1999-10-26 00:00:00

Dar-ul-Sakun (house of peace) could have been dreary and depressing. Within its brightly painted interior, however, children are given the love and care that is sustained by the generosity of others.

Almost every day people come and supply groceries, clothes or whatever the sisters need for the institution. "We never run short," said Sister Ruth Lewis, who runs the home for abandoned children in Karachi, Pakistan.

There are eight nuns who are full-time volunteers here, said the Franciscan Missionary of Christ the King. Every six months, three volunteers come from the Netherlands and put in a three month stint.

Volunteers from schools and associations also pitch in on a weekly basis and help feed the children and play with them, Sister Lewis said. Such caring needs to be encouraged a lot more in our society, she added.

Unknown to many though, Muslims contribute greatly toward running Dar-ul-Sakun, home to about 150 physically or mentally-challenged children. The provisions they receive daily are given mostly by Muslims as "sadqa" or charity that is given for the pleasure of Allah.

Moreover, the biggest donations come during the annual Ramadan, the monthlong Islamic fasting period, when the institution receives contributions in the form of Islamic "zakat," the compulsory charity tax, the nun said.

Sister Lewis further said that the zakat comes directly from individuals and corporations. Government officials donate privately, she added.

This is on top of the zakat levied on Muslims´ savings accounts. In Pakistan as in other Islamic countries, the government takes charge in collecting and disbursing zakat, a 2.5 annual tax levied on the Muslims´ income and capital.

The government does not provide any funding for the home, Sister Lewis said.

The money they receive during Ramadan, she said, is used to provide better care for the children and keeps the home going. Donations, for example, are paying for the salary of 25 staff and one trained physiotherapist, she noted.

"All my children are orphans, destitute, unwanted," said the nun. "When a child is born ´unique´ or ´exceptional,´ they are abandoned in the hospital and the hospital authorities then contact me," she added.

Some children also come from Kashan-e-Atfal, a local orphanage. Others are left at Dar-ul-Sakun´s doorsteps, she explained.

"We give preference to children who have no one in the world," she said. "Only if a family has more than one mentally handicapped child do we agree to take one child to help the family out."

When children have special health problems, the home provides for their medication, the nun said, explaining that about 60 inmates of Dar-ul-Sakun are given daily medication to control epileptic seizures.

The home also provides for children´s ongoing education. According to Sister Lewis, 22 children are enrolled in vocational training schools where they are taught music, arts and crafts, and activities to improve their concentration.

"They feel very happy going to school," remarked Sister Lewis. Attending school makes them feel they are regular children, she said.

"Participating in activities like national games or the special Olympics bolsters their confidence and self-esteem," she added. Four of "her" children won four medals in the Special Olympics held in the United States last year.


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