An Interview With Aban Jamall

The following was published as an article in The Friday Times ( July 9-15, 2010 Edition )

Q: When did you first start social work and what was your inspiration?

Aban Jamall with her daughter and grand daughters.
Aban Jamall: I have been working with the disabled or more correctly “Differently Abled children” for more than half a century. Back in 1956 I was 18 years old physiotherapy student at Jinnah hospital when my first voluntary job was at the Society of Rehabilitation of Crippled Children (SRCC) which Bagum Sulaman had started, almost 73 years of age now, I have since volunteered for many institutions including the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre which was started by Ruth Katherina Martha Pfau in 1961, I am the founder member, and president for life of Al Umeed Rehabilitation Association ( AURA ), which started as a single room physiotherapy center in 1989 had now turned into an state of the art, custom built and an only rehabilitation center for children suffering from Cerebral palsy.

Actually my parents, Mehera Minwalla and Cyrus Minwalla, were our inspiration. From the day I can remember, they were always serving humanity in some shape, from or kind. In fact people used to say about my father that his left hand didn’t knew what his right hand did so he never turned away anybody who needed help and I think all of us siblings, which is six of us have inherited that quality of giving, always not monetarily perhaps but with time and energies and I was always inclined towards looking after the less fortunate and it gives me a great deal of pleasure”

Q: What difficulties do “Differently Abled” people face in our society?

Aban Jamall: I met this young lady, Farah recently maybe two or three years ago, she is wheelchair bound and she said to me “why is it that people call us disabled – we are not disabled we are just “Differently Abled” and when I look back on my 50 odd years of social work, this is so absolutely true, some may be mentally slow but physically they are fine and vice versa for even those who are very severally effected by diseases they have so many different kinds of abilities they are not disabled but just Differently Abled and I think we should really stop this slogan of “disability” because that brands them as not being able to be normal in any field in fact I think Differently Abled people are very loving, very affectionate, and giving. They want to be a part of our society and unfortunately we try to put them away into corners without paying much attention to them, this perception of the society must change but then because there is so much poverty this happens also because their parents have so many other issues to deal with like eight normal children to feed, educate and take care of and maybe one Differently Abled child so that child obviously gets neglected.

Q: what changes have you seen in the past 50 or so years around you?

Aban Jamall: Well there have been tremendous changes, being born here in a little fishing village of Karachi so to speak in the late 30s and after that growing up in the 50s of course with the influx of refugees, Karachi blossomed into every direction, some good some not so good but we had a tremendous amount of people doing the work that should really be done by our government. There are so many people and organizations who are doing such phenomenal work today you look at Edhi, SIUT or Indus hospital where everybody is treated absolutely free on the other hand if you go to Jinnah hospital or civil hospital which are Government administrated hospitals you have to pay, you have to pay for medicines, you have to bribe people take permissions and yet you don’t always get the proper medical attention you need. Unfortunately this is the tragedy of our country to become that way and the government is not very helpful because they are not approachable they all sit in their offices and nobody will do anything except only for those who have contacts, there are only a hand full of people who are sincere in what they do.

Q: How were Special Olympics introduced to Pakistan?

Aban Jamall: In was in 1989 an American lady had come from Special Olympics and she asked around I suppose, about who are the social workers or what kind of people would be interested in this kind of work so me including five others, I think, the six of us were invited for a meeting at the house of the then consulate of USA, where they this suggestion or concept of special Olympics was brought up by them, which quite truthfully we didn’t knew much about. We were extremely enthusiastic to do that so we started with a small group of kids maybe our first group was no more than 50. We used to personally take them for the training to the ground and training them for the special Olympics that is 20 years ago and now the number of children participating has grown to many thousands, and it has spread all over Pakistan, it’s amazing the way the concept has succeeded here.

Q: Tell us about Al-Umeed Rehabilitation Association (AURA) and the other project you are currently associated with.

Aban Jamall: AURA caters to the children suffering from Cerebral Palsy which started by Dr Ruby Abbasi, joined by like minded parents, doctors and social workers, with a two roomed rented space in P.E.C.H.S as a treatment center in 1985. Bilal Abbasi was Dr Ruby Abbasi son who had Cerebral Palsy due to severe illness when he was just over 2 years old.

Bilal Abbasi was severely disabled, he could not speak he talked to us only through his eyes, his IQ was normal, he was totally an amazing child, he would respond to you with his eyes you would know , if he was happy, sad or amused, he was a cricket fanatic and loved to watch cricket. Tragically he passed away about three years ago, but he is still very close to my heart, he is my inspiration, I keep a picture of him all the time with me, it’s even in my bedroom.

