Orphans and destitute widows pose a huge moral challenge to the people in Kashmir. The society has responded through personal and private institutional efforts but the gap between the needs of the unfortunate among us and what has been done so far is still a yawning one. Kashmir Life’s Saima Bhat, Syed Asma and Mudasir Majeed profile some meaningful and graceful efforts at taking care.
About 100,000 children in Jammu and Kashmir are estimated (by UNICEF) to be orphans. A poor fatherless child under the age of 18 falls in the category of an orphan. Most of the orphans here are a result of the ongoing conflict.
According to surveys by various government and private agencies, Kupwara district has the highest number of orphans at about 24,000 followed by Anantnag and Budgam with 10,000 each.
In 2007, a survey done by Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) found that in some parts of Kashmir, one in three Kashmiris had lost members of their extended families to the conflict and a similar number had contemplated suicide.
The rise in the number of orphans and widows led to the establishment and increase in the number of charitable centers which help the destitute of Kashmir.
There are more than 3,000 registered NGOs and many other unregistered ones which operate in Kashmir but only a few are working for orphans.
Officials at these orphanages say the major portion of their funds comes as donations by individuals and a very little portion come for sponsored programs. Ramazan, in this case, plays a vital role. Most of the fundraising happens in this month only, as a maximum of the Zakat and Sadka money reaches these institutions.
“In Ramzan, the ajar of doing a goodness is 72 times more than doing it in other months, so people donate more,” says Dr Rouf Mohiud din, founder of Koshish, an organization working for underprivileged children. According to the audit reports of these charitable institutions, they receive crores of rupees from local individual donors.
However, it is humanly not possible to cater to the entire population of the destitute in the state yet these institutions, some of them profiled here, are making a huge effort in their own way to mitigate some kinds suffering.
J&K Yateem Trust
J&K Yateem Trust is the first volunteer attempt to help orphans and widows of the state. It was started by Abdul TakZaingereeinSopur with a couple of orphans to take care of. A government employee by profession was an eager social worker. “He used to look for opportunities to help somebody even before establishing an orphanage,” remembers his son Zahoor Ahmed Tak, who is running the institution now. He left his job to establish a home for orphans.
Zahoor rewinds a bit and shares how his father conceived the idea of establishing an orphanage. Senior Tak once received a postcard from a boy, Mohammed Sayid, who was an orphan. Sayid was eager to study but his mother refused to support because she was very poor. Senior Tak went to that place, verified the details and agreed to help the boy.
“This made Tak sahib to think of many other similar cases and an idea of grooming these children struck his mind and J&K Yateen Trust came into existence,” says Zahoor.
In 1973 it was shifted to Srinagar “to get recognition and to occupy a centrally located place”.
The trust has 80 branches spread all over the state, one branch in every Tehsil except for Kupwara where the institution is working on the block level, as the area is worst hit by the conflict.
The trust takes care of 500 children in nine orphanages and provides educational assistance to some orphans at home (orphans who are living with their families).
The trust also has separate schemes for widows and orphan girls -Programmes like ‘widow rehabilitation scheme’ in which a widow is helped to be financially independent. She is provided things like a provisional store, a cow, charkha or any other means worth Rs. 25000 to establish a livelihood. Till now the trust has made 450women financially independent.
Unskilled widows are provided ration assistance to save them from starvation. The trust runs about 8 craft centers where exclusively orphan girls or young widow are taught a craft.
It also facilitates the marriage of orphan girls by providing them a ‘wedding kit’ costing Rs 6000. About 25000 girls have been benefitted. They are presently running two schools also.
The trust works exclusively on public donation amounting to about 3.5 crore rupees annually.
“In Ramazan, we are at zero. We are done with our expenditures for this year, now this time we are getting money of zakat, sadka and other,” says Zahoor. “Last year due to the unrest we fell short of 57 lakhs, so we had to reduce some of our expenditures.”
Their paid staff strength is 200 and about 1000 are volunteers.
J&K Yateem Khaana
Founded in the year 2000. The J&K YateemKhaana is a subsidiary institution of J&K Muslim Welfare Society established in 1973. It takes care of 500 orphans (boys) in its hostel ‘Raahat Manzil’. Apart from running a higher secondary school, they are planning to establish a degree college, a hospital, polyclinics, health centers and diagnostic centers in the 14 kanals of land meant for the orphans.
