Yateem Foundation houses more than 60 children in their orphanage but prefers to help orphans and destitute in their home environment. Shazia Khan reports.

Some nine years ago, a group of friends moved by the miserable condition of orphans created by the conflict in valley decided to do something for these children.

Not to drown these unheard voices in the din of bombs and bullets, the group went on to establish J&K Yateem Foundation in 2001. Since then the foundation has been helping hundreds of orphans and destitute in the valley.

“Establishing an orphanage was not an easy task,” said Mohammad Ahsan, Chairman Yateem Foundation. Before the eruption of armed conflict, Kashmir was not used to orphanages. “At times mothers and other relatives of these children would doubt our credentials and were reluctant to hand over their children to us,” said Ahsan.

After much persuasion, the group persuaded in gaining their trust. With meagre finances, the foundation started its work in a small rented building at Gogji Bagh with 32 children. “They were the children that had suffered a lot in terms of everything. Both their parents were killed and had nowhere to go,” said Syed Abdul Hamid, Patron Yateem Foundation.

To highlight the problems of orphans and widows at a broader level, the foundation would campaign through talk shows, seminars and discussions broadcast on television and radio. The campaign was successful and people came forward to help them.

Gradually the institute grew into one of the topmost charitable institutes of the valley. To provide better facilities to orphans, the foundation shifted to a new building a Jawahar Nagar. The orphanage Bailt-ul-Hilal houses 43 children, while the foundation also runs another orphanage in Kulgam under the same name which houses another 20 children.

Orphanages, the management, however, says have many inherent loopholes. “Orphanages are not the ultimate solution of orphans. It has its own demerits,” said Hamid.   “The life at the orphanage is more like a cocoon where boys emerge as fragile worms.”

Realising orphanages turn potential self-reliant persons into dependents, the foundation discouraged taking children above the age of 15. “We have not confined our orphanage to a limited number. Anyone who is severely hit and has no another option can be accommodated. We, however, discourage uprooting orphans from their natural habitat and putting them into an alien environment,” said Hamid.

Alternatively, the foundation sponsored different educational scholarships programme. Under these programmes the foundation provides financial aid to more than 300 poor and orphan students, ranging from Rs 1,000 to Rs 10,000 per annum.

“At present, the foundation is providing three types of scholarships- Basic, Higher and Professional to a different category of students so that they could undertake their study without leaving their home”, says Chairman Yateem Foundation.

Besides that, the foundation has conducted many welfare programmes for widows and orphan girls. There are more than two hundred women and girls from different locations of the valley who are receiving monthly sustenance from the foundation. “Though the foundation does not believe in establishing an orphanage for girls, it has sponsored a special programme for them called GUIDE (Girls Upliftment In Domestic environment), which supports around 35 orphan girls by bearing their expenses including their education at their homes,” said Ahsan.
The foundation has also helped in conducting marriages of some poor and orphan girls. “Besides helping them financially, these girls receive our help in one way or other,” says Ahsan. Apart from financial assistance the foundation also helps in creating self-reliance.

It has established vocational training centres in different areas of the valley like Srinagar, Kulgam, Kupwara and Uri. At these centres women have imparted training in different skills to make them financially independent. For long-term rehabilitation of widows, the foundation provides one-time financial support to many widows for establishing an income-generating unit to earn their livelihood. So far the foundation has helped in establishing dairy units, mini shops and craft centres under the rehabilitation scheme.

To keep affairs of the foundation transparent, the management invites donors to asses their records and functioning. The ideas have worked well.

The foundation received donations worth Rs six lakh in first year, Rs 10 to Rs 12 Lakh in second and Rs 24 Lakh in the third year. With every passing year, the institute grew into a bigger organisation.

In 2003, the foundation achieved FCRA (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) permission to receive a donation from foreign welfare agencies.  It helped the foundation to receive more donations from different quarters of the world.  In the fourth and fifth year the donations touched Rs 80 lakh and at present, it is more than one and a half crore rupees.

Most of the funds for the foundation’s over one crore budget come from local donations.

“The foundation is affiliated to many international welfare groups, which adds only a small portion to its annual budget. The rest portion of the budget comes from local donors which are primarily collected in the month of Ramdhan,” said Ahsan.

Despite its efforts, the foundation is able to cater to only a small portion of the affected population.
“The two decades of conflict has left a number of people to survive on the fringes of society. So far whatever the foundation did does not cater all the needs of destitute,” said Hamid.

The foundation also tries to contribute in other ways. It is building a higher education institute at Kulgam and has plans to establish a diagnostic centre at Karan Nagar so that poor and needy people could receive best medical facility at low rates.

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