In an airy and spacious classroom, boys in blue and white uniforms learn about proteins and carbohydrates. Many of them who dream of becoming electronic engineers, cricketers and pilots one day, had never had a chance to study before.
From outside, their school looks nothing less than a prestigious university campus. It is, therefore, a surprise to many that the beige and pink building is an orphanage that houses young boys from across the province.
With a gymnasium, a swimming pool, classrooms, a library, tennis courts, and football and cricket grounds, the facility hopes to provide these boys the best care.
Located right across Hamdard University on the outskirts of Karachi, this orphanage is being run by Pakistan Sweet Homes, a project belonging to the Pakistan Baitul Maal. Its director in Sindh, Dr Adnan Majeed, claims that this premises spread over 22 acres is the largest orphanage facility in Asia.
“Why shouldn’t an orphan be given good food and a good living?” he asked. “We want them to have the best in life, best education, best institution, and the best building.”
Read: Sweet home no more: Orphaned by nature, displaced by the government
The buildings, designed by a Spanish architect, are worth billions of rupees and were completed with the financial assistance of a Saudi organisation, the Internal Islamic Relief Organization Saudi Arabia (IIRO-SA).
The orphanage was officially inaugurated last month in a soft ceremony attended by officials of the Saudi organisation and Pakistan Baitul Maal. Though the project was completed in 1991, it remained vacant for years and was only recently handed over.
Currently, there are 240 children in the orphanage, who have been shifted from the sweet homes of Larkhana, Mirpurkhas, Sukkur and Nawabshah. The director explained that the orphanage has the capacity to accommodate 1,500 children. “We will move children here from our other facilities in Korangi and other districts from Sindh. This place is huge.”
Learning new ways
Summer holidays have begun in the orphanage but with extra classes going on, children continue to spend their mornings at school. “I am improving my English,” said Muzammil Ali, 14, who is learning tenses. Hailing from Nawabshah, Muzammail smiled when he said he feels blessed. “None of my other siblings have ever gone to school.”
As the director walked towards the gymnasium, a group of young boys sat with their teacher, who was telling them how to talk and how to conduct themselves. They focus on giving counselling their students and grooming them, since many of them come from rural areas and often use abusive language.
Their appearances are changing fast. Many boys who did not know how to shower are not sporting neat haircuts and following strict hygiene schedules. “Back home we roamed on the streets and now we go to school,” said Junaid, a tall boy with a shaven head who came here four months ago from Larkana.
Read: For better or worse?: Larkana’s Sweet Home orphanage shuts down despite stay order
Junaid enjoys both cricket and football and is happy to have found aim in life. “I want to go in the air force,” he said.
The orphanage has already struck a chord with not only with the boys but the staff as well. Abdul Rahman, who used to teach calculus at Iqra University, is now teaching physics to seventh graders.
“It’s a new feeling because you are handling boys as well as counselling them,” he said. “These kids need our help more than others.”
Some of the staff members are women, some of whom act as mothers to the younger ones. Rehana from Larkana has left behind her four children to take care of the ones here, so that she can support her own family financially. “I take comfort in these children when I miss my own. They call me ammi,” she said as she hugged a boy.
Welfare: Providing homes since 2009
The Sweet Homes orphanages were established in 2009 when officials of the Baitul Maal realised that many children in their camp in Jalozai were left orphans because of the displacement and the operation.
The project started off as a means to accommodate 100 children in Islamabad. Today, it has 3,900 children in various centres across Pakistan.
Its Sindh director, Adnan Majeed, explained that they enrol children who have lost their fathers and who live in poor socio-economic conditions. Birth certificate of the child and his father’s death certificate is required, he said.
The orphanage currently has boys aged between four and 15 years but it continues to support them until the complete their undergraduate studies.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2015.