Bettering the Lot of Impoverished Pakistanis
By Mahsa Abassi & Fareeha Sattar

Reminiscences of the visit of American students to the Saba Trust, Pakistan

Our first encounter with the Saba Trust was when Mahsa arrived at the Irvine residence of Mr. Saghir Aslam in California where she was greeted enthusiastically by the founder of the Trust. The meeting began with Mr. Aslam explaining the various activities that Saba Trust has undertaken in Pakistan as well as other countries. As Mahsa explained her purpose of visiting Kashmir and Pakistan with three other medical school classmates, Mr. Aslam contacted his general manager in Islamabad and promptly instructed him to receive and accommodate us.
The kindness that Mahsa received from Mr. Aslam that June morning did not diminish across the Pacific one month later in July as she, Fareeha, Matt and Jaspal met Mr. Malik, the general manager of Saba Trust in Islamabad. Again, we were received with the same open generosity and willingness to help. Mr. Malik transported us to the Saba Trust headquarters and immediately chalked out plans for us to partake in various activities the next week.
WISDOM HOUSE: Our first adventure began on July 13th at the Wisdom House in Channan District in Gujrat, Pakistan. It was established in 1994 for educating women in the rural areas of Pakistan. While the first school session started with 70 students in 1994, today the school teaches 3000 students at multiple class levels ranging from nursery to the university level, and accepts both women and men. Unfortunately, as our visit took place during the summer break, we were unable to meet the children during the regular class sessions. However, we were able to tour the campus and were amazed by the extent to which in only a mere ten years, the establishment has been able to expand and improve upon its facilities. It was also very impressive to see the various class levels, the different physics, chemistry, biology and computer labs, as well as the school libraries, classrooms, and playgrounds. After talking with the administration officials, we discovered that the Wisdom House provides transport facilities to students from over 60 different villages and towns who are unable to commute on their own. Equally impressive was the fact that the Wisdom House provides scholarships to numerous students whose families cannot afford the minimal tuition fees. To date, an estimated 5.2 million rupees have been given out in scholarships.
CLOTHES DISTRIBUTION: Our second adventure took us to the village of Nouthain, about 1 ½ hours drive from Rawalpindi and to the home of Mr. Malik. We were graciously invited to stay at his home with his family as we partook in various Saba Trust activities. We witnessed the distribution of clothes among the local women. Each woman received two sets of shalwar kameez, and we felt honored to have had the opportunity to help in this event that also afforded us the opportunity to interact with the people of the village. Later, we headed out into the village to meet with stroke victims who had received wheelchairs donated by Saba Trust. These women were previously confined to bed but now enjoyed mobility. Not only were we graciously received by the women but also by their families who expressed the same degree of gratitude. While these encounters were brief, the moments of shared prayer and tears will not be forgotten.
CAPACITY BUILDING WORKSHOP: The next morning Mr. Malik, his wife and daughter Amna accompanied us to a local community meeting organized to raise awareness about violence against women. Speakers at the event included a Pakistani human rights activist, a local doctor, and a lawyer from Islamabad. Topics ranged from different forms of violence as well as new legislation aimed at deterring and convicting perpetrators of violent acts. We were deeply distressed to learn of women being burned and how many of such cases go unresolved. It was reassuring to see people working at both the national and local levels to eradicate the inequalities, abuse and injustices inflicting the society.
OUTPATIENT CLINIC: We also met Dr. Anwar Qazi, a local physician, who operates an outpatient clinic in a nearby village. It was astonishing to learn that Dr. Qazi works as a sole physician in his clinic and sees an average of 50-70 patients every day. It was gratifying to hear that Dr. Qazi waives all costs for those who are unable to afford treatment.
HEADOFFICE VISIT: On our last and final day in Pakistan, we joined Mr. Malik at the Saba Trust Headquarters in Rawalpindi for another distribution of clothes. As we drove to the office, we saw large crowds that had already gathered. Women and children rushed through the gates and were handed two packets of clothes each. Unfortunately, the number of women and children outnumbered the available stock of shalwar kameez and children’s clothes. The speed at which the clothes ran out left us to reflect on the alarming incidence of poverty in Pakistan.
Luckily, there are organizations like the Saba Trust that make sincere and sustained attempts to better the lives of the people and make a difference. God-willing they will continue to do so. As we departed from Pakistan we carried with us memories of kindness, compassion, service and good friends. It was a truly memorable visit.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.