Compassion is the Key: Imkaan Welfare Organization
I came to meet Tahera Hasan by happy accident, and before I knew anything of the work she is involved in, I had already sensed a rare and intelligent compassion within. When I finally learnt of Imkaan Welfare Organization and its multifaceted scope of kindness, it all made perfect sense.
It was not long into her law practice when Tahera noticed several setbacks in the organizations involved in finding homes for abandoned children. Having experienced the adoption system on a personal level, she felt this matter needed addressing and systematically so. Not one to wait on change, Tahera conceptualized her very own organization to provide care and rehabilitation for abandoned babies and children. To do this, she first designed an absolute system; one, not only at par with leading international adoption agencies, but sturdy enough to sustain itself even when she is no longer at the helm. For this, she set about referring to international adoption laws and protocols, making adjustments to suit the realities of the existing norms in Pakistan all the while.
In 2012, Imkaan Welfare Organization was born.
Tahera has since chartered Imkaan’s Adoption Program to provide abandoned children with the best in healthcare, education, and rehabilitation. Since inception, its foremost concern has been to ensure that each child, newborn or older, undergoes a thorough medical examination prior to being placed with his or her adoptive parents. This is due to a keen consideration for those individuals who have already been through enough trauma to do with being childless or undergoing infertility treatment. Imkaan’s magnanimity of mandate and that it begins each adoption process with the understanding that parents seeking to adopt will be fully accepting and mindful of any special needs their adopted child might have, are what make its Adoption Program the most considerate and progressive in Pakistan today.
One of the most glaring gaps in the services adoption agencies provide in Pakistan is in the all too crucial component of counseling. To date there is no official support group for parents looking to adopt or those who have adopted already. There is not even a formal space available to those who wish to discuss the adoption experience with those who have been through it already. In Tahera’s words, “There are so many questions one needs answered correctly when embarking on the journey of adoption, or when one has suffered the pains of infertility and the utter hopelessness it inflicts. Imkaan has aimed to address these essential concerns by filling the void of qualified guidance.”
Imkaan began its research on child abandonment in Machar Colony, the largest katchi abadi in Karachi and home to seven hundred thousand. Upon months of systematic research it became clear that the problems here were multifold. Comprised of a profuse Bengali community, Machar Colony has been notoriously marginalized by the government, with next to no medical facility available or even accessible to its inhabitants. Hepatitis, tuberculosis, and skin diseases top the list of illnesses that prevail in this area; women and children being the most susceptible. Alarmingly, most medical cases were being managed by either unreliable or fraudulent doctors, with pregnancies and deliveries left to completely unschooled and often cruel daiis. To combat the frightful rate of medical malpractice here, Imkaan opened Sehat Ghar in 2014, Imkaan’s first mother and child healthcare centre. Though establishing a relationship of trust with the surrounding community took time, Sehat Ghar has provided affordable care of the highest quality to nearly 40,000 patients in and around Machar Colony to date.
Manager Communications and Coordination, Umme Hamdani, a core member of the Imkaan team since 2013, shares, “We have that hands-on approach where we are closely involved with the community. You get to know the women who come to the clinic to be treated. That emotional link that you form with the community members is what keeps us going.” Though limited in resources, Sehat Ghar not only provides consultations and medication, it also educates the surrounding community on family planning and holds free off-site medical camps around Machar Colony. It also holds weekly meetings for women and children, to build awareness about the most common health problems they are likely to face; how to prevent them, and how to overcome them. Having recently set up an ultrasound facility, Imkaan aims to add a twenty-four hour maternity home to Sehat Ghar by early next year.
“Imkaan is a journey of passion and changes that one believes in”, explains Tahera. With Sehat Ghar in place and functioning, an all too disturbing condition became apparent to Tahera’s team; one that they decided to tackle head on. The magnitude of children here, from toddlers to teens, roaming about, completely unmonitored and utterly exposed to vices such as gangs, gambling, and drug abuse, was staggering. To address the gross negligence of the education and well-being of its youth, Imkaan decided to develop a learning and recreational space for the children of Machar Colony, most of whom spent their nights peeling shrimps for pitiful pay; pay that they hand over to their parents, without any hope of spending even a portion on themselves.
