A sick daughter, growing debt and skyrocketing inflation reaching record levels – faced with a situation like this, Sakina Bibi had to make some tough decisions.
“My daughter Sana was recently diagnosed with cancer. I don’t have enough money to get her treated as well as send my son Ali to school. So, I took him out of school, and now he stays at home and looks after his sister, while I do whatever I can,” said the 52-year-old, a maid in Islamabad.
The mother-of-three works at three different houses to try to make ends meet, earning 30,000 rupees a month ($107) – just above Pakistan’s minimum wage of $90.
“Ali is 14, he can go to school later. He can maybe learn to do something. But I cannot lose my firstborn,” said Bibi, who has separated from her husband. “I am under debt of 200,000 rupees ($717) due to her treatment but I must do what I can as a mother to save her.”
Much like Bibi, Ghulam Murtaza Abbasi also had to make difficult calls as Pakistan faces one of the worst economic crises of its history.
The 59-year-old used to be a labourer in his hometown of Murree, a hilly area on the outskirts of Islamabad. But he had to relocate to Islamabad four months ago to work as a security guard to continue supporting his wife and five children.
He found a job at a petrol station, a post which he admits he got only through the help of an acquaintance. “Otherwise, who would give job to a frail, old man,” he said.
Abbasi works seven days a week and earns a monthly salary of 28,000 rupees ($100), 70 percent of which he sends to his family back in Murree. He said he would not go home for Eid al-Fitr – the Muslim festival marking the end of the upcoming fasting month of Ramadan – to continue earning money for his family.
“There is no off days for us,” he said.
“I am lucky that the company provides us accommodation, otherwise I’d be left with nothing. Even now, only three of my children go to school because I cannot afford to send the other two.”