Pakistani street children put their head under a tap to cool themselves in Rawalpindi in this file photo. The sight of children, the disabled and disadvantaged begging at all hours of the day and night in Pakistan is a grim, constant reminder of the millions who live in abject poverty. (Photo by Farooq Naeem/AFP)
Sunil Tariq was six when he became addicted to bootleg alcohol but that was not all.
His father, addicted to drugs, slapped and beat him with a baton the day his foul breath gave him away. In 2013 his aunt admitted him with his two young siblings to Kinship House, managed by a pastor in Youhanabad, the largest Christian neighborhood in Lahore.
"I indulged in many bad habits; most of them adopted after the early death of my mother. We used to play in the streets all day and started with smoking cigarettes. Then one day one of my friends brought a plastic bag of liquor," remembers Tariq, wiping tears away from his eyes.
Last year Tariq received news that his father has suddenly gone missing.
"He never cared for us. We were like animals. We did not know how to dress or eat. My youngest sister used to talk like street bullies," Tariq told ucanews.
The 10 year old now uses his ample time in helping orphanage staff in their day to day activities, including fixing electric appliances and repairing the center’s motorcycle. "I want to become an engineer and help the younger kids. I will become their dada [father]," he said.
Tariq is one of 35 orphans, aged between 6-13, studying and living at Kinship House. Their daily routine includes morning and evening devotion, four-hour study sessions, as well as cleaning clothes, dishes and the 100 rooms of the double story building.
The initiative is run by the Human Friends Organization (HFO), a Catholic NGO that also manages a sewing center and a computer education facility in Youhanabad.
The organization HFO took over the orphanage from a pastor who ran it into bankruptcy. It also supports the livelihoods of 31 Christian victims of the 2015 suicide attacks on two Churches in the southern area.
Watch this ucanews.com video on Kinship House
Jamatul Ahrar, an offshoot of the Pakistan Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attacks in which 15 people, including women and children, were killed. HFO provided tuk tuks to 27 survivors, financed grocery stores for two and helped two more with livestock. It helped 86 others with medical care and financial assistance.
Since 2016, the organization has also provided legal assistance and shelter to 26 victims of blasphemy allegations and forced conversions.
Human rights groups say about 1,000 girls from Christian and Hindu communities are forcibly converted every year. Also the mere accusation of insulting the Prophet Muhammad is enough to ignite mob violence or lynchings in the theocratic state. According to media reports, 34 churches have been attacked in Pakistan since 1997. Half of them were attacked in Punjab, mostly by violent mobs.
"My experience of working for the relief and rehabilitation of the victims of bombings attached me to these kids. The local community also supports our efforts and often donates rations for the orphanage. The archbishop and senior priests are always invited in distribution programs. This strengthens the confidence of the poor in the church", said Sajid Christopher, president of HFO.
"Only long-term solutions can foster interfaith harmony and peace building. Several trauma healing workshops, peace poster competitions, speech programs and theatre performances were held in Christian schools after the blast," said Christopher, who worked in Caritas Pakistan Lahore as an animator for nine years.
Funding is a continual challenge for Kinship House, whose residents include two mentally challenged boys and Mehak, who was born with polio. When she arrived at the house two years ago, the 15 year old had trouble walking with a deformed right foot. The organizers financed her surgery this March.
"My aunt loved me but I had to wash all the dishes. My new friends help me in studying and doing the household work. I hope to walk like normal people once the orthopedic cast is removed," she said.
The recent Monsoon rains posed another challenge. "Both the kitchen and rooms in the basement were flooded last month. We lost our sugar and other groceries. The bulbs usually blow out due to rain affected walls," said Mehak.
"Still, we regularly give tithes to widows from the donated food we get. We have learned to share and care for others. God will fulfil our needs."
Father Francis Gulzar, parish priest St. John's Catholic Church of Youhanabad, appreciated the HFO helping families of blast victims and orphans. "We always support their good work for the Christian community. Their timely support has helped the poor in living an independent life with dignity. Especially the orphans have hope now," said the Vicar General of Lahore Archdiocese.
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