At school in Pakistan: Keeping the light burning
At the beginning of last year, Saba came to us asking for financial help. She has three children: two girls and a boy. We hired her to prepare breakfast for us, cooking a vegetarian dish in addition to two meals with meat every week. Our one condition was that she send her children to school. She brought her daughters to school. Saher, the eldest at 11, had never seen a school, and was admitted with the 6- and 7-year old children. We also helped with her studies in the evenings. In one year she reached the level of her age group, which is class two in Pakistan.
The youngest daughter’s name is Smitty, a Sanskrit name meaning a beautiful smile; she even had smiling eyes. We put her with her age group of 5-year-olds.
Both girls worked hard and were very happy with their studies.
During the coronavirus lockdown in our area, schools were closed from March until September. When school reopened Saba no longer came to prepare breakfast. Her daughters did not come to school. Sr. Samina (Iqbal SL) and I went to their home to inquire and found that Saba had left the family, taking her 2-yearold boy with her and leaving Saher and Smitty with her mother. Her mother is elderly, earning her living by cleaning houses. The situation at their house showed a clear picture of hand-to-mouth existence.
We encouraged the grandmother to send the girls to school and forget about the fees, books, uniforms. On the first day of school both girls had not eaten breakfast and were very low. We provided breakfast and also lunch before they went home after school.
One day I was checking in on classes in the school and noticed Smitty looking as if she was lost or perhaps wandering in some other land; maybe she was trying to understand the mystery of her mother disappearing from her life, or how to live without her. I was shocked to see her forlorn eyes; her eyes used to smile but no more. She was like a yellow leaf at the mercy of the winds of circumstance.
Smitty has become so insecure that she does not want to go to class. She wants to sit with her 12-year-old sister. She cannot put her mind to her studies; she was very good in school, but now she sits as though she is a lifeless piece of furniture.
We have a few children in the school whose father or mother died; after some weeks they adjust to the new situation and show that they are normal in the class. But Saher and Smitty have not accepted their situation. The challenge for us in Loretto is how to create an atmosphere in which these children may grow out of their deep sorrow and insecurity. We are present to them in their need, we provide meals each day, and we provide education, hoping that they will find their way back.
Photos: Nasreen Daniel SL
Read the Loretto Magazine Winter 2021 issue in full here.