Saint Catherine's Convent Workshop


For many decades the Catholic and Protestant Churches have been selflessly providing services to the poor, destitute and helpless in the territory which today comprises Pakistan. Christian humanitarians were the first to venture into areas such as caring for lepers for whom the Pakistani state or the average Pakistani never bothered about. So long is the list of church-sponsored philantropic ventures in Pakistan that justice cannot be done on this webpage by listing them all. And church-sponsored missionary schools in Pakistan have earned an enviable reputation by turning out generations of well-educated and disciplined young people who, by and large, have done quite well in life.

On Sunday, October  21st, 2006, I had the opportunity to visit St. Catherine's Convent workshop at 242 Aziz Bhatti Road in Rawalpindi's Lalkurti district, and see first-hand the commendable effort the Catholic Church is making towards training young women from poor families in stitching and needle-work and hence providing them with an opportunity for producing various forms of embroidered cloth which they can sell to generate some income. The visit was sponsored by the Asian Study Group (ASG) and is usually organized once every year. About twenty ASG members participated, most of them staffers at a few western embassies. We left Islamabad at our usual pick-up point in front of the United Bakery in the F-6 Supermarket at 10 A.M. and travelled in a convey comprising a coaster (in which I was seated), a US embassy van, and a cruiser driven by a British diplomat. I learned en route to the workshop from two other US citizens that the US embassy staff must travel in their own transport "for security reasons" and (like most staffers from foreign embassies) must apply for a "security clearance" when traveling outside Islamabad. 

Reaching the workshop in Islamabad's neighbouring city of Rawalpindi took just under an hour. The approach was difficult as the Convent is located in an old part of the city and initially we landed up at the wrong Convent! That was quickly sorted out and we rolled into the compound of St. Catherine's where our gracious host, Sister Delphine, was waiting for us. She led us into the workshop where we were greeted by a group of colourfully dressed young women seated on both sides of a long, narrow table and busy stitching away at cloth of various shapes and sizes. There followed a round of the workshop with Sister Delphine briefing us about the work being undertaken there and its purpose, namely, to enable these young women from the neighbourhood to learn the skills needed to generate income so that they can get some measure of financial independance and escape the poverty trap.  

The workshop isn't that new but has around for several years. Initially it was in a different location. The Convent provides the materials, workshop space and training while the women make use of all these facilities to stitch embroidered cloth which is sold by the Convent on their behalf, with the proceeds then being paid out to them. Sister Delphine informed that about half the women are Christian, the other half Muslim. They do not live in the Convent but come, usually in the morning time, and work for hours on their cloth before leaving for their homes. Sometimes the women train and work at the workshop for months and then move on with their lives, their places taken up by fresh novices. Some did quite well in life subsequently and Sister Delphine told me that one woman had used her acquired skills to set up her own business. 

By the way, this isn't my first visit to the workshop. I had already been there several years earlier. You can see the few photos I took on that occasion in my Rawalpindi webpage.  I hope you enjoy the photos below. Remember, to see an enlarged version, just click on the thumbnail.


  Our host, Sister Delphine, shows us around the convent workshop and tells us about the work which is being undertaken there. 

These beautiful figurines along with the brass vase and two glass vases, and the burning candle were on a file cabinet standing in the corner of the workshop. I just couldn't resist the temptation of photographing such a setting.



  The display cabinet in the photo on the left contains a large number of embroidered cloth made in the workshop. The figures, vases and candle can be seen on top of the filing cabinet standing in the corner.

The photo on the right shows the thread rolls and other inputs which are used by the girls to make their cloth. 



    A series of photos showing the workshop room and girls and tour guests from various angles. Quite a crowd as you can see.    



      This set of fourteen photos show the convent girls hard at work needling away on various cloth forms.  


  Beautifully stitched cloth on display for sale. The colourful designs are all hand-made as you would have guessed. See the colourful napkins and laundry bag waiting for buyers. The price tag of the serviettes can be seen on the last photo on the right.    


    Photos of one of our group members from the United Kingdom, shown here holding his child. The little chap did need quite a bit of supervision as I recall :=)

Sister Delphine had also arranged for some snacks and light refreshments for us which were laid out on a table (photo on the right).

  Our guide (photo on the left) who accompanied us from the pick up point outside the United Bakery in Islamabad in the morning and dropped us off there later in the afternoon. He was a courteous but somewhat reserved person. 

The nun in the photo on the right was the colleague of Sister Delphine and she was present throughout our visit. She chatted with some of us (photo on the right).



  The group members demonstrated great interest in the embroidered cloth made by the girls and which were laid out on a long table for sale. There were all kinds of items ranging from napkins to full-length table covers. Prices varied considerably too but the items I liked were a bit too costly for comfort. Quite a bit of time was spent by our group members at the cloth table. I saw some people buying a number of items and spending quite a sum of money in the process! Oh well, as expatriates they're probable being paid quite a sum in salary too.


Sister Delphine's elderly colleague supervising the sweet little boy shown in these three photos.      


    Photos taken outside the workshop, showing the driveway, frontal view of the building and the corridor leading into the workshop. A number of stray cats also lurked around but were shooshed off by Sister Delphine.    



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