Visions

Yesterday, I met with Sister Hend, the superior of the congregation that runs the House of Wonders. She determines the overall direction of the work, decides about staff rotation, and manages the finances. Whenever we want to discuss big ideas, we go to her.
After lunch, we sat down together to talk about the situation at the House of Wonders. So far, it acts as a shelter home and an emergency accommodation. Homeless people, beggars, ex-prisoners, victims of domestic abuse, divorced women, acid victims, street children – everyone finds a place here. There is no condition for getting admission and the sisters don’t demand any fees. Some people are brought in by their relatives, some by the police, and a few come by themselves. There is the street child who doesn’t know his parent’s names, there is the disabled daughter who was rejected by her family, and many other cases. Most of the residents have some sort of mental or behavorial disability, and many are actually traumatized. In the House of Wonders, they find a safe haven, they are clothed and fed and their basic medical and personal needs are taken care of. However, once admitted, people usually stay for many years, or even until they die. In very few cases, their families take them back home.

Sister Hend taking notes
Sister Hend taking notes

Until today, no real concept has been developed that goes beyond the emergency help described above. Many residents pass their days dozing in the shade of a tree, chatting with others, singing, or watching TV. Many help with household chores, but not everyone is fit to do that. The sisters offer physical activities and art therapy on an irregular basis. But too often they have their hands fulll with administrative work. A greater vision is lacking, an idea for how to serve the residents beyond their most basic needs.
In our meeting, Hend and I developed the fundamental outlines for a new concept. We asked ourselves: what kind of institution should the House of Wonders be? What can we offer the residents once their basic needs have been met? What short-term and long-term goals exist with regard to each person living there? How can we help them to create an alternative life, another existence beyond the pain and trauma they went through?
Hend and I saw our brainstorming as a first step to initiate a longer thought process about the home. She will take the ideas we collected into her community, discuss them with the sisters working at the home, and develop an outline for a new vision based on their input. Visions can only come into reality when they are carefully nurtured, and when people have a chance to grow with them. The more contextualized and localized our vision will be in the end, the better.

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Antida

Antida is one of the sisters who serve as a caregiver at the Dar ul-Karishma, our home for people with disabilities. I say “serve”, because she is not receiving any salary for the work she does. She felt it was her calling to become a religious sister and care for those who were neglected by society.
AntidaAntida was born into a poor Pakistani Catholic family. In her village, there was a school run by nuns. When her mother had given birth, the sisters visited the newborn and suggested to name her Antida, after the community’s founding saint, Joan Antidea Thouret.
Antida went on to study at the nun’s school. As a teenager, she felt the wish to become like them – that is exactly her own wording. She wanted to become a sister and help those who are poor. Her usual shy manner of speaking is less prominent when she talks about how this wish was fulfilled. In 2003, she joined the Sisters of Charity. “We visit families”, she narrates in a simple voice, as if there was nothing special about it, “we learn about their basic needs, we give their children education, and we take them to the hospital when they are sick. This is our work.”
Antida sits in front of me, in her plain habit of a nun, her chestnut-brown eyes displaying a sparkle whenever she mentions this work. She is younger than me, and yet, a strength emanates from her that surpasses my understanding. I lean back and let myself be enwrapped into her personality.

Back in Pakistan

Hello everyone, I’m back in Pakistan! I arrived in Lahore last Wednesday, and since then it rained 5 times, I saw 17 little grey donkeys, I studied Urdu for 22 hours, and ate 3 mangoes. Just three? I know! But the mango season is not over yet, there will be more chances to make up for this neglect.
On Sunday, I visited our home for people with mental disabilities. It was such a joy to meet everyone again! Both caregivers and residents looked very healthy. Thanks to the two water filtration plants we had installed at the home, infections with waterborne diseases have gone back dramatically. Last year at the same time, one quarter of our ninety residents was ill with diarrhoea and other infections from polluted water. This summer, only three people have fallen sick!