It took us eight years of hard work between the government sanctioning a land for Al Umeed in Gulistan -e- Johar and the actual possession before we could start to build the center there. This area of the city is better suited for this kind of a project because it is easy for the kids from different parts of Karachi to reach the school. The center has been custom built keeping in view the needs and comfort of the cerebral palsy children, which is a state of the art facility comparable to any other in the world accommodating a hundred children from low income families, brought in daily to the center in a fleet of vans from their homes and dropped back at the end of the day, most of them are free of any charge all thanks to the funds raised by generous donors.

A staff of 67 manages it all and I have set a rule that if a child cries in my center the staff has to go, there is no reason that the child should cry. Our aim is to keep them happy and achieve as much as possible. Only last year in 2009 four of our children left their wheelchairs and started walking and that is a tremendous achievement for all of us and especially for my staff, who are my team of the most dedicated hardworking people.

I also don’t turn any poor person who need help and I personally take them to the hospital they need to be, from Korangi to Kimari.

The second project and my final dream, which I am associated with is the “Ziauddin College of Speech and Language Therapy” which Thanks to the vision of Dr. Asim of Ziauddin University Hospital, started as a collaborative project with The Speech & Hearing Association of Pakistan (SHAP) which I am the founder member of, and the Ziauddin University (ZU). The institution is the first of its kind in Pakistan offering a four year degree program under a complete foreign trained faculty. 14% of our population requires this service, so after 60 years we did it.

Q: Tell us a bit about yourself and your family?

Aban Jamall: I am just an Ordinary person who has done some extra ordinary work. and I need to give credit to my husband and my children because they have never stopped or interfered with my work in fact they have always encouraged me, and I think that is true of all volunteers that if they don’t have support of their own family members they will not be able to do it. You know I have worked continuously for several hours sometimes, especially when we first started Special Olympics and we were on the field from morning to night and we worked really hard but I had all the support I needed from my family. I have followed my parents, I have five children and twelve grandchildren they have watched me work I don’t have to tell them but since they are children my children and my grand children I have taken them to all the centers possible since they were babies, infect now they are asking me if they can go visit the children’s cancer hospital and other centers and I never say no to them.

Q: What are your hobbies besides social work?

Aban Jamall: You know this is the problem today now at this age when my energy levels are slowing down, I wished all my life that I would have developed some hobbies but I didn’t, maybe it is because I never felt the need or had the time for it but I am a bit or an art enthusiast and I love to watch sports mainly tennis on TV and when I have a moment I like to read that’s what I prefer to do above all else.

Q: who is your favorite Pakistani author?

Aban Jamall: It is very difficult because there are some who write a lot of fiction and there are some who write a lot of factual history and I can’t really pick one person, I like Kamila Shamsi and I just now finished reading “A Case of Exploding Mangos” by Mohammed Hanif and I found it quite fascinating because it was history mixed with fiction, but what I actually love are autobiographies, I love to read about people’s lives.

Q: any message you would like to give to the people?

Aban Jamall: Pakistani individual is known to be the most generous in the world, please give a little bit of your time, a few hours a week to the less fortunate of the society to bring about a better change for them.

An Interview With Aban Jamall

Wake-up! Rise To Stop VAW.

Nine days have passed since the news of a sexual assaulted nurse falling out of one of the balcony of the JPMC, in Karachi was blasted all over the news channels with bright red news alert headlines.

On the first day of the incident the news channels were so hyped-up that ignoring the basic ethics of journalism they ran the video footage on the loop every second of the minute showing the victims face, and clearly identifying her, so much that her face and name would actually be engraved in the minds of every other person watching the news channel at the time across the country.

The news held the top headline position for at least three days, yet the main accused who was only slightly injured in the incident, although in police custody was given a VIP medical treatment in a privet hospital while the poor nurse, was kept in the same facility where she was gang raped, in the ICU battling for her life. The fact that the accomplices of the rapist worked in the same hospital, and may have me waiting right outside the ICU unit, or they could the very doctor now treating her was completely ignored.

It was only that the luck decided to side with the victim this time and she regained consciousness. Her family told the news reporters that they are under pleasure and being threatened by the culprits. The state of security and protection provided to the victim is still not clear. The other culprits and their accomplices are still at large while the news has now gone to the back pages of the newspaper.

