Overlooked #5 The Arduous Test of Life

So a few weeks ago my sister told me about how she came across this piece about a family really struggling mentally and financially. I decided to investigate further and discovered the situation was a very grave one indeed and the family was in dire need of assistance.

We decided the best way to get a gauge of the seriousness was to go and meet the family first hand. Once we reached there, we started talking to their eldest daughter, trying get a feel of the household and it’s struggles. The family consisted of an elderly couple and their two daughters. The father, a 79-year-old man who used to drive taxis, had suffered from a paralytic stroke a few years back, and the family had struggled to make ends meet ever since. Even prior to the paralytic stroke, he had had a series of medical complications throughout his later years, including a heart attack, but they had been improved considerably when he was operated on by a local hospital (The operation paid for by the generosity of Sharjah TV).

Relief for the poor souls?

After the operation, the family experienced their first pleasant period in quite a while. However, this was not to be. The father was involved in a car accident which, unfortunately, undid a lot of the progress made through the operation. From that day to this day, the man has been in a brain-damaged state, barely talks, and is in a semi-paralytic state.

Eldest Daughter elaborates:

“Throughout the years after the accident, we really felt like all our work and headway had been for nothing and felt broken and shattered. To make matters worse, our father’s visa expired and every year we incur fines for living here illegally; The total penalty accumulated so far is AED 65 000 and we have no idea how we will even begin to pay back such a colossal amount. My sister and I work, but forget about paying the debt, we barely make enough to get by. I’ve only studied until the 8th grade and so I babysit the neighbor’s kids. After all, who would hire a girl with no educational background? My younger sister does a pick-and-drop of girl(s) from a college, and my mother sporadically sews clothes, but that is about it for the income our family generates.”

Options back home?

“We can’t leave this country and go back to Pakistan, as our house over there was destroyed in an earthquake. As of right now, the land and most of the nearby places are not inhabited by people due to the damage, leaving most of the land virtually worthless. I hate to to say it but we are indeed in dire need of assistance.”

Our proposal

As my brother understood the situation, he had a pretty clear idea of what needed to be done. He knew a few people who wanted to pay their Zakat (Charity) and would be able to get aid if we presented a suitable case to them. As we stood up to take our leave, My brother and I tried talking to the 79 year old man. He couldn’t say much, was sitting on a wheel chair, and could barely move, but when I suggested that he would get better once he took his medicine, he just calmly looked up towards the sky, pointing towards God. I know it might seem bizarre, but despite his situation, he seemed quite content and an aura of serenity seemed to surround him, as if to suggest he had made peace with God and this world.

PS. We are trying to ensure that the money is used for the appropriate purpose and so will try to make sure the money is given directly to the debtors of the family, so as to ensure the money is not used for any other purpose. If anybody is interested in knowing more about the family, my email is: walock1996@gmail.com

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Overlooked #4 Orphanages and Destitute homes: Forever Unsung?

The picture above is from Kashana, A Welfare home in Islamabad. In the time I was in Pakistan, I made sure I to visit various points of interest. These points were not the type places you would find marked on guides or google maps, but sometimes you visit places just because you feel like it.

I’ve written about one of these places: The Dialysis Center, and I will write about another one today:

Kashana, A Welfare home for Destitute, Orphaned and Runaway girls.

I got into contact with the Director of the institute and told her that I was really interested in a visit, since such establishments intrigued me. She replied by saying she was pretty busy that week, but she could squeeze me in on the weekend.

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A look from the side entrance (Apologies for the blurry picture)

Immediately after I arrived, I wanted to get into the gist of things and went into the Director’s office. The Director, Mrs. Naz, started off by showing me a few of her financial books. She told me how she kept a register for all the incoming donations, and how she kept a separate book for the ongoing expenses the home faced. How government aid almost never reached them in time and how over the years she’d become a master at “Making do” with limited resources.

About the institution

As we started walking around the institution, I asked her about the girls and their nurturing. I discovered that the girls ate, learned (through classrooms built in the upper level), played, and slept all under the same roof. The home cared for about 200 girls of all ages, from orphans to runaways, and its micro management requirements were eye opening. While I was there, I saw the windows being cleaned of the house, and I was told the whole ordeal usually took round about 4 hours. This was most remarkably intriguing, and I immediately garnered more respect for the depth and skill that goes into the management of such facilities.

Challenges faced?

When asked about the hindrances faced, she told me there was no shortage of them.

