Not home alone

An orphanage is providing an alternative home to 110 girls giving them access to education and a chance to dream of a better future. Saima Bhat reports.

They may not be related but they share everything with each other. Living together has given rise to a strong emotional bond. They live as sisters. They are all orphans.

“They come crying when they are brought here but with time, they get used to this place and begin to live as a member of this big family,” says Isha Nighat, chief warden of the Bannat Girl’s Hostel, a wing of J&K Yateem Trust. There are 110 orphan girls in the orphanage.

Rehana Razak was just one-year-old when her father died. “My mother would say that he had been militant and was killed,” says Rehana.

Rehana’s grandfather and uncle took up the responsibility of looking after Rehana and her three siblings. But a few months later their grandfather died. Her mother also died in a year.

“My mother’s hopelessness killed her. She was shattered by the death of our father and died of a heart attack,” says Rehana.

Students at Bannat girls hostel

She became a part of the orphanage because her uncle could not take her responsibility anymore. She was nine then. The decision was also made by her brother so that Rehana, the youngest child of her parents, could continue her education.

“Initially I would remain alone. I would sit in a corner, hide my face with my hands and cry as long as I could. Then with time and after seeing other girls who had also passed through similar misfortunes, I got adapted to this place,” says Rehana. She wants to become a doctor.

Like Rehana, there are 109 other girls who live in this girl’s orphanage. They are not allowed to move out of hostel premises and the administration has built a school in the vicinity of the hostel, where girl students from local areas also come to study.

The school was started at the same time when the hostel was established.

“We started with an idea that no child should be left uncared. The idea was to give them a good education and this dream was inherited from my father,” says Zahoor Ahmad Tak, Chairman J&K Yateem Trust, who started the girl’s hostel in 2002. Tak says that his father’s dream would never have become a reality if they hadn’t the support of their donors.”

Girls living in this hostel seem quite satisfied with the facilities available to them.

“We have selected a representative from every room who takes care of the monthly needs like soaps, shampoos, clothes, beddings, etc. and, God forbid, if anybody falls ill, the representatives inform warden who then calls a doctor,” says Kausar Jabeen, a student of class 9 and representative of her room. “A ‘mother’ also sleeps in each room.”

There are three cooks in the hostel who prepare food for the children. Though they have every facility available in the hostel but the parents’ separation makes them sad often.

“Some girls don’t have any of their parents alive. Their limited resources have brought them here and we agree that a child is safest where her or his mother is but to keep them here is only because we want to give them better education and want to make them independent,” says Tak, Chairman of J&K Yateem Trust. All the girls and workers in the orphanage call him Papaji.

“To take care of a girl child is a very tough job in the present circumstances and when it comes to 110 girls, one can think how tough it could be,” says Isha Nighat. “We can’t be liberal when it comes to girls. They need a lot of care because at times they get too emotional. Whenever that happens we try to be patient to motivate them.

I am not saying that they irritate us, but they treat this place as their home so they also expect to be treated in a similar way.”

The students have also got a female private tutor who takes care of their studies and teaches them languages like Arabic and Persian. For other subjects, their school takes care of that. Some special teams also visit this hostel to impart vocational training. In winters their warden teaches cooking. She says, “They are my daughters so I want them to have every skill so that they don’t get any problem in future”.

Life in this hostel starts at six in the morning. After the morning prayers, they make their beds and iron their uniforms. Then the children get ready for school. In the evening when they are back they do their homework. Seniors do their work themselves and for juniors, there are mothers who take care of them.

“The upper-class limit is 12th and the youngest one is Shakeela who is presently in 4th class and was brought here when she couldn’t even talk,” says Warden Isha Nighat.

J&K Yateem Trust dates back to 1972. It was started by Abdul Khaliq Tak, popularly known as Tak Zainagari, father of present chairman, in Hardushiva Sopore. After getting registered in 1973, they began their work in Srinagar 1974. Presently, J&K Yateem Trust has about eight orphanages in which there are about 400 children (orphans) and in the whole valley they have 78 units.

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