, thus started my career as Business Development Associate. I used to do Promo Marketing for GPI and ITC products. However the best part about Management is that it is blend of so many fields that our mind is always open to new things. However the crucible or turning point of my life was September 2014 floods. It was back then when I got associated with different NGOs of the valley. Though I worked for a very brief time for Rehabilitation of flood victims, but the impact of it on me was very strong. While travelling to various flood affected areas and interacting with people, I realized that there are problems and sufferings bigger than floods or any other natural calamity. I could feel the same shiver I felt back in 2002.

I was pursuing my MPhil-Phd from University of Kashmir when I got an offer to work as Project Officer for Mine Risk Education and Conventional Weapons Risk Reduction. It was a pilot project in J&K. Without giving a second thought I joined it and eventually I got so passionate about it that I left my Phd and continued with the same. It has been almost 2 years now since I am working for this project.

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In Kashmir, girls are not allowed to travel alone much by families, how supportive have your parents been?

I must say I have been truly blessed in this regard. My parents have been my spine. We all have a dream but unfortunately many die before they can be realized. I have been fortunate in this regard. I always had that freedom of doing what I like. I belong to a conservative family where girls are not allowed to travel alone and that too to far areas. In addition to this , all fields are not meant for girls. They just have to choose between a few, either teacher or doctor. To stand out of the crowd and work in conflict sensitive area where I have to do extensive travel day and night has only been possible with the support of my parents. They made me to dream big, aim high, stood by my side and watched me accomplishing it. Whatever I am , it’s because of them . Thanks to them.

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What other bottlenecks do you face in your role and how do you overcome them?

There have been lot of challenges. Since Mine Risk Education is a very sensitive project and the areas are always on security radar. Thus we have to be very cautious when we travel to these areas. These areas are constantly under the threat of cross border shelling and our team had a narrow escape many a times. Once we go near LOC, we are completely isolated from rest of the world as its completely out of network coverage. From the last couple of years I am on the run beyond the fence (Line of Control) along with my team where death, disability and destruction has enveloped the humanity. And we hardly guarantee our safe return when landmines, cross border shelling and hostility between the two countries is flowing in their blood. It’s always ‘surrender to death’ in the morning and ‘thanks once more to life’ in the evening. Thus to work in No-Go-Zone has never been an easy task. But as they say it is highly risky conflict area and that’s why we operate there, thus the presence of conflict in itself is a motivating factor. At times even the civilians living in these areas pose a challenge when they expect a lot from us and we too have our limitations.
The satisfaction I get at the end of the day. “It’s not only for what we do we are held responsible, but also for what we do not do”. So when I think that we all have a responsibility towards our society, there is no second thought about doing what I am doing. Besides that I am content with it. It Reminds me of a saying, “There is no greater joy nor greater reward than to make a fundamental difference in someone’s life”.
A lot needs to be done. It’s not possible to do everything or to bring change in everyone’s life. But we all can bring change is someone’s life. The blessings I get from them and the smile I see on the face of children is something I would treasure for rest of my life and it’s the same thing which keeps me going. In addition to this the feeling of content came when I came to know that after our session in one of the village of district Rajouri, Paryali, the school children reported the presence of unexploded ordinance to their teacher and accordingly they informed the army. This was not the usual practice in border areas. It saved life of many children. Same incident was reported from Poonch and our team mate saved life of many people. Thus when you see your work is result oriented, you get the satisfaction that you too have contributed something towards the humanity. This keeps me going.

You are a role model for lot of girls out there. Any message for them?

My colleagues usually say I am God’s blunder in gender. This makes me laugh. Though if we give it a thought, even today our society thinks that few professions or few roles are meant for boys only. All I want to say that we are not less than anyone. Girls set your goals high, never give up on your dreams, pull your socks and get set go. When your will is strong and you are highly determined and dedicated towards your goal no one can stop you. But yes always think about the weaker sections of your society. I would sum it up in few lines: “One person can make a difference and everyone should try. The time is always right to do what is right, as no act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted”. It’s your turn to inspire and be a role model for society