KARACHI: “Eid brings a lot of visitors and this is what I like the most about this day. I wish my mother could also come and see me. But I know she can’t because she doesn’t know where I am,” said Shabbir, a 13-year-old boy living with 150 other inmates at the Edhi Child Home.
“The same is true of most kids here. Their parents do not know their whereabouts.”
The teenager was one of the few boys who could recall the chain of events that brought them to the Edhi home. “My mother scolded and beat me up when I stole a small bicycle. I left home feeling dejected and somehow boarded a train and came to Karachi. And while I was loitering at a shrine at Clifton, Edhi staff spotted me and brought me here,” he says.
The children seemed excited as they were busy playing games with a volunteer group on the third day of Eid when the Dawn team visited the facility for the destitute set up along the Edhi Village with 1,500 boys and men. The facilities are located 56 kilometres from Karachi’s city limits on the Superhighway.
“Eid is a fun time as we play music, get gifts and engage in different games with visitors. We had a wonderful time yesterday, too, as a stage performance was held here,” says seven-year-old Saddam who, with his younger sister, was abandoned by his father.
Bilal, an eight-year-old kindergarten student, was left by his uncle at the facility as there was no one to look after him at home though he has elder siblings.
“My mother is dead while my father is handicapped. None of my siblings have yet come to see me,” he says.
Similar was the case with five-year-old Danish who was looking at his shining wrist watch he had got a day earlier at the show held on the facility’s premises. The boy, with his brother, was left by his mother after she married another man. “I want to be a good human being,” he said smilingly when asked what he would like to be as a grownup.
Almost half of the children are admitted to the facility by their close relatives mainly for financial reasons, home conflict, death of parents or marriage by the surviving one. And, according to the staff, no matter how much love they shower on them, the children miss their parents and home especially during the Eid holidays.
“They might not say in so many words but their faces and behaviour clearly indicate their longing for home. We can’t replace their parents, can we?” says Mubina Anjum, a nurse-cum-teacher at the child home.
The home, according to the staff, not only fulfils the basic requirements of food, clothing and shelter but also provides education to children up to grade six and those who show talent are supported in further education. Boys also get vocational training later depending on their interests. Efforts are also made to reunite them with their families.
The longing for home on the Eid day was found to be more intense among adults abandoned by their families, mostly for their drug addiction or property disputes. Some of the inmates are highly educated, including Jamshed, a young man with a master’s degree in computer science and Abdul Mohit Khan, an old man having a journalism degree.
“They all want to go home, but their families have lost interest in them. Some of them have given us in writing that we should inform them only when they die,” says Khair Mohammad, a helper who has been working at the Edhi Village for 25 years.
According to Dr Ghulam Mustafa posted at the village, the number of inmates at the facility has increased from 400 to 1,500 in 10 years. Currently there are 1,100 men with psychological or psychiatric problems, 200 are physically challenged persons, 150 are old persons and 50 are tuberculosis patients at the facility.
“Multiple factors are contributing to an increase in their number. For instance, increasing poverty, drug addiction and deteriorating law and order situation. We all have a responsibility towards these people and the situation won’t change unless we realise it,” he said.