Updated: March 22, 2018 04:38 AM GMT
Bishop Samson Shukardin leads instructional prayer and a Bible reading. (Photo by Ayyaz Gulzar)
The Faith and Light Community (FLC) in Pakistan's Hyderabad Diocese is helping physically and intellectually disabled people contribute more to family life while also tackling barriers that handicapped children face.
Bishop Samson Shukardin invited families to bring their disabled children to the group after he launched it in May 2012 while still serving as the diocesan vicar.
A typical group meeting begins with an instructional prayer and a Bible reading.
This is followed by games, dancing, drawing and painting as parents and kids are encouraged to engage in fun activities together to help them bond.
Riaz Ghulam regularly attends meetings with his two handicapped children, 13-year-old Tabish and 8-year-old Nisha.
Ghulam said he was heartened by the joy on his kids' faces as they eagerly await the next monthly meeting and prepare their wardrobes for the big day, even getting the iron out of the cupboard to press their pants and tops.
Previously, he says, they showed little interest in either maintaining a well-kept appearance or organizing future plans.
"My son used to waste a lot of time just hanging about in the street," said Ghulam.
"We are pleased that he has started taking an interest in household chores like going out to buy vegetables and other things. He has great difficulty speaking so we write down a list he can show to the shopkeeper."
He said the meetings had brought him closer to his offspring and helped him to understand them better.
"I used to get angry a lot and treat them harshly whenever they created problems but now I'm more calm and know how to treat them gently," he said.
"The sessions helped me to realize my children are not a burden [but a joy]."
Speaking with other parents facing similar problems also spurs him on, he said.
"I was actually shocked at how much my son changed. Before he often skipped going to church but now he can't wait to go."
Bishop Samson Shukardin leads a monthly meeting of the Faith and Light Community in Pakistan's Hyderabad Diocese. (Photo by Ayyaz Gulzar)
Inayat Aslam, 19, takes leave from his factory job to attend a meeting on the first Friday of every month. He stutters and has visual defects, which he says have held back his education.
However,Aslam now enjoys going to the meetings and memorizing the prayers. This change in mindset and positive attitude caused a chain reaction that resulted in him landing a new job a few months ago, he said.
He now pulls in 8,000 rupees (US$72) a month to support his family and, importantly, enjoys the self-respect of a breadwinner as opposed to being a dependent or drain on the family's resources.
"I really feel bad when people don't speak to me because they can't understand what I'm trying to say," Aslam said. "I used to hide from people my age because they would call me funny names."
"But after going to the meetings I realized I can do so much more than I thought possible despite my disabilities."
Staffers at Caritas Pakistan Hyderabad and Hayat-e-Nau, two humanitarian development organizations, provide free pick-up and drop-off services for families who attend the meetings.
Thomas Waris, 15, has physical defects in his legs and neck. He used to get in fights all the time due to abuse by bullies but has now found a new circle of friends that is buoying his confidence and sense of self-worth.
"I don't really have any friends in my neighborhood," Thomas said. "Boys there often pick fights with me even though I don't know how to fight."
Thomas said the meetings instilled in him a spiritual awakening that taught him he was not alone if he decided to walk in Jesus' footsteps.
"Two months ago I learned that God is love," he said. "He loves us and wants us to love one another."
However, Thomas struggles with his studies and finds it hard to remember the things he is taught at school, according to his father.
"He doesn't even want to go to school anymore because he feels he is different from all the other kids," said his dad. "I just pray that he will one day learn how to read and write."
This is now much closer to happening as the meetings have given the boy a new lease of life, he said.
"I'm glad my son has learned all of the prayers and started going to church regularly. Now he's different. He enjoys learning and painting."
Bishop Shukardin said it is a joy to work with underprivileged, disabled children and to see them thrive.
"This brings me happiness," Bishop Shukardin said. "We all have weaknesses in our body. In my case, I have poor eyesight and require glasses. I want to help these parents realize their kids are not only precious but a gift from God."
"I enjoy guiding the parents and teaching them how to handle and care for their kids. I get a lot of pleasure from my work," he said.
"My nephew is both physically and mentally disabled, and I helped out a lot with him before I became a seminarian. One of my nieces is also handicapped."
"So attending these monthly meetings also helps me to focus on my weaknesses and overcome them," the bishop added.
The Faith and Light Community comprises two communities of around eight families each in eight or nine parishes in Hyderabad Diocese. The group is affiliated with the International Faith and Light group.
As the director of Hayat-e-Nau, an NGO, Javed Sadiq runs a rehabilitation center for people with disabilities. He said working with kids with special needs is a demanding but rewarding job.
"We help the children who come to our center learn to read and write, and encourage them to take an interest in exercise," he said.
He now sees 27 children who suffer from a range of problems including polio, muscular disorders, speech defects and deafness show up for the daily sessions that run from 8a.m. to 1p.m., he said.
The NGO was launched under the umbrella of Caritas Pakistan Hyderabad. It later registered separately.
"People with physical and mental disabilities find few opportunities in the city because they are not taught to believe in themselves, or in their potential," he said.
"But we have seen some prosper and grow, and even land positions in government sectors."
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