The not-so-forgotten war orphans

ISLAMABAD: The Father’s Day may be a ritual for the children born to rich and affluent families, but much more for the war orphans sharing a roof in a boarding school here. While most school-goers are enjoying summer vacations, 104 children have been too busy to consider such distractions. On Friday evening, they all dressed up for a thanksgiving to the papas and mamas they have been bless with. They happily waited for the guests in humid Islamabad for over an hour, for being punctual has never been a worth considering trait for the nation. Dressed up in white shirt and dark colored short pants or starched white shalwar qameez, they may look similar at the first sight. Variation of their skin tones and eye colors tells another story. They are the offspring of fathers falling prey to terrorism, the US drones and sectarian violence. They symbolize the misery and pain inflicted on the people of Waziristan and Kurram agencies to gas-rich but backward region of Dera Bugti. The opening session at the Father’s Day event belied the reality that these were once depressed and deprived children from some of the remotest parts of Pakistan. They seems to have left their tragedies behind.The mock but witty talk-show was enough to prove their mettle in drama and script delivery. The politician rightly came with his loyalists asking for ‘sit-in’ on virtually anything while the fashion designer’s body language aped the ones seen on the ramp. The child playing the role of a lady inspector reflected his deep observation of real life characters. The proceedings at the Sky School Systems were prepared in the honor of Hassan ‘Papa’, who was financing their education and boarding. Hassan Bokhari, a businessman in his 50s, seemingly deserved the title ‘papa’ for his bonding with each child. The students too looked happy in his company. Though Pakistan has been in a constant state of wars, literally, the launch of Zarb-e-Azb is the mother of battles, meant to cleanse the cancerous extremism that plagued Pakistan for over decades. Lucky will be a Pakistan who does not personally know a war orphan in his neighborhood, classroom, workplace or sports field. However, there are a few like Hassan and school’s administrator Mrs Sonia Shahid who can give their all for their future.Since ‘hammer group’ [hathora group] days till the suicide, Pakistan has taken generations after generations of orphans, who silently struggled for their lives. Many quietly helped them in many different ways to lift their souls and become useful citizens. In the same spirit, the guests of the day included a former Pakistan Army officer, Amir Bilal, who was decorated for extra-ordinary bravery in the early 1980s on the LoC. He know heads an organization called Sports for Development & Peace. Two former greats of Pakistan Hockey – Saleem Shirwani and Mansoor Ali Khan – also graced the occasion. The duo had won World Cup for Pakistan besides scores of gold medal and honors to their credit. The children are lucky to have such sportsmen as their coaches. In sync with its tradition, the school brought a 20-pound cake to celebrate children’s birthday falling in June. Each one cut the cake amid claps and chorus of ‘happy birthday to you’. Not just Mrs Sonia Shahid but each of 10 teachers has a special status in the school. The students lovingly call them ‘mama’.Shahid Farooq, a retired rear admiral of Pakistan Navy and president of the school system, proudly said, “We are lucky to have two to three volunteers with distinguished careers in their respective fields. One is a medical doctor while another work in a reputed corporation.” Meanwhile, the Pakistan Baitulmal pays rent of the boarding school as well as its utility bills. On Saturday, the faces ere brimmed with joy and sorrow alike. “Before the children leave for their hometowns with guardians, they are getting gifts and Eidie. It is always a very emotional day for us all,” said Mrs Sonia, in a brief telephonic interview. Though this campus of SKY School System is a living proof that the social safety net has not worn out yet despite tremendous pressure the country has faced since the Afghan war began. However, the school’s mentors and its management have so far not realized the importance of erasing the word orphan from the children’s memory. Each of the speakers on the Father’s Day reminded the student (ranging from 4 years to 10 years), that they were no more ‘orphans’.

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Aaj Kal