Hugging the orange box tightly to his chest, the child tagged after the strangers carrying the marvellous boxes — so many, so colourful and so unique. Eid had never before been so bright. Aasiya Faris Sachwani turned and gently reminded him, “I have given you your box, beta.”
“I don’t want more,” protested the child innocently. “I am just getting happy watching others get them.”
It all started six years ago when her maid’s sick granddaughter was spending Eid day in Karachi’s Civil Hospital. Aasiya and Maham, her 4-year-old daughter, were upset about the hospitalised 4-year-old, who was also named Maham. While they would be enjoying the Eid celebrations, the other Maham would be lying in a dreary hospital ward, far from the festivities. Perhaps, they thought, they could still share the excitement with the sick girl by giving her Eidi? But if only Maham got Eidi, wouldn’t it be unfair to the other children in the same ward? All children deserve Eidi, after all.
Aasiya first found out exactly how many other children were in Maham’s ward. She and her daughter then took 10 shoe boxes, decorated them, filled them with treats and wrapped them beautifully. On Eid day, when most people were out visiting relatives, Aasiya and her daughter headed off to Civil Hospital and gifted the boxes to the children in Maham’s ward.
“The children’s reaction motivated me,” says Aasiya. “They were so happy that I thought: why not do this yearly?”
Next year, Aasiya’s daughter discussed the idea with her friends in the kindergarten section of Karachi Grammar School (KGS). Mothers became interested and the principal decided to pitch in, turning it into a school volunteer project. With everyone rolling up their sleeves and pitching in, they managed to deliver an astounding 400 Eidi boxes that year.
Seeing the children fight for their lives and seeing parents struggle to purchase medicine made Aasiya feel that these small gift boxes were insignificant compared to the adversities faced by these young patients.
“I was walking towards a hospital bed to hand a box out to a sick child when the nurse saw me and shook her head from a distance,” she recalls sadly. “The child had just died. It was one of those moments when I wondered what I was doing there. Then I met someone who told me that we can’t single-handedly solve all the problems in the world. But we must do what we can.”
The project had a life of its own, spreading to The Lyceum School, Indus Academy and Froebel’s Education Centre by the next year. Aasiya went to schools with pictures of the previous year’s boxes and the children who received them and the parents of each participating student put together a flyer with a list of things to buy. These included juice, snacks, stationery, toys, and personal care items like brushes and talcum powder. Children often assisted in shopping for these items.
“My daughter has seen me active in these projects from a very young age,” says Aasiya. “Making the boxes could have been an adult experience, but the more important thing is that every box comes from one child who is thinking about it. It is important to make our children a part of giving, something we don’t usually do. Yes, someone is getting this box. But someone is giving it. Hence the name Humsay Apko (from me to you).”
Two weeks before Eid, older volunteers start collecting and sorting boxes. Making A-level students a part of the delivery process has its own benefits. “They go to universities abroad, but if they take this one experience with them it will bring them back,” says Aasiya.
Aasiya herself spent nine years in Canada, before moving back to Pakistan and opening a Montessori where she sought to develop an inclusive environment for normally able students and those with special needs.
“Humsay Apko isn’t about any organisation,” explains Aasiya. “It is just about doing what needs to be done. It wasn’t my school or my trust doing the work. It was me and other mothers. It really is individual efforts that matter.”
In 2008, volunteers from Start Right Montessori, KGS, Frobels Education Centre, The Lyceum, Indus Academy, Karachi High School and Bulandi School distributed 1,600 boxes at National Institute of Child Health (NICH), the Civil Hospital Paediatric Ward, the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplantation (SIUT), PNS Shifa, Indus Hospital, The Kidney Centre and Jamiyat Hospital.
Aasiya did every delivery herself until 2010, when even the “diehard patriot” as she calls herself, had to move to Canada because of security concerns. The yearly gift-giving didn’t happen in her absence, but one of Aasiya’s friends, on her own initiative, bought 65 gift bags and took them to SIUT.
“SIUT contacted her saying that the excitement handmade boxes created among kids could be replaced by no other goody bags,” says Aasiya. “Children would often sleep with their boxes.”
This year, when some of Aasiya’s friends found that she was coming to Pakistan, they got excited about making their boxes. It worried Aasiya that the project might fizzle out in her absence so she called a meeting so participants could get in touch with each other even if she was not around. “Projects like this shouldn’t stop because of one person,” she says. “If not me, then someone else should do it.”
This year, Bayview and Bahria School were added to the list of participants and more than 2,000 boxes were distributed at various hospitals. “Giving back to society shouldn’t really be contingent on our mood or desire,” says Aasiya. “You should always give back.”
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 9th, 2011.