It’s a sunny Sunday morning, and the weather is slightly warm considering it’s the month of February yet. Scores of children clad in colourful dresses run about in the spacious playground. A seating arrangement has also been made for them as well as the guests trickling in. Besides, there are a few tables placed at an equal distance from each other where the small groups of children are preparing vegetable salads. You can also smell the aroma of cooked fish in the air.
At SOS Village, Lahore, which is home to many an orphan, an interesting salad-making competition has just kicked off. The children are also seen cooking fish live, in large quantities, for the inhabitants of the Village and also for the guests invited to the event.
Organised by individual donors and volunteers under the banner of Makhdoom’s Kitchen, such events are becoming a regular feature at the Village whose organisation is headquartered in Austria. The stated purpose is to give the children opportunities to participate in healthy activities and inspire confidence in them.
“All those present on the occasion treat each other as their family members,” says Makhdoom Ahmed Sheikh, the mind behind Makhdoom’s Kitchen. “It’s truly a joy to see these children happy.”
He further says that the initiative is “all about introducing people to healthy eating and saving them from the complexities caused by unhealthy dietary practices.”
When asked as to how they joined hands with SOS Village and started a series of such events, he says that one day his wife (who is a regular visitor to the place as a volunteer) told him that several children had expressed their desire to eat fried fish. “I was moved by this and talked to some friends/individuals about fulfilling the desire of these children. Surprisingly, the response was great and donations in kind and cash poured in.”
He says he had concluded that people spend generously if they are sure their money is going to the right place.
The theme of the SOS Village is that the whole premises should be called a village. There are 18 houses in the village, in the shape of separate blocks, where around 140 children live like one family. In every house, there is a mother who takes care of the children. The women who play the role of mothers are mostly shelterless — there are widows, divorced women or those shunned by their families for various reasons.
Almas Butt, Director, SOS Village, Lahore approves of the idea of holding extracurricular activities, and says they teach children life skills and infuse confidence in them. “The feeling that they have cooked delicious food by themselves and hosted such a splendid event cannot be described in words,” she adds.
Butt also praises the spirit of the individuals who organised the event and spent time with these children.
She says everybody working at the village strives to ensure that the orphaned children never feel a sense of deprivation. “They are given the best education and prepared to take leading roles in practical life. For example, the girls have studied in leading business schools and three of our boys got admission in Aitchison College, Lahore, courtesy the scholarships announced exclusively for them by the former Punjab Governor, (Late) Salman Taseer.”
Another healthy initiative is kitchen gardening. The plan is that children will grow organic vegetables in the area available close to every house, says Aneela Chaudhry who deals in organic food and promotes it as the best dietary option. She will hold training sessions with the children once a week as a volunteer and keep track of their progress.
Sheikh reveals that a donor contributed 125 kg fish, though the requirement for the event was far less than this. Excess fish was equally distributed among all the 18 houses so that they could cook and eat it at their will. High-quality stainless steel cookware has also been distributed among girls in different SOS Villages, he concludes.