Walk For Syria/Turkey.

        My Pakistani-American friends questioned why I would want to expand our efforts to Pakistan, advising me against building a GiveLight home in a country where corruption makes getting things done very difficult.

        While I understood their concerns, I am also a firm believer that there are honest people everywhere; I knew I would find them if I set out with the right intention.

          As fate would have it, I was introduced to a gentleman named Mahmood Hassan — the hero of our story — by his daughter, who happens to be one of GiveLight’s long-time supporters.  She attended our very first event back in 2005, and she and her husband have been quietly supporting our work ever since.  She and her sister generously decided to donate their family land in Multan to build the next GiveLight home.  Within less than two years, the home was complete. In February of this year, I set out to see it with my own eyes.

Out in the courtyard

Day 1: Arrival (Thursday)

On a pleasant February afternoon, I set foot on the beautiful compound called Bait-E-Jamilah, a name chosen to honor Mahmood Hassan’s wife, the mother of my friend. We were greeted warmly by the staff, and the children came out to the courtyard to greet me and another of my dear friends, Musarrat, who had kindly accompanied me on this trip.  We did a tour of the facility, which turned out to be much larger than I had imagined. Our kids attend a private school which is conveniently connected to the house.  We climbed up to the terrace — a common feature in Pakistani homes — from where we could see our beautifully manicured garden across the street. The sun was setting in the cloudless sky, casting a lovely blood-orange hue. 

          After sunset prayer Mr. Mahmood Hassan, Musarrat and I joined the children for dinner. I immediately felt drawn to them.  We passed out chocolates, toys, and books. The kids were so well-behaved, each one expressing gratitude and contentment for what he or she had received.  When I teasingly asked whose gift was the best, each one replied, “Mine!” 

We couldn’t do many activities that day as everyone was busy preparing for the home’s grand opening, scheduled for the following afternoon. The children were very excited to put on their first ever performance.

Day 2: The Grand Opening (Friday)

The kids attended school that morning but were dismissed early for the event. They had time for a quick snack and a final rehearsal.  I had requested the team to make this event about the children rather than about the guests who were coming to the ceremony.  Their teacher Nimra Malik did a great job preparing the kids for their performances — from the song choices to the costumes to building up their confidence.  I enjoyed each presentation, especially the one called “Pakistan Zindabad”; where five of our boys wore army uniforms and marched to the tune with bright, confident smiles.  We had approximately 50 prominent guests in attendance to whom we served a simple yet elegant high tea; the children were served fried chicken per their request.  The event was beautiful and blessed. We ended the day with an intimate family dinner and hearts full of joy and gratitude to our merciful Creator. 

Day 3:  Fun Time (Saturday)

Saturday at last we had time for some fun activities.  We played hide and seek, blindfold seek, badminton, and cricket. Some of the kids got on the swings and the trampoline, and I joined right in with them. We shared a great laugh together, but my stamina gave out after ten minutes! I also taught them yoga poses — their favorite being the “tree pose” because many of them kept falling despite their best efforts. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner prepared by the “mothers” consisting of fresh chapatis and chicken curry. Later that night, we held a zoom call with the GiveLight USA team, and the kids got to repeat some of their performances from the grand opening.  It was a wonderful experience for the US team to meet our children and staff for the first time. We went to bed early that evening as we had a field trip planned for the following day to a farm owned by Mr. Mahmood Hassan, known lovingly by the children as “Dada” (grandfather). Everyone was excited, including the staff members.  For the menu, we decided on lamb biryani cooked outdoors in our spacious garden by one of our staff members.

Day 4: Field Trip (Sunday)

I have always enjoyed taking my own two sons as well as my GiveLight children on field trips. This one was very special because we were to visit “Dada’s” farm. The trip took about 45 minutes, and the kids were singing the whole way.  We sang “Allahi Allah Kiya Karo” together, a song I had learned a few years ago because I enjoyed the melody and the meaning, not knowing that one day I would be teaching it to our children in their spoken language.  We arrived at the farm, and the kids couldn’t contain their excitement.  Mango trees and wheat covered the landscape as far as the eye could see.  We all climbed a mango tree, and suddenly the memories of my childhood climbing guava trees on my grandfather’s plantation came rushing back to me. After a delicious lunch, we played hide and seek, badminton, cricket, soccer, and hot potato. We departed after a few hours, stopping for pictures along the scenic route home.

traveling with the children
Dian with one of the children
traveling with the children

Day 5: Kites and Bikes (Monday)

I was supposed to leave for Lahore first thing Monday morning but didn’t feel emotionally ready. I ended up postponing my meetings with a few NGOs in Lahore so I could spend one more precious day with my beloved children. I woke up to calls of “Good morning, Ummi!” What a beautiful sound! Six of our children had final exams and couldn’t join us, however the other 18 were free for us to spend quality time together. We made origami with beautiful Japanese paper that I had brought with me from the States — some of the kids being so talented that they made designs without instructions.

We had time for more reading and art activities. The older kids were participating in the GiveLight Global Art competition and contributed some nice pieces to be included in the competition.

While strolling on our rooftop terrace that morning, I had seen kites flying in the sky.  I suggested to “Dada” that we get some kites for the children. He jumped at the idea right away and asked the office boy to go purchase some. Within an hour, we were all on the rooftop, and some of our boys succeeded in getting the kites high up in the air.   After flying kites, it occurred to me that the children might enjoy going for a bike ride. Biking was one of my ultimate hobbies as a child, and I wanted our kids to experience the same joy.  The challenge was that the market for the bikes was far away – about an hour round trip. We set out in a small car, and after visiting three stores, we found three good bikes at a reasonable price. The problem now was that the bikes would not fit in the car, so we hired a rickshaw to transport them.  We reached home after dark, some of our kids already asleep.  We managed to give them a lovely surprise, and they all couldn’t wait to ride them in the morning.

Day 6: Departure (Tuesday)

I woke up early and completed my dawn prayers.  I returned to bed to rest for a bit until the girls began waking up to offer their prayers.  One by one, they came and hugged me, saying, “Good morning, Ummi!”  My heart melted. I only had a few hours left with them before I had to leave for Lahore for my next set of appointments.  After a breakfast of freshly made chapati and omelet, we headed to the large playground where we had held the grand opening a few days before.  All three bikes were immediately claimed, but the kids waited politely for their turns. I encouraged the shy ones to try riding and managed to put the younger ones on as my passengers. After two hours of riding bikes, we returned inside for origami and hide and seek, which turned out to be their favorite game, especially when it was my turn to find them.  

Finally, it was time to say goodbye.  I hugged every one of them while holding in my emotion.  I almost succeeded until Sania, one of the older girls, began sobbing. Then I began to cry. Then we all cried together.  I assured them that I would always be there for them through the caring hands of our staff and that I would be returning before long. We also planned zoom calls for the following week so that I would be able to see all of them again soon. Multan was never on my radar before 2021.  During this trip, I felt loved and honored by everyone I met, especially by our children.  They have gone through such hardship and trauma in life, but I am determined to give them a life filled with love and dignity. And I know that God the Most Merciful will help us give them a bright future.

Here’s a video that captures key highlights from the visit.  You can also do a virtual tour of our home by section: Admin Block, Main Building, Masjid, Houses, and the Rooftop.

We are truly grateful to the Almighty for His continued blessings.  We look forward to raising our children with dignity, honor and love. We hope you will join us on this beautiful and blessed journey of giving.