Saturday, July 21, 2007

Charlie Colony, Islamabad

Today was my first sponsored child visit with my hosts, Plan Pakistan. After an orientation session, and obligatory tea, at the Plan offices in Pakistan where I learned that there are over 20,000 children sponsored by Plan in Pakistan, we left for Charlie Colony, a Christian slum in Islamabad.
Arriving in the slum with an entourage of Plan workers we soon gathered a small crowd of curious people. They followed us everywhere we went, losing a few and gaining more. The most obvious observation on my arrival was that there are a lot of children and very little to do, especially considering that it is a school holiday and almost every parent has left to work in their low status jobs. It is explained to me that, if you are from the slums, then good paying jobs are not available for you. Most work in sanitation or household worker jobs. The other reason for the large numbers of children is the birth rate, an average of 6 children per family. Birth control is rarely an option here despite the efforts of aid workers.

I learned, while walking to meet the sponsored child, Adeela, that Plan works with several other on the ground aid organizations in the slum who provide front line services to the people. Their focus is on education, health & nutrition, and developing micro financing to support small entrepreneurial enterprises. One such enterprise was a stall serving hot vegetarian meals, primarily to children, who need good nutrition the most. I was served a plate while a large crowd looked on. It was delicious and I expressed my approval to the owners delight. I was also introduced to his wife who, apparently, was the brains behind the scheme and held the purse strings. You know what they say- that behind every good man....

We also stopped at one of the small Christian churches that could be found throughout the slum to meet several of the front line workers. It was stiflingly hot in the small church and I sweated profusely while listening to the introductions and explanations of the work that they were doing. Before leaving they picked up some drums and other musical instruments and did a song for me. Again the simpleness and kindness of these small gestures struck me deeply and reminded me why I have chosen these endeavours for my travels.

After walking through several dirt covered alleyways we arrived at the home of Khaleed, the father of Adeela. He was home because he had lost a leg in an accident and could not work. His wife was out at work and Adeela and her brother were there looking out for him. I was an honoured guest in their 2 room home. I was given a seat in the bedroom, about 8x8 in size, where Adeela's father was reclining on the bed and we had a chat about Adeela and her life. She is 11 years old and in grade 4. She is very striking with very intelligent eyes. Overcoming her initial embarrassment of having such guests she quickly relaxed and told some of her story with the help of an interpreter. She hopes to be a teacher of children one day. We chatted a while longer and then went outside for photos. After taking some photos she presented me with some gifts of drawings that she made for me to give to her Cowichan sponsors.

We left, back the way we came, stopping to see a Plan sponsored water pump providing fresh water to the community; a street side barber giving a local man a shave- a risky business considering the sharpness of the razor and the proliferation of Hepatitis B on the community; another micro financed business- a vegetable stand that had no vegetables this day, and a portable Ferris wheel that children could ride for 2 rupees (4 cents) a go.

After long goodbyes, we left the sights, sounds, and children of Charlie Colony.