After lunch, seven-year-old Saddam Hussain washes his hands inside a dining hall at Zamung Kor, a home for street children in the city. Fifteen other children follow suit - just as their teachers have taught them to.
Since it was launched on November 20, 2015, Zamung Kor has started operations and is making gradual progress. The 216 empty flats in Nassapa have become a warm home and a seat of learning for street children. Saddam is among 16 children who have been enrolled at the institute.
In less than a month since the children were plucked from government-run welfare homes, they learned enough discipline to walk in a single file and salute their teachers and elders. Watching them respond to their teachers’ morning greeting in unison, it seems the regimented respect is not necessarily drilled into their routine using harsh discipline; not if the content look on their faces is anything to go by.
“I am happy [here] and don’t want to go elsewhere,” says Saddam. “This place is beautiful.” As he spoke, the rest of his class listened intently. Some of the children raise their hands when asked who met Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairperson Imran Khan. They are gradually going to gain more friends as the house looks to expand.
Muhammad Naeem, the project director, tells The Express Tribune, the number of the children at the institute is likely to increase to 100 by the end of the current financial year.
He explains Zamung Kor only has arrangements for children studying at the kindergarten level. “That’s why we have enrolled children of a particular age,” he said. “Once we complete school arrangements for children at other levels, we will enrol from different age groups,” he says. “I can’t bring children from welfare homes [to Zamung Kor] if I don’t have proper arrangements for them.”
Settling into a routine
Volunteers from Khpal Kor Foundation, an NGO, are assisting the social welfare department in running the project. Over time, the children have grown attached to their volunteers, especially their caretaker Jahan Bano, who takes on the role of the all-purpose nanny.
“Last night, they were telling me not to leave or they will bring me back here in a helicopter,” says Bano.
“The children are happy and they don’t ask to leave the premises,” says Fazal Ghafar, the physical training instructor.
According to Ghafar, the children have settled into a routine that begins at 6am and ends at 9pm. During the day, they play sports, read at the library and attend school – all on a schedule.
Naeem says children are enrolled at the institute from government welfare homes.
“We get street children through the courts and as per the provisions of the child protection act,” he explains.
However, in the long run, the institute plans to draft rules and regulations in this regard, which will be widely disseminated and reflect the opinion of the public, stakeholders and organisations involved in the field before being adopted.
“A steering committee, which comprises various department secretaries, is working on the rules,” says Naeem. “We will first make standard operating procedures which will be later transformed into rules.”
With open arms
He adds, “All those children who are vulnerable and prone to exploitation because their parents have abandoned them, orphans and children of women who can’t feed them are the state’s children and our responsibility. They will be brought to Zamung Kor.”
According to Naeem, they will educate them and provide them adequate skills to help them get jobs in the future.
What the future holds
Since this project has been launched for an initial period of three years and costs Rs447 million for the duration, the social welfare department has been left with two options. It can either continue the initiative as a government-run project or turn Zamung Kor into an autonomous body with its own board of directors.
Naeem says they have received an overwhelmingly positive response from donors both within and outside Pakistan. “They want Zamung Kor to be turned into an autonomous body,” he explains. “But that will be decided later.”
Naeem says they will decide whether the curriculum for O level or matriculation education will be offered at the institute on March 8 (Tuesday).
Published in The Express Tribune, March 7th, 2016.