Maths is fun for formerly illiterate sisters Sherish and Farzana
The number of recent attacks on Christians in Pakistan has diverted us from reporting on Sherish (14 years) and Farzana (16 years), the two sisters
whom we have taken into our safe custody, after a terrible 14 hour gang rape ordeal. The girls were abducted at gun point while using a field as a
toilet. (click here)
The two sisters were suffering great trauma after their ordeal, which was compounded by threats from other young men of a repeat attack, claiming
it was what Christians deserved. We installed a washroom facility in their home as they were too scared and traumatised to visit the field again and
had started to use a corner of their single-room mud-home as a makeshift toilet, with curtains as a divide. This was extremely unhygienic and
left an awful smell in their home, but it was all they could afford (click here).
However, after a gun attack on their home we discussed the option of taking the girls into our care as they were deeply traumatised (click here).
Ilyas Masih, the girls' father, agreed and we have held responsibility for the girls since early March (click here). After
an initial period of homesickness because they were missing their father and brothers, the sisters have grown in confidence during their time at our lead
officer Mehwish's home.
Whilst they have been living under our protection we have been trying to develop their vocational and academic skills and the two girls have been learning
to speak, read and write in English and Urdu. Sherish has absorbed her learning exceptionally quickly and learnt her English alphabet in a matter
of days. Farzana's learning was more measured but in recent weeks she has become more enthusiastic. The impact of the rape ordeal affected Farzana
more and depression was a key factor in her initial reluctance to learn. The two girls receive regular counselling and are beginning to get their
confidence back, they are supportive of one another and interact well with other people.
Farzana, eldest of the two sisters, said:
"At first I really missed my home and did not really want to learn anything, I just wanted to escape the torture and threats from boys in my village. Since coming to be with Mehwish I have gained a new sister and have started to learn how to read and write. It is great to be able to read prices in shops, I cannot be tricked anymore!"
In recent weeks the girls have started a sewing course that will eventually enable them to earn a wage. We will be opening bank accounts for
them and they will retain 100% of their earnings. Both have expressed a desire to support their brothers and father, as they
know that their earning potential will now be much higher due to the skills they are learning. We will also give the girls budgeting advice and skills, including
advice on sensible use of their money if desired, and we have started teaching them basic maths. The girls struggled initially but are
now starting to understand the rudimentary processes.
"Stitching using a machine is easier than I thought. When I complete the course the first thing I will do is make a new Shalwar and Kameez for my father and brothers, they will be impressed. I can't wait to earn my wages as I will help daddy with the household expenses like I used to."
Their learning has had to be undertaken at home as the girls' ages meant that classroom activities would be too advanced for them, which could have been
demoralising. When we received them we discovered they were completely illiterate but this has not been an insurmountable hurdle. Fortunately
sister Mehwish has given up time to train the girls herself as she feels a particular bond with them, and it is the close relationship they have which
has assisted the learning process and produced such amazing results.
We believe that life is not complete without fun and the girls have been taken on trips to local parks, shopping centres and to church. They have
not exhibited any fear of public places and are always well supervised and mentored. For Easter they stayed with Mehwish and her family and enjoyed a wonderful
meal after a packed church service.
"Easter was great we had the biggest meal I have ever seen and everyone was so happy. I missed my dad and brothers but we called each other and although I cried because I missed them, I am grateful for the security and safety I have with Mehwish. I am looking forward to spending summer with my family but am frightened of the local boys - dad is trying to find a new home."
The girls have regular contact with their father and brothers and will be staying with them from the months of June to September while Mehwish travels
to Malawi. She will receive training on how to initiate village saving schemes and small business start-ups, a programme the
BPCA intends to roll out to the deprived villagers of Jaranwala and other locations once fully trained. The programme is funded by a Christian charity
and will allow for some small start-up grants. The same Christian charity is responsible for our water pump project for deprived Christian families
Mehwish Bhatti said:
"Sherish and Farzana have progressed well while staying with us and rehabilitation has been good. Their confidence and demeanour has improved and they are learning extremely quickly. I think of them as my sisters and when I am away from home we keep in touch by telephone, I miss them at these times. I believe that when they have left our protection they will have the tools they need to live very successful lives and It will give me great pleasure to watch them succeed, despite the evil they have suffered."
Alison Houghton, BPCA Lead Researcher, said:
"I am delighted that Sherish and Farzana are flourishing in Mehwish's care, have enjoyed Easter and some normality has been restored to their
lives. I thank God that they are learning new skills which will stand them in great stead for the future, and are beginning to heal from their
Please Pray: That the girls will continue to learn well and enjoy the process For their continued strength, blessing and healing For the family to escape poverty
If you have been moved by this story and would like to donate towards the work of the BPCA that serves many victims like these, then please use these bank details:
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With your support we hope to change the lives of millions of Christians in Pakistan.
Sherish and Farzana deep in concentration learning rudimentary maths rapidly
Numbers now mean something to these girls.
Sherish is looking radiant as she eats her Easter dessert.
L-R Sherish, Mehwish and Farzana ready to eat their Easter meal.
Looks like three sisters to me! The bond between Mehwish and the two sisters is strong.
Yum, Easter dessert!
Other members of Mehwish's family joined the girls for an Easter Feast.