The journey started when my very dear friend Dr Altaf Khattak while visiting Peshawar, a beautiful city in the north west of Pakistan noticed young children running around and working on garbage dumps in a horrible state. He investigated this further and found, to his horror, that this was not an isolated incident and children as young as 4 years old were forced out of their homes and schools to work under such abusive and dangerous conditions by parents and relatives suffering from severe poverty but also driven by greed and sometimes ignorance. Altaf decided something had to be done to allow these children to have their childhood back and get a chance to be successful in life away from this life that in most cases would have led to crime and destruction. Using his personal funds, personal contacts he then started a child protection program.
A Child Protection Project (CPP) centre was opened in Peshawar in 2012, supported by a national non-government charity organisation called Al-khidmat (http://www.alkhidmatpunjab.org/) and their KPK branch. The aim was to get these children exposed to fun and games and enjoy their childhood just like any other child away from the abusive environment that they were growing in. The program workers went through a structured process of identifying these children, finding their parent or guardian’s, explaining to them the program and its advantages, getting the consent of the children and their families to join this program and then setting up activities that will not only allow them to enjoy but to see what can be achieved by educating themselves. Trips to museums, picnics in historic sites and even dining in 5 star hotels were just a few ways to incentivise these children to leave the garbage dumps and educate themselves to enjoy this life style.
It worked! Over the years these children have been transformed. They and their families have removed them from the garbage dumps and some of them are studying full time with clear career objectives while others with more entrepreneur minds have started their own business using micro-financing also provided by this program and have already shown signs of success.
When I watched a progress report movie made by the program co-ordinators and saw these children transform, I was moved. I knew then, this program has to be taken to other cities as the same story is being reported everywhere in Pakistan. Child abuse and criminality is exploited and encouraged due to poverty among people. This has to be stopped.
A group of doctors had been collecting donations through direct debit for years while planning educational grants for the poor in Pakistan but never found the right cause. Here it was, right in front of me. As they say, rest is history. We had the funds, a template of successful program, clear objectives, experienced organisations already working on this project and an added advantage of having another big organisation Islamic Society of Statistical Sciences (ISOSS) http://www.isoss.net/ ready to work with us and provide the infrastructure free of cost. ISOSS are educationists, scientists and teachers with international reputations and who better to be around these children and to inspire them.
In short, we discussed, we agreed, we planned and we started the program as Child Protection and Rehabilitation Trust (CPRT) in Lahore, another major city in Pakistan. CPP and CPRT are essentially the same programs with CPP based in Pakistan and CPRT are the UK based charity. Within the first week 30 children were identified and following the same meticulous model that has been successful in Peshawar, these children and their families agreed to use these facilities. The photographs tell you the story. They are enjoying being kids again. They have fun, they play, more importantly they are clean and realise the importance of personal and societal hygiene now and they have started to enjoy a bit of studying and asking for more.
Our supporters have more than trebled now and we have other colleagues inspired and planning to take the program to their own cities. The number of centres has been increasing. We are on a journey and we hope you will join us to inspire us and to be inspired.