When I started traveling to Gujranwala, I was completely clueless as to how this journey would end up completely altering my perception of life. To me it was just another day in the field, a part of my job that I did every once a month. While traveling in the car the only two possible things I could think of were; when will I reach there and how soon will I be able to come back home. Never had I assumed that meeting a little girl would open a whole new chapter for me.
My team and I reached Gujranwala at around 2 in the afternoon. It was a blazing hot day and the scorching heat was burning our very souls. I put my sunglasses on, draped my duppatta all around me like I have entered some Taliban occupied area in Afghanistan; and carefully started marching down the narrow reeking streets of a katchi Abadi in Gujranwala. The only two thoughts captivating my mind were: Look down Ayesha! Do not Look Up! At one point I could even hear my mind saying Do not Breath! This too shall pass and it’s just a matter of few hours. Ironic! Isn’t it? The people we claim to empathize with, the people we claim to serve and help, in a nutshell helping them is the job that we are being paid for, are the ones we want to protect ourselves from. Scared of having an eye contact with them, intimidated from being close to them, disgusted by their polluted streets, and here we are yet again to help the poor and the needy. Ironic isn’t it!
After 15 minutes of walking, we reached a local community center, where some fifty people were already waiting for us. We settled down, were served with chilled cold drinks and the people there were more than hospitable. To my surprise there were more than twenty women there who were eager and determined to start their businesses through Seed Out’s platform (www.seedout.org), which was very enlightening itself. My team and I started engaging the crowd through a small demonstration about Seed Out and how this program would enable them to climb out of poverty. Our successful entrepreneurs exchanged their thoughts and success tales. It was going smooth so far; a routine work I did every month. In the midst of the questions and answers and arguments and information sharing and all the voices that seemed more of a noise now, I felt a small trembling hand touching my hand. As I looked down to know who it was, I saw small girl trying to grab my hand. She was a little girl, around 8 years old, dressed in rags with half of her hair covering her face and forehead and the other half tied in a muddled braid. I couldn’t help but to notice that she was not wearing shoes. Imagine a little girl walking around the scorching streets without any shoes. Seeing that girl melted my heart to the ground. For a second my mind just stopped thinking, I forgot who I was or where I came from. I took that little girl in my arms, brushed away the hair of her forehead, she had such thoughtful eyes and I knew I would never be able to forget that look in her eyes; it was like she was asking me for something but I didn’t know what it was. I asked her about her name and that why isn’t she wearing any shoes.
Her reply left me surprised wondering that she is too little and innocent to have experienced such dark and bitter side of life. She told me her name is Sakina Bibi and the reason she doesn’t have any shoes is because she broke the only pair of shoes she owned two weeks ago and her Baba doesn’t have the money to buy her new shoes. I could feel the tears rolling down my cheeks as she was giving me the details. Her next words completely caught me off guard. She said:
“Baji(an expression for an elder sister)! Since you gave a rickshaw to Zara’s Baba and now Zara has bought a new pair of shoes and also goes to school, Can you please come to my home and give a Rickshaw to my baba as well? So that I can go to school and buy a new pair of shoes too”
I couldn’t believe my ears, an eight year old girl who hasn’t been to school, has no exposure, doesn’t even have shoes, knew about what Seed Out is and realized the impact of our cause. At that time I felt like she knew more about life than I did despite my 16 years of education, 2 years of professional experience and all the perks of a good life. I agreed to visit her place.
Holding her hand and listening to her continuous chatter, my team and I landed up at her house. Her house looked dilapidated, a wrecked building with two rooms and an outdoor kitchen. A house clearly depicting poverty, hunger and despair. Settling in a stool for a while, hearing to the story of her father, left me aggrieved. Ghulam Murtaza, a father of five children, is working on daily wages in a Local factory in Gujranwala. Being the only earning hands of a family of seven, makes things even worst for Ghulam Murtaza and His family. His daily income being less than a dollar two can only make up for the house rent, utility bills and the kitchen expenses.
“There are times when I come home with an empty pocket and my children have to go to sleep without dinner. I want to send my children to school but due to a very minimum income, I simply can’t afford to do so. The factory that I am working in shut down two of its units and they haven’t paid us from the last two months. I am a hardworking man who is not scared of challenges but I don’t have the money to start my own business” said Ghulam Murtaza while sharing his sorrows with us.
Sakina Bibi, has 4 elder siblings who too didn’t go to school. When I asked her about how she felt about going to school, her eyes shinned bright with hope and the excitement in her voice filled the room as she shared with me her thoughts:
“I would love to go to school just like Ahmed, Alia, Usman, Zara, Afia (her neighbors), I want to learn new things and learn how to paint and talk in English. I want to become a doctor one day and cure my patients” she paused for a minute and added” But before going to school! I want Baba to buy me a new pair of shoes just like the ones Zara wears.” I knew it in my heart that I wouldn’t forget those last words of Sakina for as long as I live.
While I whine and grumble and complain about not having enough Lawn Joras for this summer or not having those shoes that I had been dying to buy, a world exists where thousand of children do not have the luxury of wearing shoes at all and have to walk a thousand miles on the burning roads of my country. Where they go to bed without dinner or sometimes even water. Where education is considered as more of a luxury than necessity. And yet I whine and grumble and complain.
Though leaving Sakina’s house left me over whelmed with grief but it opened my eyes and heart to the feeling that I had shut myself from since a very long time. Somewhere along the way of doing a routine work which I get paid for, I had forgotten how my work is actually transforming lives and making children smile. That’s the power of altruism. It’s just not good for the person who you are helping; In reality it’s good for yourself as well. A food for mind, soul and heart.
And About Sakina, Well we have published her father’s project on our crowd funding platform(www.seedout.org). To fund his project visit https://www.seedout.org/project/116-motor-cycle-rickshaw.html and play your role in making Sakina and her family prosperous and happy. Let’s join hands and fund the projects on www.seedout.org so that no kid has to walk bare foot on the streets of Pakistan anymore.