Due to the efforts of a young man who has connected the Thar Desert population to the global online market, the area, which is predominantly known for extreme human suffering caused by droughts, poverty, and unemployment, may become the next hub of information technology in Pakistan.
Pardeep Meghwar, who hails from a lower middle-class family, opened a software firm, iSKILLERS, in October 2020 in Mithi, the main town in the poverty-stricken Tharparkar district, dominated by the Hindu community. He also used iSKILLERS to teach computer technology to local residents.
Since then, the 36-year-old IT consultant and freelancing software developer have enrolled nearly 150 students, including girls, and turned the facility into a popular seminary for tech-savvy students.
“Our first batch of students graduated in October 2021,” Meghwar told Arab News. “Twelve of them have been earning through online freelancing. They have been making between $500 and $2,000.”
“Some students have earned $100 from their very first order,” he continued. “In Pakistan, fresh university graduates earn about $200 monthly. This means that our students can make the same amount by working on two lucrative orders.”
Meghwar started developing his IT skills while he was still going to school. However, his passion for technology ultimately helped him earn his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering.
“In 2002, when I was in class nine, my father, who was a clerk, got a computer for me on loan,” he said. “In the beginning, I started fixing small computer-related problems in my neighborhood to earn some money.”
Empowering the youth
Meghwar won the prime minister’s excellence award last year before his name was listed by Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) among the country’s “top hundred extraordinary freelancers” in June 2021.
Despite a lack of livelihood opportunities in his region, he said online freelancing had thrown a ray of hope into the minds of young people in his region, especially girls who could now make a decent living working with the help of the Internet. “My aim is to empower the youth in this desert region,” he said. “Online freelancing youth can earn financial freedom by utilizing modern technological tools.”
Mukesh Chandani, an 18-year-old intermediate student who lives on the outskirts of Mithi, did a four-month certification course in WordPress customization and got his first online assignment nearly two weeks after completing the training program.
“My first order helped me earn $30,” he said. “I have worked on 20 orders until now and earned over $1,000.” However, some students also complained of poor internet connectivity in the area.
Mark Zuckerberg of the desert
Danish Raz, who was born and brought up in the Thar region, returned to his hometown from Islamabad, where he worked as a freelancer for several years, at Meghwar’s request. He now teaches WordPress at iSKILLERS.
Meghwar himself gave up his small IT firm which he managed in Dubai for about three years to return to Pakistan.
Raz described his friend’s efforts as “revolutionary,” saying there was no trend of online freelancing in his native town until Meghwar took the initiative to bring about a change. “Friends have started calling Pardeep Mark Zuckerberg of the desert,” he smiled. “The title may also bring the attention of the rest of the country to this region someday.”
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