“The other day,” she explained, “the cook wanted to play cricket with the girls. They let him play but did not let him bat. Not pleased, the cook threatened he would clean the wheat flour used to make bread with tap water from the washroom. The next day, I came to work and saw, to my shock, that none of the girls had touched their food and were starving. When asked why, they told me about the incident with the cook. I tried to tell the girls that tap water is still water, and I had to reprimand the cook as well for his childlike behavior. I could not dismiss him, as he was the only one willing to work here on our limited budget. I would increase the budget, but that is out of my hands. Nevertheless, In the bigger picture, Social work has always been my passion and I like to think we’re making a difference. A real difference.”

After concluding our talk, I thanked her for her time and told her about my admiration for her work. As I started walking towards the car, I thought about how hard these people strive for the betterment of others. These are the type of unsung heroes who help advance our society, but they are also easily overlooked by it. 

The Fallen – Lest we Forget

7th January 2014

Hangu District, Pakistan

A 17 year old had just been reprimanded for tardiness and denied entry to class. As Aitzaz Hasan waited outside his school with a couple of other tardy kids, he saw a strange man approaching them. The man asked, in an unfamiliar dialect, about the location of the local school.

There are different accounts about what happened next.

Some say Aitzaz approached the stranger cautiously, and upon seeing a detonator in his heavyset jacket, quickly alerted his peers to run and inform authorities. Others say the man got spooked and tried to make a run for the school before Aitzaz even got to him

But all accounts agree on what happened next.

Aitzaz ran after the Suicide Bomber, fearlessly taking him down. The struggle resulted in an explosion engulfing both of them, and Aitzaz sacrificed his own life in the process.

He selflessly traded his own life for the lives of thousands. Not a single innocent soul harmed except his own.

Later on,  during an interview, his father emotionally says,

“My son made his mother cry but saved thousands of mothers from crying for their children.”

Truer words have never been spoken. Not only did he save thousands of lives directly, he saved the thousands of family members who would have been mentally obliterated had their child or sibling died that day.

The epitome of a real life hero: Aitzaz Hasan

He deservedly received the “Sitara-e-Shujaat” (Star of Bravery), the highest honor a civilian can receive. As the Chief of the Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif said, “ He is a national hero, who has sacrificed his today for our tomorrow.”

He ignited a bright fire within the nation, a flame that said the country would not back down against these extremists who seem hell bent on targeting and killing more Muslims than any other group

The reason I write this is to remind us all about the past and how we cannot allow it to be forgotten. After all, if the past is forgotten, it inevitably ends up repeating itself. We self-centered people are not deserving of a gallant soul like Aitzaz. But we can correct ourselves. We need to ensure that Pakistan does not need another Aitzaz to extinguish would-be disasters. We need to learn, and learn quickly for time is a great teacher but it will eventually kill all its students.

aitzaz

“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life.”

Overlooked #3 – The Visionary Colonel

A couple of months back, when I had to go to Pakistan for my mother’s operation, I visited a Dialysis Center associated with the Pakistan Kidney Patient association. This center is specifically run for the homeless and less fortunate, in other words those who cannot afford the even the most basic of healthcare. My father and I have been in contact with the retired colonel who runs the center – A brilliant man by the name of Yunus – for almost two years now. In that time we have been fundraising to our family friends, school friends and acquaintances here in Dubai, and I was ecstatic to have finally gotten the chance to visit the facility first hand.

Speaking to the Mr. Yunus, he talked to me about his facility and the financial restraints he goes through on a regular basis. Since philanthropy has always appealed to me, such a project only fueled my interest further and I asked the kind sir if he could break down some of the costs involved in running such a facility. The Colonel happily obliged. Below are his answers to my questions compiled into a convenient narrative. Naturally, Paraphrasing is involved and the amounts have been converted to US Dollars since it is internationally recognized (Keep in mind the different parities though).

“I started this facility 14 years ago, with only 40,000 PKR (≈ 380 USD) in my pocket. I had no access to clean water, no staff, no beds or any medical equipment of sorts. Today, after laboring through the years of hard work, I finally have a facility that has developed fantastically over the years and does its job quite competently.

