KARACHI: A long way from home, 51 lost little boys lined up outside an Edhi Foundation coach and a van at the Edhi Centre at Tower on Friday. All hoped to spend Eid with their parents.
Among them was Bilal Mohammad, who hails from Quetta. “I like to play football and I am a fast bowler,” said the 12-year-old boy. “But my father always got upset when I reached home late. He would scold me and beat me up as well. I have run away from home several times before also to teach him a lesson. But this is the longest I have been away and I miss him, too, now,” the boy admitted sheepishly.
“This time when I reach home, I will try to be a good boy. I will go to school regularly and study hard so that my father doesn’t mind too much when I go out to play in the evenings,” he made a pact with himself, while exchanging a smile with another boy standing nearby.
“He is Shahzad. He is also from Quetta but I met him here at the Edhi Home. Now we are going back to our home city together,” young Bilal introduced his friend.
Shahzad, meanwhile, wasn’t sure about his age. I must be 13 as when I first left home four years ago, or was it three … I was nine, I think,” he did a little math to reach the conclusion. “If we are able to find my parents now, I don’t know if they will recognise me,” he wondered aloud.
Abdul Wais is from Bahawalpur where a grownup he talks about befriended him before kidnapping him. But the nine-year-old child doesn’t see it that way. “He was my friend,” the boy insisted. “I would meet him often. He was much older than me but so what? And he said he wanted to take me to Multan for swimming. He said there were big swimming pools there. But I got separated from him in Multan somehow,” he said.
Another little fellow, Naveed Khan, of about the same age as Abdul Wais said that he was from Peshawar and a student of class two. “A policeman found me travelling alone on a train and brought me to the Edhi Home here in Karachi,” he said.
Mohammad Altaf, a class one student from Sukkur, also said that he was brought to the Edhi Centre by a policeman.
All the boys had little brown and orange haversacks that they willingly handed to the coach driver to put on the roof rack. Asked if they would get mixed up, they laughed and pointed out that they had written their names on the bags. When inquired what they had in their bags, 12-year-old Yasir from Lahore said: “Two soap bars, a toothpaste tube, a toothbrush, a towel and my clothes. I can’t go to bed without brushing my teeth.” The boy, who has lived at Edhi Home for two years now, said he was taught there about keeping good personal hygiene in order to stay healthy.
Over the next nine days, the coach and Edhi van carrying these children will be making stops in 13 cities, namely, Hyderabad (July 12), Nawabshah (July 13), Sukkur and Rahim Yar Khan (July 14), Bahawalpur (July 15), Multan (July 16), Faisalabad (July 17), Lahore, Gujranwala and Sialkot (July 18), Islamabad and Peshawar (July 19) and Quetta (July 21).
“The boys — eight from Sindh, 31 from Punjab, seven from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and five from Balochistan — have been staying at Edhi Child Home in Korangi and Edhi Village on the Superhighway for three years or so. We have already provided their pictures while conveying other details about them to our Edhi Centres in the 13 cities. They will spread word about the children in neighbourhoods and make announcements from mosque loudspeakers. News in the local media, too, can help,” said Edhi Foundation spokesman Anwar Kazmi, seated on a chair on the footpath outside their centre at Tower to see off the boys along with trustee of the foundation and Maulana Abdul Sattar Edhi’s son Faisal Edhi.
“It’s unfortunate that the families of these children haven’t contacted us themselves. There can be many reasons for this, poverty and lack of awareness being a couple of them,” said Mr Faisal.
“It’s just 51 boys this time but there are still around 400 boys more at our Home and Village. Last year we took 55 children on a coach just like this and were able to locate the homes and families of 48. So the experiment was successful and this time we hope to find the families of 40 of them at least. It is still almost a month before Eid and the children are hopeful of spending the day with their families,” he said.
Asked about the little girls they get at their centres and if they too would be sent out to look for their families the same way, the Mr Faisal quickly shook his head. “It’s not practical to put girls on a bus like this. We have to be protective though I admit there are many such young girls too hoping to be reunited with their families. For them, there can be some television programme maybe where someone could speak to them about what they remember about their homes and maybe someone watching might recognise them,” he said. “Similarly, we also have over 200 mentally challenged children whose faces can be flashed on TV so that their families can find them,” he added.
Asked what happened to the children who were sent out to find their homes but failed to do that. “Well, they are brought back here like the seven who couldn’t find their families last year. They are disheartened and very sad for a while, which is quite understandable, but we are here for them, always. Returning to Edhi Home they mix again with the other children of their age there. And over the time they are able to put their problems behind them once again,” he said.