Conflicts around the world are known to render populace like orphans vulnerable. Responding to such war-load, orphanages do evolve as the natural course of action. Their role however remains on anvil especially in a protracted conflict called Kashmir.
He seems sombre. Boys of his age—16—are known to carry a different halo. But Naveed is no ordinary teen around. He carries a lingering memory with himself. Sharing a space with his parent-less tribe does make him sour at times. But with time, he has learned to make peace with his unfair fate that snatched his father when he needed him the most.
Even before he could make sense of the tragedy that struck him as a 5-year-old, he became a resident of the Shehjar orphanage in Srinagar, where his playmates and buddies were sailing in the same boat.
“All of a sudden,” says Naveed, as he sits to talk inside Shehjar’s sunny lawn, “it felt as if somebody had just shattered my life. I missed my parents. I wanted them back quite badly. But then, even crying a river couldn’t help restore the life that I once knew. And therefore, I began making peace with the new life surrounding with the fatherless class.”
At Shehjar, the Class 10 student says, they taught them to face the destiny like a struggle-hardened survivor and emerge as conquerors. The realistic life lessons apart from the usual care have helped scores of children of the conflict to face the world outside the walls of orphanage in a better way.
Shehjar houses plenty of Naveeds—who have their own stories to tell. By taking care of these parent-less kids and groom them in the best possible way, the orphanage is protecting them as such children are known to be vulnerable.
But despite doing their bit, orphanages are often being dismissed as mere shelter homes, which supposedly produce misfits, psychopaths, introverts and failures.
“Running an orphanage has become a business enterprise, a highly lucrative and profitable venture,” says Disability Rights International (DRI), a Washington DC based human rights advocacy organization. “Orphanages are no place for children.”
DRI states that the children that graduate from orphanages usually around the age of 16 have few skills and minimal support to face the world. “They commit suicide, are trafficked for sex, become drug addicts and commit crimes at exceedingly high rates.”
But orphanages like Shehjar—or, Shade of Chinar has so far defied this notion. “They make us feel at home and groom us as per the changing trends of world,” Naveed says.
In Bemina’s Rahat Manzil orphanage, Abdul Rauf Wani spares no different remarks. Ever since his father’s loss brought him here, he could feel that he is receiving better education than his previous school.
“I find teachers here more dedicated and student friendly,” Wani says. “The overall discipline is the thing to look out for.” This handsome Class 10 Kupwara boy aspires to be a doctor for bringing “happiness” in the lives of his loved ones.
In Rahat Manzil, Wani and Co. are upbeat about their talents. They don’t wear the victim tag and are confident about their life goals.
But in the place, where 0.214 million orphans live—as per a Kashmir University survey, intervention on part of the government seems to be the need of the hour.
At Shehjar, however, Naveed is ready to create his own niche in the society after Class 10. He doesn’t feel that awkward silence anymore that troubled him when he was first admitted here. The ‘aliens’ of yore are now his besties and the place is now dearer to him than his own home. Some orphanages, unlike what DRI says, are indeed place for children.