We have fixed a mini water filtration plant inside the facility (getting access to clean water is becoming easier in Islamabad but wasn’t always so in the past) through which water is purified in a 9-step process.However, this wasn’t a cheap endeavor, and the medical equipment added to the arduous financial strain. Currently, we have 28 beds in the facility and each one has its own dialysis machine.
Each machine cost us about 1.2 million PKR (≈ 11500 USD) and whenever a spare part needs replacing, you can estimate an additional 100,000 PKR (≈ 950 USD). To add to this, I am certain you know about the volatile load shedding situation here, so buying a generator was another (pricey) no brainer. We bought a really powerful one for 2.6 million PKR (≈ 24700 USD) and that is WITHOUT the fuel expenses
*Chuckles politely*. But, it was a necessary purchase and it’s worked out efficiently for us so far, so I am happy with it.

Naturally, we have employed full time doctors and the appropriate staff, but we have 11 full-time personnel as well who volunteer their time free of charge, for which I shall be eternally grateful. You see, we charge each patient 11 PKR (≈ 0.10 USD) per dialysis and 26 PKR (≈ 0.24 USD) for each blood test. Since these costs are so low, we almost always have a waiting list for patients and even have a makeshift GP downstairs to treat those who come in with problems unrelated to kidney failure.

Since we charge so little, our primary source of income is fundraising. We have absolutely no government support and the treatment bills barely make a dent into the overheads. Thus, due to the exchange rates, I urge all the overseas residents I meet to donate, even if just a little. For example, my nephew in Australia collaborates with his friends and each of them send 10 AUD each month (≈ 750 PKR), just like you”

The reason I decided to share this information with you guys because I felt that more often than not this type of work gets overlooked.
We NEED more appreciation for magnanimous efforts in today’s society.

If someone stops by, all they see is a building. What they miss is the blood and sweat cemented into the walls, telling a story of how one individual vision can change countless lives.

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No safe passage for Hungary Refugees

Picture This:

You sell your house, your car, and All Your possessions. You get on a tiny little boat, Risk your life while traversing the unforgiving sea, and cross into Europe, all for a better life for you and your kids. You’re making good progress, thinking you’re journey to a safe haven is finally making decent progress, and when you’re almost at the penultimate stop (Hungary) the Border Patrol says “Sorry, nope”.

Okay they didn’t exactly say that but you get the picture.

A lot of the refugees have no choice but to take this treatment on the chin, as armed men, water cannons and tear gas separate them and their destination. Thus, the actions of some of the younger refugees are quite understandable, as they resort to throwing stones and bits and pieces. Being told to go back* would have built up some dissatisfaction to say the least.

Brand them as Criminals?

The Hungarian PM, Viktor Orban, had the audacity to call these Refugees “Criminals”. However, in a different setting (Say, a football derby), it could very well be easily be classified as teenage hormones and that would be the last of that.

I mean if you’re going to put up inhuman and cold-blooded measures to protect the supposed “sanctity” of your nation, the very least you could do is be straight forward to the press.

The Hungarian PM

Mr. Orban, who has always favored communism and stood firmly against liberalism, has been denounced by fellow EU leaders before this and been compared with Bashar Al Assad, which is an insult to say the least.

His stance on the refugee crisis with this strict migrant policy against a Muslim majority refugee populous, has helped him regain a favorable reputation with his voters.

Somebody please explain to Mister Orban that IOM (International Organization for Migration) laws are clearly being violated. But I wonder who can, or rather will, school him?

Side Note:

A few days ago, Al Aqsa (A holy site for Muslims) was entrenched in bullets and violence. It seems like anarchy and chaos are around every corner. One must ponder, what is happening to this world?

*Back to Serbia in most cases, as this is the route most of them have traveled through.

Overlooked #2 – The wife of Steel & Silver

I conveniently left out a key facet of the gentleman in my last piece.
His wife.

The reason for this is that a couple of decades ago, in the early years of his married life, his wife & children met with an unfortunate Hit & Run.
The story was so compellingly sentimental that a separate piece had to be made, no question.

The following is his account (Though, Not in his exact words).

My kids were very small, and the third one had not yet come into this world. It was a public holiday and we decided to take the kids for a day out for the day. My friend and I had recently exchanged cars since he wanted to run an errand over the weekend which required a bigger car, so he gave me his car which had a full fuel tank and, since man has greed instilled in him, I decided to go to a place farther than usual to capitalize on the complimentary petrol. However, Half way through the return journey the car broke down. I pulled over to the side, deciding we would take a taxi or Rickshaw back home since it was getting pretty late and I walked to the nearest man-made structure (A Rest Stop), about a mile away, to see if I could hail one. The effort was in vain but as I returned, I saw a group of people huddled around what looked like bodies. 

