“Meri maa abhi zinda hai. Mera baap TB ka patient hai. Chaar bhai aur bhabian hain meri, laikin meri maa apna khaana khud banaati hai is umr mein. Ye hona chahiye. Main kehti huun, ye bilkul hona chahiye.”
“My mother is alive. My father is a TB patient. I have 4 brothers and 4 sisters-in-law but my mother makes her own food in her old age. This is how it should be. I say, this is exactly how it should be.”
Farzana Shoaib held back tears with a ferocity that had not appeared throughout the hour-long interview. This was in response to a question on whether old-age homes should be prevalent in our society considering such a concept might gain disapproval.
Farzana is the founder and chairperson of Bint-e-Fatima Old Home (BFOH) located in DHA, Karachi. BFOH came into existence by chance; Farzana and her family lived in an apartment building in Clifton, where, one day, their elderly neighbor, Fatima, was discovered almost unconscious and without food and water for several days. Farzana and her family decided to take her in and care for her. For Farzana, this was God answering the prayer she had had for years to help the needy from within the boundaries of her home. Fatima became so much a part of the family that Farzana’s son gave up his room for her comfort, sleeping on a mattress outside. Soon, the family started getting requests from elderly women in the compound to take them in as well. Hence, was born an old-age home, one-of-its-kind in the city.
Here, we talk to Farzana and her son, Asad, about Bint-e-Fatima.
So how did the BFOH come into existence?
After we had taken Fatima into our care we faced a lot of criticism from the neighborhood. Everyone thought we were seeking money from the family or something else; it is hard for people nowadays to trust altruism and good intentions. But once it became clear that we have truly made Fatima a part of our home, we started getting requests from other women who were without caregivers. My son’s business in Dubai was going through a tough time so I convinced him to bring his family back. Here in Pakistan an opportunity awaited to do something outstanding.
Mrs. Farzana In Pink Dupatta.
Farzana and her family moved the Home to a residential neighbourhood with the intention of giving the residents the feeling of being at home. They were apart from family without wanting to be, so little things like a lounge, a bedroom, a kitchen, a garden, would make it more homely. They wanted the same intimacy with their residents that they had shared with Fatima.
Asad – Mrs. Farzana’s Son
Do you have a professional manager to take care of the logistics of the home?
This is all run by the family – me, my husband, two sons and their wives. If we let strangers run this place it won’t feel like a home anymore. In any case, people are so kam chor that if I hire workers, my own work doubles. So, I have a cook, but I supervise the cooking and my son does the groceries on Sunday himself. We have all left our old jobs and businesses. My son and I run the Karachi home while my husband, other son and daughter-in-law run the Islamabad home.
But, in reality, it is being run by Allah, and Allah alone. We have seen the miracles of Allah ourselves. Each time we have been in trouble, something has come up out of nowhere to help us out, sometimes in the shape of an interview call for a morning show, or a generous donor showing up at our doorsteps with enough money to run this place for the next month.
BFOH offers packages for people who want to use the facility, but few take them up. Farzana finds the apathy depressing, seeing how most residents have simply been abandoned by their families. On occasion, some families send BFOH a small amount to cover clothes or medicine, but mostly the home manages through donations and zakat.
Very few families visit. Sometimes just once a year, or even less. One lady fell sick a few weeks after she was dropped off at our home; when we called her daughter who lives in England, she said she cannot afford anything and if we are unable to take care of her mother we can simply leave her somewhere on the roadside. These things make our own belief in Allah even stronger; we believe Allah has made us a medium of comfort for these women.
Residents In The BINT-E-FATIMA Old Home
Do you have any professional counselling services for residents?
Fact of the matter is that I do most of their counselling myself, especially if it’s counselling for girls who need shelter and protection. Sometimes girls who are having marital issues will come and live with me for a few months. Once I am confident that the man is not a womanizer or alcoholic, I will counsel both of them and ensure that their marriage returns to normalcy. It is my hope that I get to manage the women’s department for Edhi because I know that I will be able to mend many lives.