WAR yesterday in an official statement here, has placed some much needed demands for the government and policy makers to consider. Also there is a need to realize the extend of the situation, as rightly pointed out in a blog here that the victim had been complaining of harassment against her to the department but everyone turned a deaf ear to it. It was only until the vicious doctor and his friends actually gang raped her and threw her out of the balcony that the incident attracted news channels undivided attention and the news become headlines otherwise this too may have been one of the hundreds of rape cases which never get reported and go unheard of in this busy metropolis of Pakistan, and around of the country.

A recently issued report by Aurat foundation shows 13% rise in the cases of Violence Against Women. The total number of such reported cases in the year 2009 are 8,548, where Punjab tops the list and Sindh is reported second to follow, considering the fact that such crimes are hardly ever reported the actual figures must be very high. It is the high time for us to wake up and rise stop VAW, because If today our policy makers fail to device proper laws and effectively implement them to curb Violence Against Women I dread to even imagine the kind of violence and oppression the women of our society will be faced with in the near future.

Wake-up! Rise To Stop VAW.

A lethal potion in the making.

Religious extremism and intolerance is alarmingly getting worst by the day creeping closer into our lives. It was in May this year when the country saw the worst example of religious extremism when the Admadies were attacked leaving over 86 members of their community dead and over a hundred injured. Then Only a couple of months back when facebook was banned, a press conference opposing the ban almost got turned into a riot when a few journalist lost their cool and pounced to conclusions with out having the patience to listen to what the speakers had to say, regardless of the fact the people holding the press conference too were Muslims and were continuously condemning the controversial competition. And than later a ban on Google, Yahoo, MSN, YouTube some other websites was proposed on religious grounds, only because these are search engines, and throw back results of what ever one searches without asking what their religion is but thankfully it was never implemented or even I wouldn’t have been here writing this blog.

But lets not go too far back in time, also because much has already been discussed about these issues both over blogs and main stream media so lets come to this incident which took place hardly a few days back. This shocking news appeared printed black on the face of the newspapers across the country. Over 60 Hindu men and women were forced to leave their homes and take refuge in a cattle pen only because a boy from their community had made the mistake of drinking from the water cooler placed outside a mosque.

The attack was carried out by over 150 tribesmen, a group of religious extremists, who not only attacked the boy’s family but the whole community, leaving several injured, forcing them the flee their homes. And continue to threaten another 400 families to leave the area .

Now I don’t understand where in Islam is it actually said that non believers cant drink from a Mosque. Or if they do drink from one, their whole clan should be punished for this act. But why did no one speak up ? Why no voices were raised against this inhuman treatment ? Why were there no protests on the roads ? Is it because they are just the minorities we were dealing with, and we somewhere somehow think and believe that what ever wrong we Muslims are doing to them is what they actually deserve.

But the ciaos does not end here. Because it was just today’s newspaper which was dotted with yet another news, an exchange of fire between two religious (Muslim) groups, which took place in a mosque in Jubliee area of Karachi, the clash left sex people wounded it was only a miracle that no one was killed .

But we have seen worst of such clashes in the past too, but what worries me is the fact that now such clashes, and the disagreements are not only getting way to common but also are no more limited to a few followers or a certain group, but have spread into common peoples lives. Each time I discussed the attack on Ahmadies to common non religious people I was given arguments at leastt slightly favoring the terrorists, each time I discussed the ban on facebook I felt people even didn’t knew half the fact but they were still in the favor of the ban, and each time I discuss the increasing number of attacks on non Muslims, I hardly get many siding with the minorities.

One Muslim preacher is calling the others Kafir, and the other declaring the same for all the rest, hatred blaring out of the loudspeaker of Mosques for non believers, and for those belonging to different sects of Islam. This years and years of poisoning has added much intolerance in our society not just against the non Muslims but also against those, who believe in the same Religion as Islam but with slightly different viewpoints.

I hope we realize that this years of poisoning and fueling of religious extremism and intolerance added with catalysts like drop in the quality of education, rescission, job cuts, poverty and frustration is sure to stir up one lethal portion unless immediately taken notice of.

A lethal potion in the making.

Where Is My Silver Lining ?

The newspaper every single day is dotted with news of crime, of people selling catfood as a soup to kids, women being burnt, abused, degrees of ministers and parliamentarian turning out to be fake, new laws taking away the freedom of expression and and to chose, away from the common citizen.
The price hike continues on electricity tariff, fuel, food education and medicine  and to make it all to  worst there are job cuts and not to mention the collapsing state of law and order through out the country. For a common man,, it is getting more and more difficult to survive, starting a new small business requires a lot of money, even a pushcart vendor has to pay several illegal taxes to the power holders of his area to keep the cart rolling on the roads, and also he needs to protect his earning by the end of the day from thieves and criminals, only than would he be able to provide his family with food enough to keep them alive for a day or at the most two.

