We decided to have our interview with an SOS Mother in the heart of the village, the children’s playground. As birds flew over our heads, listening to the melody of the children laughter, it was difficult to believe these children were orphans. We were there to meet Asma, an SOS Mother for the last 14 years.
We saw her peering through the window of her home. The Director of the Village informed us that Asma was incredibly nervous, “She’s worried that she won’t do a good job in this interview.” Sahar, also a mother, reminds Asma that this is a casual conversation between two mothers, and we see a breath-taking smile break across Asma’s face. “So, from mother to mother?”. We would be honoured to hear her story, we reassured her.
Asma told us that she joined SOS Village because she wanted to live a purposeful life and to be a mother. We understood that she didn’t want to go into the details of her past circumstances.
When Asma first came to the Village she was overwhelmed by the sense of motherhood, despite not having her own children. She told us about the strong maternal connection she felt toward the children she met.
Asma, like any Mother, has full-time responsibilities throughout the day. She wakes them up just before sunrise to prepare for the day’s first prayer. Religious Instruction is an integral part of the SOS Village ethos. Children are taught to pray and read the Quran. Once the children have completed their prayers Asma is in a rush to get her children dressed and fed ready for school.
Education is the greatest gift we can give to a child. SOS Village internationally, and across Pakistan, run Hermann Gmeiner schools, named after the founder of the Umbrella Organisation, SOS-Kinderorf International. Gmeiner schools provide good quality education to the children in the Village and to underprivileged children from the local community.
Asma’s youngest child is six years old, and her eldest is 20 years old. All of her children go to school or college in the day and Asma’s schedule is filled with house duties. She loves to cook her children their favourite food. She quips proudly how her children are a big fan of her cooking. When her kids come home supper is served and they are off to either their scheduled tutor sessions or Quranic lessons. Her daughters will have their Quranic lessons with her while her sons will have their lesson at the Mosque.
What’s evident from speaking to Asma is how proud she is to be a Mother. She recognises the importance of helping her kids to get about with their day. She remarks on how this sets them up to be independent when they become young adults, and she has to model that for them, like any ordinary mother. This is such a small thing that many of us take for granted, how much we learn from our parent about simple day to day logistics.
When the children are home from tutoring and their Quran lessons, Asma loves to spend the evening talking to them about their day. She says this is an integral part of the routine in her house.
“It’s important to catch up with them. They’ve had a day away from you and taking an interest gives the children a sense of belonging, a sense of importance.”
Sometimes it’s the case that her kids will come to her and share any problems they had encountered. Like any mother, Asma goes into problem-solving mode, providing advice about how to deal with any situation that comes their way.
Asma explains that how children share their problems and how they deal with them depends on the child, but the younger children will need more practical assistance, while the older children will seek advice.
“God has made me a mother, so I can tell what the children need, and what the children want. So I ask. They then say “Mum, we want this.” The kids call me mum. I like the word, mum. So they call me mum. There is an endearment in that word.”
During the interview, I reflected that every child born should be given the opportunity to call one human being ‘mum’. Asma is a blessing to every child; she gives children the opportunity to call somebody ‘mum’. Something so simple but so easily taken for granted.
One day I will have the opportunity to have a child to call me ‘mum’. Sahar, a mother herself, also never realised how blessed she is to be called the title ‘mum’ by her children.
Sahar mentions that part of being a mother is sometimes not so fun when you have to discipline your child. “Parents are human too. We all get angry now and then. Asma, how do you manage that? When children are stubborn, or when they are disobedient, how do you deal with that?”
Asma’s answer “with Love.”
Asma’s approach to misbehaving children is a very soft one.
“Everything can happen with a bit of love, but being strict…strictness doesn’t work. If you are too strict then you end up pushing the child further away, they become more unlikely to listen. You should deal with situations, lovingly, and calmly, sitting down and talking with them, then there is always a solution.”
My heart is warmed when I hear this. It reminds me of all the times that my mother has sat me down and patiently explained how I need to change. That change a mother is trying to achieve in their child demonstrates a belief in their potential to be better. More importantly, the parent has to do this. Children need guidance and change is achievable when a child sees that their parent is guiding them lovingly. This, in turn, results in the child returning to the parent for more guidance.
Sahar presents a hypothetical, “If the children fight…?” Asma jumps in explaining that in those instances she is very strict, but afterwards she handles the situation by speaking to each child independently to explain the wrongdoing and to then bring each child together to apologise to each other.
Asma is also responsible for developing healthy sibling relationships between biological brothers sisters. Children who join SOS Village with biological siblings share a home with them to maintain existing family relationships. For these children, Asma and SOS Village also provides the chance to nurture these relationships, which may otherwise be lost or damaged.
At SOS Village children are given the opportunity to develop those familial relationships that we all too easily take for granted. As the children grow up, they are given a chance to get a good quality education and the time to become self-sufficient. SOS Village has a modern, sustainable approach towards the welfare of children even providing support after they have graduated to help them find careers and achieve financial independence with hopes for a prosperous future. Sahar asks how Asma manages to stay in touch with her children once they have moved on from her home.
“I stay in touch. My daughter was getting married. She is expecting her first child, so I am about to become a Grandmother. I treat her like any mother would treat her daughter. For example, like any duties of a Grandmother, to take care of the child, the son-in-law and my daughter.”
SOS Village helps to arrange the marriage of girls in their care and contributes financially.
Asma mentions that she is a mother for life for each of her children. Nothing can cut the ties of motherhood.
If any of her children have any issues at home, they know they are always welcome to come to stay with her if they need to.
And if they go to University to live on Campus, she will stay in touch to hear about how their studies are going — always providing words of encouragement and support to persevere during exam periods.
“When they go to College, I give them the advice to study correctly with focus and do well in your exams. I want to see good results. Since I’ve raised them from such a young age, and thanks to God now they are all grown up. They are even taller than me!”
Sahar asks “Do you reward them (when they do well in their exams)”
Asma beams and says “Yes, we do! I also celebrate their birthdays.”
Sahar and I thank Asma for her time and insights. She tells us where she can be found if we need to ask any further questions. She is so humble.
After we say goodbye to Asma she runs to pick up one of her kids running around in the playground. She is caught in her element. You would hardly think that her children aren’t hers biologically, and perhaps it doesn’t matter. Each smile that lights up their little faces when Asma walks in their direction is so genuine.
Asma starts to walk towards her home. A home which she has lovingly filled with happy memories that her children will cherish forever. A house which gives each child a sense of belonging, a place where they can return, a place where they are welcomed home with open arms and a second opportunity to call one person ‘Mum’.