Priceless drawing gifts from children in the Karachi slums

How much would one auction these drawings for? No money could buy them, because they represent something much deeper than art investment, and which galleries and experts would not understand.

These were only a few gifts from the 5* school children in the Karachi slums. They were generous givings a from those who have so little, yet expect nothing material in return – only our smile and appreciation.

For this reason, the least artistic green drawing in the middle is my favourite. This little girl was patiently waiting to give it to me, but I missed her. Then I noticed her walking away looking upset – lips down. I called her back and thanked for her lovely present, then she smiled and hopped away cheerfully!

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The most astonishing farewell from disadvantaged children in Karachi

Some children had got up at 4.00 in the morning to work, for example in local bakeries, before going to school. Some came from orphanages. The vast majority were from disadvantaged and slum areas. Their teachers and carers had long days too. Yet they were all there and had a great time!

It was a brilliant idea from Sajida and the Hussaini Foundation to bring together the schools and care homes they had been working with for an educational games  festival. Our volunteers worked tirelessly with the teachers in small groups to demonstrate and facilitate the games. Really moving to see several hundred needy children mix together and have fun!

Enhancing emotional care in orphanages is challenging

How do we capture and demonstrate needs to staff in new and particularly existing orphanages? They are difficult to define and are strongly related to attitudes, even when physical care is adequate.

So, it is a long process with perseverance from the providing or other responsible agency. Strategies have to include organisational, staff recruitment, training, and environmental improvements; as well as external links and supports. Crucially, these are all strongly interlinked. Having toys is not enough unless adults use them with the children or encourage their functional use.

The wonderful creativity and potential of these girls in North Pakistan ultimately brings us to the only question: “if would we not accept something for our own children, why should we accept it for someone else’s child?”

Where the Baltistan mountains meet heaven, there are teachers who really care

Flying over the imposing Karakoram mountains to get there, with the legendary K2 in sight, sets the scene. If the landscape shapes people’s psyche, this was breathtaking (literally, because of the altitude). The school itself was almost touching the mountain. But the goal of the workshop was clear: how to best integrate girls from the large local orphanage to school.

And teachers did not disappoint. I meant my feedback that the height of their emotional availability matched the altitude. They went out of their way to make them belong, feel the same as other children, and bridge the gap. Their observation skills were sharp too: “Give an example of how you know if a child is distressed?” “They look different, isolate themselves, even their drawing may look more aggressive”.

There were obviously opposite stories about another school. But let’s keep this one. Must feel the same for a botanist finding the same beautiful flower in the most diverse parts of the world.

Starting therapeutic input early to a Karachi orphanage

Ideally the earlier educational and therapeutic provision are set up when a care home is set up, the better. Influences can thus go well beyond work with the children, across the environment, staff recruitment and retention, openness to external agencies, and children’s life quality.

So, it was refreshing to join Sajida and Sukaina from the Hussaini Foundation at this new Karachi orphanage in Karachi. They are building up these four girls nicely for school (one had never attended by the age of 12) . The girls were so proud to show me their progress!

This model school in the Karachi slums is going from strength to strength

Last year I was so impressed by the social enterprise model of this school having such academic standards that, not only it provided a safe haven for children in the slums, but also attracted children from more affluent areas, thus becoming economically sustainable and diverse.

It was refreshing to see the new pre-nursery intake, increase in nursery classes, creative use of limited urban space whilst still homely in its ethos, older children’s pride in reading, and their broadening horizons from sports and other external activities. As usual, they were generous with their welcoming cards to keep me going for another year. Inspiring teachers and director!