In a city like Karachi no shop keeper car keep his business running without giving regular donations to the people of one political party or several. he cant still avoid being robbed of his hard earned money every now and than, and he cant often report it to the police because that would only add to his troubles rather than solving them.

The women in the society are mostly educated and trained to remain confined to the bounds of the four walls built by her parents, or later in life by her husband. a very small percentage of them who work are not paid as much as their male counterparts, they face discrimination, it is much difficult for them to commute in a public transport, they often face sexual harassment in public at times also at their workplace, they fight against all the odds on a daily bases and yet they don’t often get the respect they deserve in the society,   

it is utterly depressing and frustrating, but how does a common person would vent out ? take There family to a beach, or to a park a park which just looks like the other one they visited last month, and the beach where they cant even afford to buy a cup of tea for the whole family ? Many be shrines, of the great Allah Walah’s, the Godly saints who preached the message of love, harmony and humanity, all their lives. Where poor get the same respect as a rich would, and there is free food for everyone ! but not anymore, because these shrines too are not not very safe anymore.

People raised with The slogan “Go Musharraf Go ! ”  in hope for a better tomorrow, but the next sunrise was still for their worst, They raised hell for a Free Judiciary, but justice is still way too expensive for them to afford.  Their hopes rise with every new ruler who comes to rule the country but every new dawn brings even more new reasons to be more hopeless than they were yesterday.

They say every cloud has a silver lining, but for us the saying seems to be just another myth.

Where Is My Silver Lining ?

The Disgusting Ritual of Bride Hunt.

In our society as soon as a girl is born, we start telling her that her prime goal is to get married off, and without marriage their whole existence would be a useless burden for either her parents of her brother. In society such women are looked down upon with pity, “baychari ke shadi ke umer nikal gaee” in English we even have a word for them “spinster”. so from the day she is born it is taken for granted that this girl is destined to get married to be respected in the society.

The desperation of the situation becomes visible once the girl is old enough to be married off, Age 19 – 25 is consider the ideal age for a woman’s marriage, which is when the true disgusting state of the patriarch society comes to almost full visibility, at least to those who can see and have a heart that still has some sense of feelings attached to it.

When any possible marriage prospect (possibly eligible men) comes knocking at the door of the girls house, The girl is all dressed up in nice and presentable outfit and paraded in front of the man and his whole family, who are told that the girl is very timid, can cook well, she is good at maintaining the house, and is very religious. Timid: so she wont raise a voice when her husband will beat her, she will do just as he says to, and follow him blindly, Good at Cooking and maintaining the house: She will cook, clean, and do all the house keeping. very Religious: So religion can be misused to make her feel guilty and keep her further oppressed under the man’s thumb.

The boy and his family scrutinizes the girl, they look for other faults, mostly physical. There eyes judge her body, complexion, height, weight, her eyes, nose, ears teeth, even breasts, and no i am not exaggerating or joking here. The boy, forgets all about his own sister and mother, he looks. and not only that all these things are discussed seriously in details once the boy and his relatives are back at their home taking their sweet time announcing their verdict to reject or accept the girl.

The girl too is just another human, she can really tell by the piercing looks of the boy and his family that she is being scanned minutely from head to toe. every physical aspect of her is in question. they are looking for signed of any fault in her body. she is being judged for only what she is but not who she really is. and then she has to wait, wait for days, thinking if this one will reject her, will there be another one, what faults will he find in her, is she acceptable in the society at all.

Only very few lucky girls get an approval call from the first man they are paraded in front of. most of the time they are rejected a few times before someone approves of them. but the grounds on which the rejection comes are actually heart breaking. “The boy is saying she is too short” or “her complexion is a bit dull ” for some she may be too tall, or too fat, they might not find her eyes too attractive, or maybe someone wont like her teeth.

it is very rare that people would look for a bride on grounds of who she may be and not what she may be like. but for a boy anyone who is earning a good living, no matter how how he is doing that is considered an eligible match, His education, looks, his mindset are qualities which are almost never questioned.

its exactly like parading your commodity, like a goats or a cows in front of a possible buyer who would kept them well fed to milk them for his benefits. We don’t think twice what our own sister go through when they are judged for their physical outlook for marriage, and then rejected as if she was a piece of lifeless furniture which wont match the fine decor of his room.

But we follow this disgusting patriarch culture blindly without questioning it as if it is an unquestionable part of our religion just because that is what our society does. For the fear of what others may think, we become totally inhuman undermining women making them feel oppressed on yet another ground.

The Disgusting Ritual of Bride Hunt.