For residents with mental disorders we invite a psychiatrist to do a thorough checkup and prescribe medication. Post-that we manage everything ourselves.
Have you ever needed to turn potential residents away because of lack of space?
Yes. We are at full capacity right now. We have had to turn away women because of lack of space. We have tried a few times to approach the Sindh CM to grant us some land. We will do everything ourselves. From construction, to fund raising, to management. We just need more space.
Ever considered paid daycare services for elderly women to spend a few hours a day at? What about an old-age home for men?
The daycare is an idea I have had and tried; it is not workable because women who live in their own homes cannot empathise with the experiences of women turned away by their families. Women coming in and talking about their children, grandchildren and lives at home disturbs our residents and leaves them emotionally drained. We do get requests for an old-age home for men; my area of expertise is managing women and girls, so maybe if Asad wants to take it up in the future.
Farzana shares the challenges she faces with outsiders like media, NGOs and volunteers who come into the home. She finds their questions to be insensitive, revolving around topics such as who left them here, how long they have been here etc., instead of positive questions about their lives and their friends. She feels such interactions leave internal conflicts in the minds of her residents. Volunteers from schools and colleges often visit in their school vacations to chat with the residents in exchange for an ‘experience letter’. She urges that the home needs volunteers willing to do real work like grocery shopping, managing the home and even helping residents with bathing and changing diapers.
Would your residents prefer to stay, or leave if their families came to take them home?
Apart from a couple of residents everyone will jump at the chance. They will always tell you that they are happy but if you really look at them you will realize that there is something missing. They are sad. We can feed them with spoons of gold but no one can replace your own blood and family. It would be wrong of us to say that they are so happy that they will prefer to live with us; that is not the case.
What does a typical day in the life of a resident look like?
There is a routine that everyone follows. Most of the residents wake up for Fajr prayers, and everyone is up for breakfast by 7am. Once they get free from breakfast they sit in the lounge and watch TV, talk or just relax. After a couple of hours they go outside to sit in the lawn for an hour or so. We do all the cleaning inside at that time. They take a bath every alternate day so whoever’s turn it is for the bath will do it at this time. Then they will all have lunch and watch TV will 2pm. After that everyone goes into their rooms for naps. At 4:30pm they wake up, have tea and watch some more TV or sit in the lawn till sunset. Dinner is usually around 8-8:30pm after which it’s time for medication, TV serials for those who are following any, and getting ready for bed.
They don’t need anything more than that. People come and tell us that we should take them out of the house but we don’t want to take the risk. They are old and feeble. What if anyone falls and injures themselves? That is a risk that we absolutely cannot take.
As I thank her and wrap up my things she continues talking about the women, about her children, and about her home, and there is a knock on the door. Her granddaughter Asma walks in to ask something. She’s a 19 year old girl. She’s not coming in to ask for money to go out with friends. Not about how she needs a reload for her cellphone. Not about the laptop she needs. She comes in with a concerned look and asks about the bedsores she notices on one of the ladies as she was giving her a bath. All I can do at that moment is continue packing as I reflect on my own life choices.
For Farzana and her family, every woman they take in at Bint-e-Fatima Old Home brings with her prayers that not only keep the home going, but also bring them closer to serving God and His people. According to the family, the duas of the elderly are what keep people going in today’s fast paced world. What better, then, than to have a home where there is not one grandmother to love them, but several. Not one heart to pray for them, but dozens.
Here are the details, in case you would like to make a contribution.
Phone numbers: +92 313 382 6267 and +92 321 207 0463
A/C Title: Bint-e-Fatima Old Home (Trust)
A/C No: 0057-2002200204
Swift Code: SAUDPKKA
IBAN #: PK 62 SAUD 0000 0020 0220 0204
Bank Name: Silk Bank
Branch Bank : 26th Street DHA karachi.
Photography Credits: Locura-Faizaan Ahmad Photography