Swing low, sweet charity

Hope Uplift Foundation goes to the bottom of the social ladder for the noblest of work.

Hope Uplift Foundation goes to the bottom of the social ladder for the noblest of work. PHOTO: SHAFIQ MALIK

When every door closes in your face, go knocking on the doors of the Hope Uplift Foundation, an organisation that aims to empower the poor. It’s what Bilquis did. Even though she could barely make ends meet, Bilquis had bigger dreams of putting her daughter Sumbal through college. “I feared for the future of my daughter, ending up [doing] what I am doing,” she said. “But Hope Uplift Foundation helped [me] change the fate of my daughter.”

Currently her daughter is trying to get admission to Hajvery College while Bilquis is working as a cleaner at Hope Uplift Foundation homes.

Aiming to narrow the gap between the different income classes, the groundwork for the Hope Uplift Foundation (HUF) was laid in the year 2000. The staff mostly comprises volunteers who value compassion above everything else. The foundation’s main focus is to offer monetary help, food and education at subsidised rates. The initiative was taken in light of stark social divisions, explains Lubna Shakoh, the founder. “The people in Model Colony, an urban slum surrounded by one of the most developed areas in Lahore, Defence Housing Authority, are barred from access to basic needs whereas the neighbourhood is basking in the lap of luxury.”

Shakoh’s guiding principle for the foundation stems from her philosophy ‘lest the government the responsibility befalls on all of us’. She grew up to adopt the ideals of her father who opened the first vocational center in Pakistan. “But [it was] Tehmina Durrani’s biography of Dr Abdul Sattar Edhi, A Mirror to the Blind, [that] stirred me to begin,” says Shakoh.

During the course of the foundation’s 13 years she recalls helping countless families. When Sibtain Shah, a labourer, who was unable to handle the strenuous day-to-day work because of his frail health, broke down while narrating his story to Shakoh, she immediately offered him employment at the HUF school. Additionally, she also admitted his children to the school and employed his wife as a helper there. They were also given a motorcycle through HUF’s microfinance project and a monthly food supply through the rations scheme. Today, ‘Shah jee’ is known by everyone in Model Colony, and Mrs Shah has become an elected representative for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf.

“This is what we do to bring out the best way to help those who want to help themselves,” Shakoh emphasises. HUF’s key project is providing microfinance for low-income individuals who are incapable of availing bank services and thus approach HUF, which acts as a financial intermediary between the rich (lender) and poor (recipients). Interest-free loans ranging from Rs5,000 to Rs50,000 are available to all those in need. The loan is supported by a third party, a guarantor, who agrees to repay the dues in the case the borrower is unable to repay the loan in the agreed timeframe.

Along with monetary relief, their hunger relief program offers subsidised meals for Rs10 that consist of two rotis and either daal or vegetables — with the actual cost of the meal rounding up to Rs28. These relief stations are located near Bhatta Chowk and Paak Hotel on Kasur Road, where a lot of unskilled wage labourers come to look for short-term work. “The average labourer we serve is lucky if he makes Rs3,000,” says Shakoh. “We are endeavouring to reach out to almost 500 people daily.”

To encourage self-sufficiency, HUF also provides education to those who cannot afford it otherwise. “Our teachers are qualified with a graduate degree. There is no compromise on the quality of teachers as they mould a [new] generation,” she claims. HUF has acquired four schools that accommodate nearly 1,000 students from nursery to grade five. “Now more and more parents are inclined towards [educating] their children. It is an old thought [to] consider a child as a mean[s] of earning [a] livelihood,” Shakoh states.

Their education initiative is not limited to children but also extends to vocational training for women. The idea is to teach them cutting, sewing, needlework and all types of arts and crafts. Their products are then put on sale at various HUF events and retail stores. For those who are not interested in crafts, there is the option of joining the herbal kitchen team and preparing a variety of organic spices and lentils.

Even with social welfare at the heart of the organisation, they haven’t lost sight of pressing environmental issues. “[The] common man does not know how valuable trash is,” emphasizes Shakoh. “Whatever is thrown in the bins goes [to a] landfill, but certain items from trash can be used to generate [a] good amount.” Recyclable items are collected from HUF member homes and sold at a local trash depot. They have set a precedent for other schools as well and they have gone on to request them to place their boxes on their premises, so children can adopt a greener approach from an early age.

A welfare shop, inspired by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals Charity Shop and OXFAM in England has also been set up where donated items are sold at low rates and the resulting income is spent on projects for the needy. The profits are often channelled into community work that includes gas and electricity connections and in some cases even building roofs for those who need them. “We can come to your doorstep [on] a single call to collect whatever you [wish] to donate for our welfare shop in Model Colony and budget store in Defence,” says Shakoh. “Your unused items can make a huge difference in many lives.”

Although the cause is noble, the response is not overwhelming. “The challenging thing is that most of us do not offer the same kind of kindness to others, that we [reserve] for ourselves,” she complains. “I really cannot compare my welfare shop with Oxfam’s. You cannot tell whether the donated items there are new or old.”

“We know we cannot eradicate poverty or change social status. We are only supporting the communities to give some sort of relief,” says Anne Marie, director of HUF. Using her background of social work in Canada, she actively participates in fundraising for earthquake victims. Living in Pakistan since the past nine years, she has encountered numerous challenges: “The scenario is completely different here. There is a low capacity to achieve more. Recently I began the school drive to involve children in the welfare work in their early years.”

The spirit of charity reigns supreme at HUF, but even in the midst of it all, Shakoh does not rely on charity alone to sustain her organisation. “I always believe in self-sufficiency, therefore we don’t want to be solely dependent on the donations,” she says about the foundation’s funding. Several income-generating ventures have been set in place, the profits of which are channelled into HUF programmes. Sometimes, when the cause is so close to your heart, it’s best not to put all eggs in one basket.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, October 20th, 2013.


M. Emad | 8 years ago | Reply

Pakistan's Hope Uplift Foundation (HUF) is based on the combination of 2 philosophies: 'non-formal education' and 'microfinance'. Both are the brainchild of two great Bengali souls; Sir Fazley Abed and Noble winner Dr. Yunus. Billions of people across the world are benifitted by their thoughts.

Both were Bangladesh activist in 1971, and escaped almost certain death as they were in abroad.

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