Khel, Imkaan’s one of a kind purpose built facility, composed to feed the physical and emotional well-being of youngsters living in Karachi’s forgotten corner, opened its doors in the summer of 2015. Manned by a team of trained professionals who are assisted by volunteers, including high school and college students, this project requires tremendous heart. Offering scope for training in basic literacy, arts and crafts, sports, and even meditation, Khel now has almost a hundred and fifty children attending daily. This means that on any given day, a hundred and fifty children are now off the streets of this slum; free from harm, strengthening their self esteem, and engaged in improving their lot in life. A magical shift in behaviour and attitude became apparent almost immediately to Khel’s former Project Manager, Ibadullah Shaikh. Where there was aggression and depression there is now mindfulness and hope. Ibadullah describes Khel as, “an oasis amidst dirt roads and shrimp houses”. Indeed, most every parent in the community will attest to the centre being the best thing that has ever happened to their children. Never had anyone thought to nurture the minds of Machar Colony’s young before; certainly not with as genuine and heartfelt concern such as this.
Perhaps the most apparent change Imkaan has brought to Machar Colony is clearing its streets of staggering deposits of refuse. This had reached a crisis point, breeding fatal diseases as well as posing serious threat to both immediate and extended environments. Last year Imkaan initiated a collaboration with Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan Memorial (AHKM) Trust, to install mechanisms for collecting the solid waste in this area through the E-Guard Solid Waste Management Project. As a result of this service, waste is collected from five hundred households daily.
However, disposing such bulk in garbage absolutely and effectively remains a struggle. Dumping waste in the closest open area, as most households practice here, is a primary cause of land pollution. Imkaan’s Field Program Manager and Communities Coordinator since inception, Parvez Akhtar, is spearheading movement to acquire government assistance in matching the Integrated Resource Recovery Center which the AHKM Trust has already established in Islamabad Sector G-15. Not only would such a centre recycle organic waste by converting it into a natural fertilizer, it would also rid Machar Colony of the remaining waste entirely. Devoted in mind and office, Parvez adds, “Hopefully opening such a centre in Machar Colony will pave the way for other areas in Karachi to address sanitation more effectively.” Though this has been a challenging program, its positive impact on health issues and standards in the long run keep Imkaan determined to follow through.
Improving the quality of life for children in Machar Colony and those who have been neglected even beyond; this is Imkaan’s creed. Tahera has found loving homes, both in Pakistan and abroad, for many a forgotten child. But more importantly, she has developed a system of care that may now allow more than one impoverished mother to keep the child she may have abandoned otherwise. And though she would assert that her team deserves all the credit, each member would gladly disclaim it. Imkaan is a boon to Pakistan. This nation needs desperately to believe in humanity, and now more than ever. The kind that not only exists but actually thrives; alongside and in spite of the most harrowing odds.
Jotina Noor Islam, a patient at Sehat Ghar
“I am thirty-five years of age and I am a Bengali. My husband, Noor Islam, is a fisherman and we have a family of nine out of which six are our children who all attend school. I have been living in this area for the past twenty years. Yes, I do go to Sehat Ghar. The clinic is very adept. Everyone, including the doctors, is very helpful. Everything is available here, including medicines, blood tests, and ultrasound facilities. It is very beneficial for the poor. I can say with pride that there is a good hospital in our area, albeit a small one, which gives us proper treatments and good advice. We can talk about our conditions openly with the doctors as they feel like family. It is very expensive to go to clinics. Going to Sehat Ghar is not only cost effective for us but timely as well. I am very happy that lady doctors are available here. Previously we had to go out of the area to consult lady doctors. The project Khel is also very beneficial. Imkaan is doing an effective job in trying to improve our lifestyles by providing us with multiple facilities. E-Guard is another facility that improves our area’s environment by sending workers to our doorsteps to gather waste material. No one has ever done this before in our area. I feel happy that we do not need to tell our children to take out the trash anymore.
I thank Imkaan for working in our area and providing us with health care and sanitation facilities, alongside providing our children with educational and recreational facilities.”