I could hear people muttering about a hit & run, and as I investigated closer, I was shocked to see the bodies of my very own kids, lying there unconsciously. I quickly gathered the kids, who seemed all bruised up, and started looking around for my wife. It was near midnight and light was limited, but I saw a body sprawled across a little further down the road on what looked like a broken pedestrian guard rail. As I came closer to the broken rail, which was pointing upward in a spear-like manner, I started fearing the worst. As the light from cars passing by flashed across her body, I almost blacked out. It was her.

The railing had impaled her left side completely. The spear-like shape protruded from her shoulder and a deep pool of crimson had settled itself under her, constantly expanding. Fortunately, a man quickly ushered us to his car and took us to the nearest hospital, though he presumed her to be dead.

She was in a very critical condition but she scraped by that night. I had to sell my car overnight for half its value to pay the medical bills. They kept her in the hospital for six months, and to finance it, I had to sell the little house we lived in as well. I was left with nothing but my kids, who had thankfully only sustained minor injuries, and Hope.

Gradually, she started to recover. The doctors replaced her shoulder with a prosthetic metal one. Her left leg underwent surgery as well and is now mostly made of silver.

Fast forward now to this day, She is able to walk around now, though she has to avoid being excessively strenuous. I do not think I could have had a more patient & optimistic wife than her. While others might have cursed their circumstances of having two of their limbs replaced, she prays every day and is grateful to God for a second chance at life. She also helped give our children a very disciplined and well-trained upbringing, even with her medical condition.

What I’m coming at is that the right woman can make all the difference in the world, no matter the circumstance. If I lived a second life, I would marry the same woman all over again.

Overlooked – The Artist of Life

I arrived in Islamabad a few days ago and decided to meet up with my sister, who also happened to be in the city at the time. Since the reason of my visit was a familial emergency, I didn’t have a lot of spare time but she arranged for a car to collect me from my aunts place. Making small talk during the trip with the driver, I started learning about him and was moved by a lot of things he said.

A few days later, I decided that I would get the full picture and contacted him. Equipped with a voice recorder and genuine curiosity, I set out on the endeavor of publicizing his journey through life. This is a summary of what he told me on the first day and during the dialogue less the questions I asked. Hopefully I do justice to his account.

“Originally, I come from the North, growing up in a small village near Peshawar. Without a doubt, My mother was the most important woman in my life growing up teaching me about some very important facets of life, from the basic distinction between right and wrong to intricate Calligraphy. Unfortunately, due to certain circumstances, I couldn’t really focus on my higher education and so took a vow to make sure my children didn’t head down the same path. My brothers and I used to live together but they weren’t the most supportive in a lot of aspects and it was becoming a tight squeeze as more of us got married, so in the early years of matrimony, my wife and I decided to move onto greener pastures in the form of Islamabad. There we started sending the kids to school and started adapting to a new, faster life.

Naturally, the transition wasn’t easy. I knew quite well early on in my marriage that I would have to choose between the education of my children and a comfortable lifestyle. I chose the former and knew I had made the right choice as the value of knowledge became abundantly clear to me. There was simply no substitute for an educated man or woman.

So you can imagine how ecstatic I was when my Eldest son completed his undergraduate and knew my investment had bore ripe fruit when he went on to do his MBA. He is now a Project Manager in a well established NGO. My second child topped her batch in the “International Islamic University ” and my third one is almost finishing school, currently in Matriculation. I take great joy in the fact that all three were able to attain what I could not.

Of course nothing in life is possible without the core ingredient of hard work.

You won’t believe me when I tell you about the number of jobs I’ve had to go through. Initially, I worked as a Chef for a Colonel who hired me for about 8 years. My family had all their basic needs met and you could say we were financially secure in a way. Once he moved away, making me redundant, I had to pick up a number of odd jobs to get by.
I designed boards for shops in Arabic & Urdu due to my calligraphic aptitude and even wrote a couple of Pashto drama scripts. However, these jobs didn’t pay as well. We were barely getting by. Eventually, I had to settle for becoming a driver for an NGO and worked for them for a quite a while. But I never stopped tending to my creative side. I used to like sketching and painting, and decided to pursue it more seriously (on the side). Now, whenever I’ve accumulated a few pieces, I set them up on the roadside for display and if the right person passes by, I make a few extra bucks.”

PS. It would be unfair of me to not give credit to Brandon (HONY). His work has inspired me and several others to take a deeper interest in people around us.