Home to 50 girls, Ghonsla might be called an orphanage but most of its residents are not orphans.
“After the father dies it is usually hard for the mother, who wasn’t working to begin with, to take care of all the children,” said Naheed Tariq Satti, chairwoman of the all-girls orphanage, while explaining why just one of the establishment’s resident is without both parents.
She said that most of the girls under her care have mothers who are unable to provide for them. Only one six-year-old girl, who was found after the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, is an orphan.
But financial constraints are not the only reason why girls end up at the orphanage. Once the father passes away, land disputes emerge, leading to threats to family members, particularly girls as they can become victims of rape, abduction and murder, Satti said. “Girls in our country need safe havens the most. But very few are available [to them].”
Ghonsla was established in 2001 under the aegis of Tahir Welfare set up by Satti’s mother. The orphanage will eventually house 200 girls once its two-storey building is complete.
“We were donated two kanals [in Bangiaal] and funds for building which has enabled us to move out from a rented place and into our own home. But we have only built one storey yet and need to build two more.”
Satti said that they are not looking for cash handouts but help in kind, such as cement, furniture or food.
“We want to give these girls all they would have if they were with their parents: education, shelter, food, clothing and love. So we try to take in whoever is in need but we also have to make sure that we can provide for them,” said Shagufta Hussain, the principal of a school within the orphanage.
Students are taught at the school up until the tenth grade. If a girl wishes to pursue education after matriculation, the trust pays the fee and arranges transport.
Taking care of each other and bonding like a family is the essence of Ghonsla. Sadaf, 15, said that though she is away from her mother, she is not alone. She has “seven mothers in her teachers and supervisors, and 49 sisters”.
Her biological sister, who recently completed matriculation, was called back home by her mother who had arranged her marriage. “I don’t want to get married so early. I want to study further and become a teacher here. I never want to leave; this is my home,” said an emotional Sadaf.
However, the girls will have to leave their nest for about a month. Every year, they go back to their families for Eid.
But a shy six-year-old Noor Fatima confided, “I would rather have Eid here.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2012.
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