The sign outside the door reads in Urdu – Hayat e Nau – which literally means ‘new life’. It gives a tiny inkling of what is happening within. Each morning a steady stream of children some being carried, others in wheelchairs and yet more walking make their way in. For this is a Community Day Centre for children and young people with special needs.
Some children wear the expression of a flower fully open, drinking in the warmth of the love of those around them, their eyes bright and welcoming even though their tiny limbs are wasted, and sometimes jerk with spasms over which they have no control.
Others, are like closed petals wrapped tightly around each other, to protect a deep, vulnerable, inner core. And in between, are the mischievous grins of naughty boys, the laughter of friends joking and teasing each other, and the wordless plea for love, written over a little girl’s face, and spoken from her dark eyes that are often clouded over with the mist of tears.
Most of them, not all, come from homes touched by the deepest poverty and often, though not always; they are places rich in love.
Some of their parents bear the burden of not only having a disabled child, but the brunt of negative perceptions and deep rooted superstitions within the wider community as to why the child was born that way. The temptation, often succumbed to, is to hide the child away.
Sometimes, it has been known to happen, that a child is sold to a syndicate of beggars or enters the chain of human trafficking to be used/abused for profit. No one would wish this fate on any child.
Yet, for some parents, love conquers fear and they find that in caring for their special child they tap into deep well-springs of inner courage and strength that they never knew they had. And often, to their own amazement and wonder, this little one, the most dependant of all their children, awakens them to the mystery of life’s true meaning and gift.
This in no way takes away from the agony that parents endure in seeking the best way forward for their child or the countless hours spent in looking after their most basic physical comfort and needs, often at great personal cost.
An abiding memory for me, and for the others present when it happened, was the wonder and miracle of seeing an autistic child – sitting in a specially designed chair that supported his head in a comfortable way – lean forward, of his own accord, to gaze in fascination at a toy seal twirling a ball on the tip of its nose, his face transported in awe and delight. It was a moment of ‘new life’ for us all.
Hayat e Nau Community Rehabilitation Centre came into being through the hard work and patient efforts of a committed Catholic layman Javed Sadiq who is its founder Director. The Centre seeks to support the family in giving their special child the opportunity to receive the medical treatment and therapy that they need, combined with basic learning skills suitable to each one’s level of ability, within a caring environment that both challenges and affirms, believing that each and every child has the right to a quality of life with dignity.
The Centre operates out of 7 rented rooms with a small outer courtyard. Every year Mr. Sadiq is at the mercy of the landlord wondering if he will renew the lease for the coming year. Since the Centre first opened its doors it has had to move 5 times!
Currently there are 22 children attending the Day Centre. Lack of space, and the individual care and treatment plan that each child needs, makes it impossible to take any more at present.
This article was written by Sr. Roberta Ryan from Cratloe, Co. Clare who was assigned to Pakistan in 2001 and who helps at the Centre in a voluntary capacity.