Jibran would always finish the math assignments really fast, toss it our way and then proceed to dance around the room, poking and prodding the other children who were still trying to finish their work. He was five years old when I first started volunteering at the SOS Village, and over the next couple of years I learned that he was the sort of little boy I needed to give two math worksheets while most other kids got one, he was the one I had to get on my side to help hand out sweets so that he wouldn’t wreak havoc running around, grabbing as much candy as would fit in his tiny palms.
I started volunteering at the SOS Village in Lahore in my freshman year, which also happened to be the year the terrible earthquake struck across Pakistan, devastating individual lives and entire communities. A few families sought help with the SOS Village – children who had lost either both or one parent were sent through a series of SOS locations, till finally they came to rest in Lahore. Not quite the beautiful mountainous area these kids were used to…
I think of the literature and research I have been immersed in for the past year, what the academia knows about children who have been through traumatic events like natural disasters, losing their loved ones, and then the added trauma of being removed from everything you know to a foreign environment. I think of the “behavior problems” that this trauma manifests in and I wonder how those beautiful children at the orphanage survived. The almost complete lack of mental health facilities, or even recognition of what they had been through and the long term impacts of it – and yet. Yet Jibran was the most wiry little resilient creature ever. He was at the center along with his elder sister and two elder brothers. He was small but man, he had a big temper.
He would get really angry and his eyebrows would furrow and he would run away, or mess things up, or he would shout and say he didn’t want to do anything with us. But he was also the sweetest little boy who would help out with the activities, and every now and then, say something that would just melt my heart. And I have to admit, when the grumpiness was the result of a missed visit, I would always feel a guilty happiness. “Why didn’t you guys come last Sunday?” and a stalk out or refusal to partake in that day’s activity would ensue till amends were made.
Jibran loved to run, and play cricket but you should really let him bat first. Like most of the kids, he wanted to be the “captain” when we played kho-kho and then choose the first teammate. He would of course choose his buddies Talal and Ikhlaq first, even though I always wanted to split the three up because together they were quite the terrible trio. Jibran was the obvious leader in the group and if I wanted the other two little ones to listen, I really only had to concentrate on Jibran.
Jibran was really smart, he loved math and his coloring would always stay in the lines. He did well in school and he was good with the other kids. And in so many ways, he was just another adorable kid. He loved paints, he loved it when anyone got a camera out and there would ensue a battle to be in front of everyone else even if that meant a face mushed right into the lens, he loved Shahid Afridi, he liked cartoons and it was not always easy to convince him to play kho-kho. When we brought in hardboiled eggs to paint over, he was one of the little boys to peel the egg and eat it.
Jibran lost both his parents in the earthquake and he lived with several of his peers in that center. He was still young enough to sleep in the rooms with the elder girls, and if he wanted, he could put up some of the artwork he made on the room walls.
I wonder how the kids are. It has been a while since I saw them. The last time my friends and I visited, about a year after graduation, the kids seemed so mature and mellow, so happy to see us.I miss them, and especially Jibran, in all his fast and furious energy. I hope he grows up to be a dynamic young man who dreams big and makes those dreams come true.