The festival of Eid brings me painful memories. It was during Eid, two years ago, that I faced the most excruciating hurdle of my life. I lost three of my closest and dearest – my husband, father-in-law and younger son – to a house fire. I went from having a big, happy family to being all alone; but I had no time to mourn because my elder son needed me more than ever.
My story began more than 10 years ago when I moved from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan to join the Karachi School of Arts to pursue Design. After that, I worked as a designer and researcher. I was passionate about my job and wanted to marry someone who shared my passion. That’s when I met Danish, a fellow designer. He was my soulmate. In 2010, we got married.
When our first child Abdul Mannan was born, we realized that he was hyperactive compared to his peers. We got complaints from his teachers about his behaviour. We consulted a doctor who told us that Mannan had developmental difficulties accompanied by a mild case of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). I decided to take a course in early education as a Montessori Director, hoping that the training would enable me to help my son. The course helped me to understand the personality of children with ADHD and ways to handle and take care of them.
But just when things started to feel normal, my life turned topsy turvy. I will never forget the nightmare from 2 years ago, on the special occasion of Eid. We decided to eat out as our house was being fumigated. When we came home, my husband went downstairs to switch the generator on. While he was filling it with petrol, I heard a loud blast. As I ran down the stairs, my heart sank. The entire scene felt surreal. The fire spread so quickly that it engulfed our home within minutes. My father-in-law and children couldn’t escape in time.
Tears seared my cheeks and I was shaking as I rushed all of them to the nearest hospital. In the air was the nauseating smell of burnt flesh and clothes. At the hospital, the staff were not equipped to handle their severe injuries and refused to take them in. I had to then rush them to a larger hospital, the Liaquat National Hospital, where they admitted my sons but couldn’t find beds for my father-in-law and husband. I had to take them to a third hospital.
I kept a vigil by my sons’ beds while my sister-in-law took care of my husband and father-in-law. She gave me daily updates about their condition. We prayed day and night, but we just couldn’t catch a break. The hospital was not properly equipped with the right facilities and my husband had to be moved to yet another hospital.
By this time, both my sons had to be put on ventilators to help them breathe. The next day, I got the news that my husband had started vomiting and had trouble breathing. I prayed constantly for the recovery of my family, hoping against all hope.
Then, the inevitable happened. My father-in-law passed away. Before he died, he had asked me several times if I thought he would survive and I nodded, hoping that he would. A day later, I lost my younger son, followed by the death of my husband.
It felt like my heart was being ripped apart. These were the people closest to me. I couldn’t even begin to describe my sense of loss. But I had no time to weep, I had to pick myself up, not just for myself, but for Mannan. I had lost everyone, I wasn’t ready to lose him too. I tried everything in my power to help him recover. It was a long journey that stretched up to a year.
He underwent a major operation and went through countless follow-up treatments. His physical recovery was slow, but that was just the first of our battles. I had to fight to get him into a good school, but none of the schools accepted him. They always complained about how difficult he was to handle. I was so desperate to get him a place that I even requested that the schools take me in as his caregiver as I was already a Montessori Director. But all I heard was no, no, no. By this point, I was drained and exhausted from going door to door to schools that gave us nothing but rejection.
Then a friend recommended Special Olympics Pakistan to me. I thought it might be a good idea to get Mannan into sports so he could positively channel his energy. I enrolled him in the Dewa Academy for children with disabilities. There, he joined the Special Olympics Young Athletes program, catered to children aged 2 to 7 to improve their motor and cognitive skills. Within weeks, he was a changed boy. I could not believe the transformation in Mannan. From meek and withdrawn, he became cheerful and outgoing.
I am so grateful to each and everyone who has been part of this journey for Mannan. Not only did sports help him overcome his hyper-activeness, the faculty members and coaches also helped him develop his personality, gave him attention and focused on developing his skills which helped Mannan build his confidence.
All my son needed was love and attention and he got that unconditionally through the Special Olympics movement. For the first time, no one asked me to take him back. He was celebrated for who he was.
As a single mother, things get tough because I have to run this show myself. It takes a village to raise a child, and I’m grateful that my mother, mother-in-law & my sister-in-law offer their support as much as they can. And I am truly thankful for our Special Olympics family, who has embraced us without question.
It’s been a challenge, but life often sets us down paths we never meant to wander down and we have to make the best of the journey. Existing on this planet, fighting this fight, pushing through these painful but sometimes beautiful days is often about being brave, not perfect. And for Mannan and I, courage was our only option.