The second project Omid-e Punjab funded was the renovation of the men’s bathrooms. Fourty-five people are daily using them. They were lifted to the street level in order to prevent waste water from flooding back inside. Shower cabins and toilet seats were installed, bathroom fittings added, floors and walls tiled, and the drainage system restored. We spent exactly 7,281 Dollar on it, or 5,421 Euros.
This is what the old bathrooms on the women’s side still look like. The men’s facilities were in the same bad shape:

Women's bathrooms     Unrenovated bathrooms

And these are the men’s bathrooms

after the renovation:

Men's renovated bathrooms    Men's bathrooms

Our next project will be to provide the same facilities for the female residents!

Hibernation

Hello and salaam everyone!

This blog will be closed until summer 2014 when I return to Pakistan. For now, my PhD studies demand most of my attention. Omid-e Punjab will continue its work, though. We’re currently preparing the home in Lahore for the winter. By the end of November, it should be equipped with a warm water boiler and a basic heating system – all solar-powered. Our residents and caregivers should not dread the cold season anymore! For regular updates and how to support the winter program, please check http://omidepunjab.com in the coming weeks.

Khuda hafis,

Maria

Chilling in Islamabad
Chilling in Islamabad

At the very last minute

Nasreen with Sister Hend
Nasreen with Sister Hend

Believe it or not, but on the last day of my stay in Pakistan, three hours before I’m leaving for the airport, we found a nurse who will teach at our home! Her name is Nasreen and she has been giving basic hygiene and first aid courses to villagers for the past thirty years. She also has a daughter with mental disabilities which makes her particularly sensitive to our work.

Allan, Nasreen, and I
Allan, Nasreen, and I

Even after searching for a whole year, we could not have come across a more suitable person! I’m extremely happy we’ve found her. The first picture shows her discussing the course outline with Sister Hend, the financial manager of our home. The grumpy-looking guy on the second picture is actually quite a nice person. His name is Allan and he is the British engineer who installed the solar systems and water filter at our home at minimum costs.

Have to stop writing here because I still have some things to pack. More updates will be coming soon!

A Pakistan premiere

In Pakistan, ground water is often polluted with heavy metals, such as Lead, Arsenic, Copper, Iron, Mercury, Chromium, Nickel, Cadmium, and Zinc.

Small system, big difference
Small system, big difference

There are many reasons for this contamination. Industrial waste is basically disposed everywhere and famers are using fertilizers and pesticides excessively. No one seems to enforce environmental laws here. Or people just pay a bribe and get away with it.

This waste water plus those chemicals trickle into the ground. Underneath the ground, the pipes transporting drinking water to people’s houses are usually old and have already corroded. The waste water mixes into the drinking water and people end up drinking this stuff. The heavy metals carried by the water cause long-lasting damage to their kidneys and livers. They are also a major reason for cancer.

When our British engineer Allan tested the tap water at the home, he found the concentration of heavy metals exceeded the permissible limit set by the WHO by 14 times. Fourteen times! Right on the next day, he donated and installed a Reverse Osmosis Water Filter System. Not a cheap Pakistani or Chinese one, but a good British filter. It runs with a small motor which presses the water through the different filtering membranes. Because the electricity goes off all the time, but the motor has to keep running we had to solar-power it. After finishing his installation, Allan declared: “Mate, this is a premiere! It’s the first place in Pakistan where this kind of water filter is running on solar power!”

We raised our glasses filled with clean water to toast on this success.

Cultivating Resources

We are desperately trying to find a nurse these days who could teach a course to the caregivers at our home. It’s freaking difficult, I can tell you! There is no support from the Pakistani government, to begin with. Official statistics on how many per cent of the country’s population live with disabilities are completely absent.

Sister Antida, one of the caregivers, with Sumera
Sister Antida, one of the caregivers at our home, with Sumera

Estimates assume 10 to 15 per cent which would affect more than 20 million people! On a medical level, disabled people are usually treated together with trauma patients and others who suffer from mental illnesses. The sisters at our home drive down to the psychatric hospital every other week with their residents for routine checkups. Not because they think this is the right way to do it, but simple because there is no other place for disabled people to receive medical treatment in Lahore!
A google search lists a number of non-governmental institutions in this sector, but many of them only exist on paper. Even if they are functional, they never respond to emails nor do they pick up their phone. Lahore has roughly ten schools for children with special needs, but there seems to be just one other institution like ours that offers them a permanent place to stay. It’s a German project and just like us, they are struggling to find qualified staff.
Sometimes it feels like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.