There are no words to describe a mother’s worst nightmare; the pain that comes with it, and the grief that scars you for life. I have none to describe what I went through.
On the fourth of August, 2014, I was blessed with my son Abdullah, but he was not long for this world. Ten days after his birth, an issue with his lungs took him from me. Everyone said: “Don’t despair, Noreen, as he has become your door to Jannah (Heaven).” But I did not want heaven, I only wanted my Abdullah back.
The very next year, I was blessed with another son: Ariyan. Four months and ten days later, he too was taken from me for the same reasons as my first child was. I had only one question on my mind when this happened:
Whenever I saw other children, I would ask myself this question over and over and over again. Why was I denied the chance to hold my sons in my arms? Why did all families besides mine have kids filling their homes with joy? Why did it have to happen to me? The pity of others was heavy on my shoulders throughout the first eight years of marriage, but my own sorrow had dug deep into my bones.
I changed, spiritually, as I failed to find purpose in anything after all those travails. I realized how motherhood could change a woman. After wanting a child for so long, the idea of having to live without the mantle of motherhood felt like the end of the world.
Now that I look back, I thank Allah for blessing me with such a loving husband. He supported me through the darker stages of my depression, through the worst of it, and he was the one who suggested that I get involved in an orphanage. I had already been involved in community work before my marriage, and had worked for an orphanage during my married life. Initially, all I did was continue my work there.
However, something still irked me, something I noticed about the orphanage that lay heavy in the back of my mind, driving me to take action.
After all those years, and all those donations, nothing improved. The children slept in the same beds, ate the same meals, played with the same toys. They had very little that was new, and to make matters worse, they did not even let the donors visit the orphans.
All of this made me lose heart in my work at the orphanage, but it also made me more determined. My husband and I decided to start our own orphanage. At the start, we aimed to care for ten children, as that was what our finances allowed at the time. And so, in 2019, we began our journey.
Before we started, my father told me two things: never take bribes and never take from a child what is rightfully theirs.
Never do any of these things because even if no one else is watching, Allah surely is.
The hardest part was finding the right children, as we had two criteria for them to meet. Firstly, the child had to be an orphan, and secondly the child must have no land or wealth to back them. The second point was put in place because I had experience dealing with the extended family of orphans. Over time, I had seen that if an orphan child is to inherit something from their parents, their family might take care of them out of greed, if not anything else. This is a harsh and cruel reality.
Then came the suspicion from the public, suspicions that went as far as to brand us as kidnappers who sold children for their labor. My guess is that these started because we paid rent for our home at the time; people thought that was how we earned money. Why and how such gossip ever came to be is something I have never understood. Even some members of my own family protested against my idea of starting an orphanage.
Despite all this, we managed to keep working, and a trust between us and the local community developed. Our numbers kept growing as well, until we reached the milestone of fifteen children. That was when we raised up our hands and stopped admitting more children. There was only so much we could do ourselves, and the quality of care was something we could never compromise upon. When we started this orphanage, we bought everything from square one; beds, chairs, shelves, tables, sheets, utensils, and much more. We wanted there to be no hurdles in the paths of our children as they walked towards their dreams. They have the freedom to be doctors, army officers, and policemen; whatever they wish.
We did not want them to live the lives of orphans, but rather those of children in a family, a family where I was their mother and my husband was their father.
However, COVID knocked at our door during a difficult spell, and we saw rations grow low and donations decrease. If someone was sponsoring two children, they switched to one, and if someone was donating a specific sum, they halved it. However at this stage, we did not mind. We made do because we realized that this was a situation that affected everyone, not just us.
Somehow, with Allah’s grace and the support of good people, we have made it through. Now, when others point out how I still don’t have children after thirteen years of marriage, I correct them.
The truth is, I have thirty children: sixteen sons and fourteen daughters.
Ma'am Noreen stands with her children at Noreen Zindagi Welfare Trust on the Independence Day of Pakistan.
From Afsana: Through her story of beginning Noreen Zindagi Welfare Trust, Ms. Noreen showcases the value of motherhood and its importance in raising children, especially those whom have been orphaned. You can read more about Noreen Zindagi at their website here, and you can read about how donors supported Afsana here to sponsor ten previously unsponsored children for the remainder of the year.
Written by Muhammad Hamza Suleman
Edited by Adil Rahim Hyder