Chocolates for slum children

Visiting a slum for the first time, I realised it is very easy to spread happiness by walking a few blocks from home.

Nishaa Ishtiak July 23, 2011
“So we want to distribute these chocolates among kids before we leave,” my family friends said excitedly. Born and brought up in England, they were living in Dubai now and were on a visit to Pakistan. In the last couple of days, during their visit, they told us about the chocolates that they had brought with them for the underprivileged children.

In order to fulfill my kind guests’ noble request, I asked my brother who knew of a slum that was cocooned in the middle of one of Islamabad’s posh sectors. Further investigation revealed that our cleaner Basheer Lala also came from the same locality and that made matters even easier. Feeling a bit embarrassed for never having visited the place (therefore being totally oblivious of its whereabouts) I, my brother and our guests set out to distribute the overflowing boxes of Celebrations and Quality Street among the slum dwellers.

We reached the area somewhere around 7pm - the contrast between the abodes of the populations that ran parallel to each other was jolting to say the least.

Though I, like the majority, had seen pictures of the downtrodden areas of the city, with children happily bathing in dirty water, it was my first personal encounter with adversity and that too so close to home.

A few dwindling lights burnt while a bunch of men sat on a charpoi having a discussion (probably over the rising level of inflation and growing terrorism in the country) from the looks of it. Feeling a little shy, I walked and said rather awkwardly:
“Err Assalm-o-Alaikum, are there any children around here? My friends would like to distribute some chocolates.”

The friendly faces looked at the ‘rich kids’ from the neighbourhood and laughed:
“Sure go in, wahaan bache hi bache hain (there are plenty of children inside).”

And so, we ventured forth.

It was the first time I had actually stepped foot inside a slum. The ‘houses,’ if you can call them that, were clustered together. We hesitantly knocked on one door which was opened by middle aged woman of heavy built.

She smiled at us. “Uh hello you have any kids around, we have brought them sweets” I asked nervously anticipating the door to be shut in my face (I was finding it incredibly difficult to break the ice).

“Yes of course!” she replied laughing and a few shy faces emerged from the house after a while, eagerly taking the sweets from us.

As we continued walking through the labyrinth of houses, knocking on doors, it soon became clear to us that we would have to divide into teams. Before we knew it, we were stranded by a mob of children of all ages and sizes, grinning, jumping around excitedly and yelling for more chocolates. After another ten minutes of shouting and scrambling, we realised we had to try a new strategy. The word had spread and now we could easily go out to the open space for easy distribution.

My command of “Line banao saare (queue up every one)” fell on deaf ears. As the kids giggled, with the help of a couple of volunteers, we finally managed to calm things down a bit. A few young girls came to me shaking my hand and staring at the four of us in amazement as if we had just landed from Mars. Though the uneasy feeling I had at the beginning vanished as the innocent faces started to talking to us (keeping an alert eye on the chocolates).

The kids were thoroughly enjoying themselves and so were we. However the principle of equality could not be ignored altogether, as my aunt said “it is not fair if some have more than others,” reminding her nephew who could hardly keep track of the faces which somehow kept relining for their share of the imported sweets (there being no light in the area at that part of the night was not helping us either).

As the demand outgrew the supply, kids picked up such a racket that at one point that the one of them had to run with the chocolates while the other children chased after him delightfully.

It was a hilarious sight, a happy sight; for a while it seemed the two halves of the city had connected; our own problems seemed so insignificant as the kids jumped all around, possessively holding their sweets. Meanwhile, I was busy trying to make the distributions as equal as I could, it was hard with the tiny hands pleading for “one more please for my sister at home” - all resolve at impartiality would vanish.

As I looked back at the innocent faces which were happily munching on the sweets and waving goodbye, I wondered what they would tell their parents and sibling once in their tiny quarters. Free of sarcasm and cynicism they would perhaps describe the taste that most of them had never experienced before. Some would comment on the ‘weird’ visitors who had suddenly dropped out of the blue at their doorstep like Santa Claus, though with a limited stock.

Hopefully the chocolates from Dubai brightened their day; they did mine at least and I would always be grateful to my guests for letting me be part of such a noble gesture.

As I went home, I thought about how easy it was to spread happiness by walking only a few blocks from your home. It wrenched my heart when I remembered the tiny hands scrambling for one little piece of sweet and I wondered how much would it mean to them if they were given clean housing, water and a good education?

I guess that is a bit too much for them to dream about and a lot more for us to provide.
Nishaa Ishtiak

The writer is a civil servant. She tweets @NishaaIshtiak

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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