Some of the children come to us all black and blue. One of the primary challenges then is to take legal custody and to block potential avenues of further abuse’.

Ms. Almas Butt, the Director of the SOS village for orphans in Lahore was apprising me of the issues she faced as a custodian of children. She said that most orphans are either trying to escape from the clutches of a conspiring extended family or the loss of parents or both.

I immediately thought about the countless young parents I knew and their varied challenges with respect to parenting. It’s not easy raising a child, yet here I was, watching a team under Ms. Butt, taking responsibility for hundreds of young, delicate lives.

The team at SOS Lahore has been watching over orphans for years. Here, giving care is unconditional, except that a child must be a double orphan; which means without both father and mother. The village does not accept children with a mother, because in the words of Mrs. Souriya Anwar, ‘no institution can replace a mother’. However, when I recently discussed the way forward for SOS with her she firmly reiterated the need for extending care to single orphans, especially those whose mothers are unable to work because they are encumbered by parental responsibility.

Fortunately, and very much in line with Mrs. Anwar’s vision, SOS Lahore was recently gifted a fine school building in Johar Town to which SOS will add a residential facility for children of single mothers. This new home will have the capacity to provide care to 100 children and indeed it’s a step in the right direction but more needs to be done, especially since orphans with mothers far outnumber those without either parent.

Over 40 years, SOS Pakistan has been ironing out creases to reach a certain standard of caregiving. SOS Lahore, for instance, has a regular stream of recurring donors, almost all willing to part with greater funds each year. In fact, the funding is significant enough to allow SOS Lahore to support some of the villages in other parts of Pakistan where fundraising operations are not as strong. Furthermore, the team in Lahore is constantly looking for ways to heighten capacity and standards of caregiving.

The progress is promising but there is still one area where SOS still needs considerable help: motivation, or more like the lack thereof. A great many children simply don’t have the will to excel. SOS is not particularly concerned for the handful few bright sparks but for those who are unable to envision a life beyond the village. Why these children don’t share the hunger to compete and to move forward in stride with the high achievers might have something to do with their past.

I understood this when Ms. Almas, in her calm, nonchalant demeanor, revealed the story of a little girl SOS once had to fight to take custody of. This girl was the sixth in a line of daughters. When she was born, her parents felt so utterly unfortunate, they named her ‘Allah Mafi’ – which roughly translates to ‘God forbid’ or ‘May God have mercy on us’. When the girl’s parents died in a tragic accident, her extended family attempted to seize the assets she inherited and so she learnt to keep her most immediate possession to herself.

Ultimately, when SOS managed to bring the girl under its care, SOS filed a case to change the girl’s name, which had its own set of issues, starting with choosing a new suitable name.

SOS did not want the new name to sound different from what Allah Mafi sounded like acoustically, so the girl became Sukaina Jaffrey (a fictitious name to maintain anonymity).

In any case, all this took several months to process and when Sukaina’s papers finally arrived and were going to get filed – like everybody else’s papers at the SOS administrative office – Sukaina refused to trust SOS with her documents.

To this day, Sukaina fiercely holds onto whatever belongs to her, including her new name; a name SOS took the time, trouble and effort to register.

And yet Sukaina’s story is only one of many harrowing stories at SOS. Here, each story is unique in the challenges it poses to caregivers and every story is a reminder that good health, quality education and unconditional love are not the only things a child might seek from its caregivers.

    The writer is a social entrepreneur     based in Lahore.