My Dream Come True…13 Years in the Making!

Thirteen years ago, I was in Bangladesh for the very first time and ended up visiting some displaced population camps that I had read about. Seeing the condition of the people, it was impossible not to help.

I was particularly motivated to help orphans in that forgotten part of the world. Prior to that, I’d tried to support orphans through existing charities, but was consistently disappointed by the experience. On one occasion, I even chased after an organization to donate, submitted the requisite paperwork and handed over the cheque to sponsor two orphans. I had worked hard to collect that money but was happy to try and make a difference – even if it was a relatively small one. However, that cheque was never cashed. To this day I wonder sometimes if the lives of two children would have been transformed otherwise. So I decided to go my own way.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this wouldn’t be so easy. There were so many things to consider, including all the resources required to set up an effective orphan sponsorship program. Perhaps even more difficult was having to choose which children to help and which ones not to- that dilemma put a serious dent in my ambitions.

Over the years, I had the opportunity to visit several orphanages in different countries, including in Malaysia with the legendary humanitarian “Sister” Sabariah Hussain. I realized there were many challenges beneath the surface. It became hard not to question the actual living conditions of the orphans when no one else was around and their vulnerability to being mistreated in these institutions.

Shujaat Wasty with Rohingya orphans

Now, in addition to the funding and human resources, I also had to consider the challenges of how to ensure the orphans would be protected and that any donations were actually benefiting them and not the people responsible for the orphanages.

And so for years I buried that initial desire to set up an orphan sponsorship program and told myself that it was better to support these orphans through a collection of programs that would address their basic needs, health, education, and hygiene.

Finally, amid a global pandemic of all times, the time felt ripe to rekindle the initial intention and introduce an orphan sponsorship program – the first of its kind – in the largely neglected displaced community that’s been living in camps for close to five decades now.

It wasn’t an easy process by any stretch. Finding the right implementing agency; finding the right people on the ground; visiting all the camps to collect data; looking at minimizing costs for maximum benefit to the beneficiaries; negotiating; creating internal processes: for criteria and selection of beneficiaries, matching of beneficiaries with donors, tracking donations, follow-up process, ensuring safety measures and mitigating risks for the orphans, ensuring funding strategies for the program, determining a roadmap of empowerment in the OBAT ecosystem- and so so much more.

Orphans being registered in OBAT Canada’s Sponsorship Program

The process was lengthy- but as with any of our projects, we were focused on and driven by the end goal; in this case, the orphans. At the end of it all, we managed to pull through, and that too in a major way. OBAT Canada launched TWO sponsorship programs: one for orphans, and another for vulnerable families in the camps, including single mothers, the perpetually sick and disabled, the elderly and widows.

For the orphans, through our modest yet impactful OBAT network, we are able to provide food security (for the children and their guardians); proper healthcare; quality education for under $30/month per child. But to add an uplifting feature to the program, we rounded up to $30 to include gifts for the orphan during local holidays.

We also put in place measures to get regular updates about the conditions of the orphans and incorporated a unique feature that would put the sponsor in live contact with the orphan while being thousands of kilometres away!

Best of all, our orphan sponsorship programs will serve the orphan not until a certain age, but until they’re fully empowered and able to earn a living for themselves. And it can all be done through the OBAT ecosystem: a child could be born through our Maternal Care Program; have access to quality health and education through our respective projects addressing those needs; pursue higher education or vocational training through scholarships provided by OBAT Helpers; and then be able to stand on their own feet. In short: they can be taken care of from birth until the moment they’re empowered, all through OBAT.

This program is very much a dream come true for me…and for that, I am extremely grateful even if it was 13 years in the making!