Bishop changing lives of disabled Pakistani youths

Disabled youths praying with bishop in Pakistan

The Faith and Light Community in Pakistan’s Diocese of Hyderabad is helping physically and intellectually disabled people contribute more to family life while also tackling barriers that handicapped children face.

Bishop Samson Shukardin invited families to bring their disabled children to the group after he launched it in May 2012 while still serving as the diocesan vicar.

A typical group meeting begins with an instructional prayer and a Bible reading.This is followed by games, dancing, drawing and painting as parents and kids are encouraged to engage in fun activities together to help them bond.

Riaz Ghulam regularly attends meetings with his two handicapped children, 13-year-old Tabish and 8-year-old Nisha.

He said he was heartened by the joy on his kids’ faces as they eagerly await the next monthly meeting and prepare their wardrobes for the big day, even getting the iron out of the cupboard to press their pants and tops.

Previously, he says, they showed little interest in either maintaining a well-kept appearance or organizing future plans.”My son used to waste a lot of time just hanging about in the street,” said Ghulam.

“We are pleased that he has started taking an interest in household chores like going out to buy vegetables and other things. He has great difficulty speaking so we write down a list he can show to the shopkeeper.”He said the meetings had brought him closer to his offspring and helped him to understand them better.

“I used to get angry a lot and treat them harshly whenever they created problems but now I’m more calm and know how to treat them gently,” he said.”The sessions helped me to realize my children are not a burden [but a joy].”

Speaking with other parents facing similar problems also spurs him on, he said.

“I was actually shocked at how much my son changed. Before he often skipped going to church but now he can’t wait to go.”

Inayat Aslam, 19, takes leave from his factory job to attend a meeting on the first Friday of every month. He stutters and has visual defects, which he says have held back his education.

However, he now enjoys going to the meetings and memorizing the prayers. This change in mindset and positive attitude caused a chain reaction that resulted in him landing a new job a few months ago, he said.

He now pulls in 8,000 rupees (US$72) a month to support his family and, importantly, enjoys the self-respect of a breadwinner as opposed to being a dependent or drain on the family’s resources.

“I really feel bad when people don’t speak to me because they can’t understand what I’m trying to say,” he said. “I used to hide from people my age because they would call me funny names.”

“But after going to the meetings I realized I can do so much more than I thought possible despite my disabilities.”

Bishop Shukardin said it is a joy to work with underprivileged, disabled children and to see them thrive.”This brings me happiness,” he said. “We all have weaknesses in our body. In my case, I have poor eyesight and require glasses. I want to help these parents realize their kids are not only precious but a gift from God.”