Does Pakistan Have More Edhis, Jamsheds and Imrans?
A Pakistani American Spares No Expense for Orphans
By Arif Chaudhry
When it comes to philanthropy, Irvine businessman Saghir Aslam is no novice. His charitable project, a girls' orphanage in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, is just his latest contribution to his homeland.
Aslam's inspiration for the new Saba Homes orphanage came when the northern Pakistan earthquake struck in 2005, exacting a hefty human and geographical toll. The government, media and other relief groups immediately went to the more populated and accessible areas of Balakot and Muzaffarabad. Aslam, instead, was drawn to the devastated villages. He had been doing that since 1965 when, on a visit to the country, he was treated in a hospital and saw that the poor lacked access to the same treatment. He used some vacant land he owned to build his first medical clinic and has been contributing in Pakistan and to Islamic causes in Southern California since.
Aslam understands the needs of his adopted homeland. He was born in Jullundur, India, to a middle-class family that left everything behind during the bloody 1947 partition between India and Pakistan. After spending five months in a refugee camp, the family settled in Pakistan. He took out a loan to go abroad in 1956, working menial jobs in England to pay it off, and then came to the US a year later to study at then-Sacramento State College.
He worked his way up at The Broadway department store and also made money through other business ventures, real estate and the stock market. With his wife, Bushra, Aslam created the Saba Homes under his charity Saba Trust and for this he donated his home in Rawalpindi to the trust's headquarters. He now splits his year between the US and Pakistan, and the trust works with more than 100 organizations on projects worldwide, including the Sabin Children's Foundation, the Human Rights Organization, the UN Millennium Development and the Irvine-based Free Wheelchair Mission.
In the days after the 2005 earthquake, Aslam, 80, gathered his Pakistan-based team and other volunteers, filled trucks with food, aid and tents, and went to some of the most remote and devastated villages, many inaccessible by road. In the end, the trust helped stranded poor people.
Aslam's involvement with the area did not end there. Most orphans in Pakistan, especially girls, have no place in society or a future, he says. So he's housing them at his orphanage. Aslam hopes that through his example, he can pave the way for others to make helping orphans a priority. The no-nonsense, energetic Aslam usually rises by 3 am, walks four to six miles a day, and puts his whole heart and his resources into any project he undertakes. "I call this history in the making," he says. "No expenses were spared."
The five-story, marble-walled Saba Homes, which is connected to the trust headquarters, has classrooms, a large playroom, two libraries, a cafeteria, gardens, a computer lab and state-of-the-art sleeping rooms.
From the top of the waterproof and insulated roof to the plants whose roots dig deep into the soil of the gardens, Aslam has overseen every detail of the facility, buying the best doors, tiles, marble, windows and even light switches. More than 12 tons of steel bars will hold the building in place during an earthquake - government regulations require up to 5 tons.
Each of the 4 to 7 year-old girls can snuggle into her own hand-quilted comforter - 60 in all - that were donated by Tom Thorkelson of Newport Beach, director of interfaith relations for Southern California.
Murals on nearly every wall were painted by Basheer John, one of Pakistan's top artists, and incorporate famous local fables that depict unity and tolerance.
"These girls will become the future leaders of Pakistan. We will teach them to love every human being, no matter their religion, country or color," Aslam says.
Today Saba Trust’s project Saba Homes is the most recognized in the world with the American government recognizing and supporting it.
The US Embassy in Pakistan documented the history, vision and work of Saba Homes and its founder MrSaghir Aslam. Several teams from the Embassy came to visit Saba Homes and couldn’t help appreciating the institution’s efforts and achievements. Among the long list of comments Saba received from the Embassy representatives, we cherish recalling one: “We have never seen anything like this before, this is truly one of a kind and the best home for Saba girls.” Later, while visiting Saba Homes Kitchen, the daily menu was shown to them which left them almost dazed. Said one of them, “This menu is something we don’t even have in our homes.” “They are really getting balanced meals with tender love and care. Not just from Mama and Papa, but the administrator, room mothers and the staff, all treat them with such love, dignity and respect.” They also learned more about the extracurricular activities that Saba girls enjoy. These girls along with their papa frequently visit beautiful places like KallarKahar where they get the chance of connecting with nature. They were taken for a week-long trip to Murree and Kashmir where they viewed some extraordinary scenic beauty and don’t seem to forget the time they spent there till today.
These talented girls are also encouraged to participate in as many sports as they like which is why they have won gold, silver and bronze medals in Karate Martial Arts from all over Pakistan and made Saba proud. Their weekends are mostly planned with breakfast of Halwapuri, trips to fast food restaurants and delicious desserts and ice cream parlors afterwards. After seeing and knowing all of this, anyone would say that these girls are truly blessed to have Saba as their home.
Interviews were taken and videos as well as pictures were documented by the visitors from USA Embassy. The result of this came out after a month of hard work by the Embassy team in the form of an inspiring video that touched millions of lives when it was posted on social media (Facebook). The response was beyond their own expectations. As many as 200,000 (two hundred thousand) people around the world viewed and liked that video which touched their hearts. Out of these, thousands of viewers left good wishes and queries asking to become a part of Saba through comments and messages. People from all over the world were astonished to see that Pakistan still has people like Mr and MrsSaghir Aslam who are determined to serve humanity regardless of what they get in return.
They are firm believers in what The Holy Prophet SAW has promised the Muslim ummah: “I and the person who looks after an orphan and provides for him, will be in paradise like this. (Putting his index and middle finger together)” That is the only reward they look forward to. On Facebook, people appreciated their efforts in amazing words and expressions and shared the video in their social circles as well which led to further recognition and appreciation for Saba. Since then, more and more people have come in contact with Saba to gain more information about the founders and Saba’s achievements. This was a great step to create awareness among people all over the world about the work of Saba Homes and why it is different from other welfare organizations.
Saba Homes is not only a building made of bricks and cement, it is a home, made out of love, respect, compassion and devotion to create future leaders who will change the face of Pakistan by becoming not only extraordinary professionals but also fine human beings.
Great people live on under different names and one day soon Saghir Aslam’s name will have recognition for charitable work amongst Edhi, Junaid Jamshed and Imran Khan.