The institution usually looks for “disowned orphans” who have nowhere to go. It runs another orphanage inDoda, besides having small units in every district.
The J&K YateemKhaana provides educational assistance to orphan girls’ also. It also has 700 widows registered who receive Rs 300 every month. They are running seven craft centers to train the widows and orphans girls to make them financially independent. More than 600 orphan girls’marriage have been undertaken by this institution.
Most of its budgeted expenses come from local individual donors and some is contributed by foreign contributors. Sometimes an odd tourist also donates.
“This year only a couple from Kenya came and made some donation, they had sent their son earlier with the donation, so, the flow of funds is quite consistent,” says Ahadullah.
J&K Yateem Foundation
Increase in the number of widows and orphans motivated the founders of J&K Yateem Foundation to think about establishing this institution. It started as a small center of ‘Bait-ulHilal’ with 32 orphans (boys). It is running two orphanages now, one at Srinagar and other at Kulgam, taking care of 80 orphans.
This trust is registered with the government of India under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), which allows them to accept foreign donations. It helps300 widows by giving them Rs 500 per month. “Last three unrests in Kashmir affected our budget a bit, so, we preferred to cut the scale rather than cutting the number of the beneficiaries,” says Syed Abdul Hamid, Patron.
Some orphan girls apart from getting Rs.1000 per month are provided aid through sponsored programmes of Girls Upliftment in Domestic Environment (GUIDE). The other sponsored schemes include Higher Education Scholarship Programme Professional (HESP), for both girls and boys.
Non-local sponsors include Save the Children (for students), Mercy Universal London(for widows), Action Aid and Canadian based International Development Relief Foundation (a project of establishing medical camps).
The foundation also provides financial assistance of Rs 5000-10,000 for the marriage of an orphan girl.
The staff strength of the institution is 39 in addition to the numerous volunteers and the yearly expenditure of the institution on the destitute is about 2 to 3 crore.
Seeing the number and the needs of the destitute in the state Dr Yousuf-ul-Umer dedicated an exclusive branch of Iqbal Memorial Trust to social service in 2005. An engineer by profession, Dr Yousuf has dedicated his life to helping the needy. “I did my premature retirement from the service just to dedicate whole of my time to this noble cause,” he says.
Within six years Sakhawat Center established its offices in each district of J&K except Leh and Kargil.
The working pattern of SakhawatCentre is different from other destitute centers. The center meets the needs of special children at their own places, without taking them away from their mothers or other family members.
This centre takes care of about 7000 orphans. “We cannot separate these children from their mother’s lap,” says the chairman. Apart from taking care of orphans, this centre provides financial assistance of about Rs. 10,000 each many orphan girls for marriages. Last year they had 270 girls on their list.
Sakhawat also offers “merit cum means scholarship” open for all students of the state with a preference to orphans. This year 720 students were benefitted all over the state. The amount each student gets is Rs 6000. The scholarship varies for professional courses; it goes up to Rs. 30,000.
The boy who topped the CET medical merit list two years back was aided by this centre.
All the expenditure is met by independent donors. The centre receives 2-3 crore rupees every year and nothing is left as profit money, “every single penny is spent in good-will”.
The entire staff of Sakhawat centre serve the institution as volunteers and charge nothing, they all are paid by the parent body Iqbal Memorial Trust for their contribution in the Trust (Parent body).
“All the staff here works for free, for a noble cause”, says Yousuf.
Child Nurture and Relief Kashmir (CHINAR) Kashmir
CHINAR is working in Kashmir in collaboration with its sister organisation operating from United States (Chinar US). The organisation is taking care of about 20 children, boys and girls.
One feature that makes this ‘home’different from others is the presence of two ‘mothers’ instead of having a warden.
Besides the 20 in the ‘home’ it takes care of the expenses of 20 other children in their own homes. In this case, the expense of each child is about Rs 1800 per year.
CHINAR admits children who have lost both parents and should be 4-7 years of age. They want to groom the child from the very beginning. Though in some cases they have relaxed this condition. Apart from the contribution made by the US sister organisation, they also accept donations from individuals. “We organize fundraising functions yearly where high dignitaries are invited who contribute lakhs of rupees,” says one of the executive members of CHINAR.
Apart from helping orphans, CHINAR has rehabilitated two earthquake affected villages in Uri and provided help to the children impacted by the avalanche in Waltango. The executive members were reluctant to share the expenditure and annual budget of the organisation.
Dr RoufMohi-ud din Malik, one of the founder members of Jammu and Kashmir YateemFoundation, started an independent organisation to support the destitute of Kashmir.
The primary aim is to work on “basic rights” which usually destitute are deprived of due to lack of exposure and knowledge. This organisation does not have a special home for the orphans, widows or half-widows but their workers and volunteers go to an area, identify the needy and try to meet their needs at their own places rather than displacing them from their locus.
Koshish sensitizes and mobilizes the people about the rights of the destitute. The founder of the organisation believes that the government provides less but a constant aid to this section of society, so awareness about that can be more beneficial than providing donation from individuals.
The motto of the organisation to make this affected section of society live as commoners and to not make them realize that they are different from the normal population. “When these children from orphanages are sent home either for an occasional visit or to live back, they feel a misfit in their natural environment because of living in a comparatively higher standard in their orphanages,” says DrRouf.
In the four years of its existence, Koshish has provided 20,000livelihood kits which include a provisional store, 4 cattle, a sheep or any other means that can help a widow to become financially independent.
The initiative annually generates 25-30 lakh rupees from individual donors apart from the funds received from CRY (Child Relief and You) and ECHO (Humanitarian Aid Department of the European Commission), European Commission’s department for Humanitarian aid. Besides, providing financial help Koshish provides educational assistance to many.
It ’s paid staff strength is 24 and dozens volunteer.
H.E.L.P (Human Efforts for Love and Peace) Foundation
To help underprivileged section of people was the childhood dream of Nighat Shafi which inspired her to start an NGO, HELP Foundation. Initially, she used to tie up with hospitals and go for medical camps. Once during a medical camp inside Dal Lake she saw schools were burned down and children were playing on the roads. This struck her and she talked to the mothers of the locality and started her first school in 1997. About 325 orphans from the fisherfolk community were enrolled there.
“We believe in assisting needy people, we want them to be self-sufficient so that they don’t have to beg or become deprived, for this we give them one time assistance and we make sure after earning they pay us back so that from that money we can help other needy people also,” says NighatShafi, Chairman HELP Foundation.
The HELP Foundation runs an orphanage also which was started in 1998 with 8 kids. Now it supports 40. Initially, orphanage used to have kids till 12th class but they are now planning to reduce it to 8th class as they feel a child can be best nourished at his/her home only and this can reduce their stress level as well.
“This foundation mainly focuses on the problems of children and women that have worsened due to conflict,” she says. The organization works mainly on local Zakat money and for different projects, they have different sponsors. Yearly total money collected is 50 to 60 lakh rupees which Nighat says comes from friends and relatives only as people don’t contribute as per their religious norms. She feels if people donate as per law then the day is not far when there will be no needy person in our Kashmir.
“We have made women capable of making day to day kitchen things like spices for which we get orders from marriage parties also and in different vocational programs we have trained our women folk in tailoring and now they are making uniforms and clothes on demand, sometimes we go for exhibitions too”.
The Foundation has build schools in the outskirts of Kashmir, at some places they are assisting schools to run properly, they have opened a private library, arranged theatre festivals, film festivals, workshops and seminars for children and women and also organise mental counselling programs as stress levels are high in Kashmir. They provide marriage kits to needy girls.
The total number of students associated with this foundation is more than 1000, including the dropouts from KunanPoshpora who were in extreme stress and left their studies due to social stigma and low income. About 1500 females get assistance from another scheme of Micro Financing Kashmir Women Credit Corporation, which exclusively works in empowering of downtrodden women.
This Foundation is working in Jammu and in Ramban also and their main focus has always been on providing education, healthcare and livelihood opportunities.
Basera-e-Tabassum (Abode of Smiles), a rights and needs based comprehensive rehabilitation Centre came up at a time, when the children of the valley were sleeping to the rumble of gunfire than to cradlesongs, seeing more corpses than toys and mourning more than smiling. The center was set up on May 12, 2002, in Sulikoot, a village one kilometer away from Kupwara town.
To save both the lives and minds of children from the psychosomatic disorders and the inhumanity caused by the armed conflict, which erupted in 1990s in Kashmir, Borderless World Foundation (BWF), a Pune based NGO took up the initiative in 1997 and visited the strife-torn and the then militancy hotbed Kupwara for project survey.
The BWF found ample count of orphans, most of them being the children of slain militants. In 2002, the organization foundedBasera-e-Tabassum “Abode of smiles”. This rehabilitation center is exclusively meant for girls, aiming at fighting for their basic rights, survival, development and participation.
The project is the brainchild ofAdhik&Bharati, who were in their teens when they came to Kashmir for project study. The duo hail from well-off business families in Pune.
Shunning the metropolitan comforts and the luxurious life at home, Bharti and Adhik embraced a mission when they chose this backward area. “We had to tread a very difficult and treacherous path to accomplish the mission. Initially, we had to face very tough time because we were strangers in a strange land. No one knew us here. But gradually we explored the route and things turned easy,” says Adhik, who presently is the chairperson of the NGO, Borderless world Foundation.
“The concept of borderless world foundation (BWF) originated in 1997, when we started work in this strife-torn and highly disturbed land. During work here, we would often realize that people of nation have failed to serve this, emotionally, physically and psychologically ruined population,” says Adhik.
“We were deeply struck when we visited the villages of Kupwara and found girls of a very tender age stuck in trauma. Their fathers took up the arms and they were left to bear the brunt of the violence. I don’t say militancy is responsible for everything but it certainly victimized the children to a great extent,” says Bharti.
In the beginning, Basera-e-tabassum took in just four girls. “We used to convince locals that this project would benefit the needy but the clerics would hinder our progress because the feared us as proselytizers and even fatwa was issued against us. But gradually locals shouldered the work and we succeeded in winning the hearts of people,” recounts Adhik.
Once, during their field research, Bharti and Adhikwere confronted by militants who asked them a number of debilitating questions about their motives.
“The militants understood everything when we explained to them about our project. They didn’t do anything with us instead they acclaimed us highly for this humanitarian effort and also apologized,” says Adhik, the Chairperson of BWF.
“It was not the end. Our being Hindus, made everyone to doubt us. We were picked up by militants nearly nineteen times. But every time our luck, resilience, determination and perseverance saved us. Many times in Kandi Handwara and Dardpora Kupwara, Poutashay and Chandigam Lolab we had to face the questions from militants.”
Baser-e-tabassum Sulikoot at present houses 55 girls, age 3 to 20 years. Fifty girls are studying in private schools and rest five in government schools. The eldest among these girls are studying in the first year at Government Degree College Kupwara. She has been in this center for the last ten years.
Jameela, a girl who hails from Kukroosa, is presently studying science (11th class) in Fergusson College Pune, has grown up in Basera-e-tabasum. Her militant father was killed a few months after she was born.
The surprising but praiseworthy tale related to this project is about a young lady, SaleemaBhat, who has been managing the entire functioning of this center for last nine years, most of the times in absence of its founders. She is working as the project coordinator for Basera-e-Tabassum “At the beginning, it seemed to be a very tough job to manage the lives of children especially the nascent ones but now I don’t need to put a Herculean effort. I don’t want to move away from my children and I really can’t afford separation. My life is clutched in their souls,” says Saleema.
The children here call her didi. Adhik has high regard for Saleema. “She is a goddess. I am elder to her but she is chariy mother. A mother can’t take care of her own child the way she cares.”
Nearly one and a half lac rupees is spent every month on this Rehabilitation Center (BeT). This amount goes into the meals, paying school fee, purchasing uniforms, books and notebooks, bags and other daily commodities needed by the girls here. The aim of the project is to ensure a complete family environment, by guaranteeing the love as well as equal care, which refrains them (girls) to think about their homes.
“There has not been any aide from the locals but I must not downplay the role of JK-armed police battalion, which is staying in WayanGundisana and 28 DivHed Quart, Zangali. They helped us at the time when there was none to come forward. During last year summer unrest, JKAP used to get us gas cylinders here and also deliver some edible stuff. Whenever we would go on the winter tour, most of the arrangements were made by them,” says SaleemaBhat. “The main source of funding has been the people of Pune. They are regularly aiding us to run these orphanages,” says Adhik.
“Working in Kashmir, I realized that it is the Land of affectionate and fair humans. Whether, it was militants, army or the local Kashmiris, no one did harm us. Instead, we were encouraged by everyone,” adds Adhik.