A centuries-old building in Parachinar provides shelter and home to the elderly By Muhammad Daud Khan
t the end of a busy narrow street in Punjabi bazaar, known as the oldest area in Parachinar, stands a centuries-old building with wood work, once owned by a Hindu family. The locals call it Parandata, an old bungalow. It now provides shelter to old people and the homeless in the city.
Yousaf Hussain, 67, hails from the Turi tribe. He is a social worker. He is also known as Lala and Edhi of Parachinar in the community, having established Da Masharano Kor – a home for elders. It is among the earliest facilities of the kind in the seven newly merged districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
When we arrived at the congested Punjabi bazaar, where Parandata is situated, Lala greeted us with a smile. He was decked in a gray coat and a black Chitrali cap, with a black and blue muffler wrapped around his neck. His day had just begun. He looked fresh and full of energy. His short grey beard and grey hair were evidence of his age but his energy defied it.
Lala led us to the first floor in the old building. Before entering we took off our shoes. He opened a white door and we entered a carpeted room, where the walls were decorated with framed photos. The photo of Abdul Sattar Edhi, a well-known social worker, was placed at the top, along with the others. Edhi has been an inspiration for Lala.
“These people spent many years in Parandata. They have left but we have archived their memories,” said Lala while looking at the photos. The room was a storehouse of warm clothes and raw food supplies.
Before the 1947 Partition, Parandata was home to a rich and famous Hindu family. When the family migrated to India, it remained unoccupied. At the request of Lala, the local community and administration allowed him to establish an old age home for the homeless and old people in the city. A majority of the tribal people live and believe in a joint family system. There had, therefore, been no concept of an old age home here but Lala recognised the need.
Lala runs the old age home essentially on donations from the community. Due to his reputation for integrity people in Parachinar trust him. Over the last 15 years, Lala has looked after at least 100 people including the elderly, the homeless and the mentally challenged. He also provided free food, medicine, clothes and shelter.
Lala took us to another room. He opened the windows to allow the morning sun to light up the room, where an old man was lying in the bed. When Lala said ‘hello’, he smiled in return. We were introduced to Said Ismail, 70, from Afghanistan. For years, he was a shepherd and grazed cattle in the hills.
He was hard of hearing and unable to speak. Lala communicated with him through sign language. “He likes to sunbathe and he does that every morning,” said Lala. He took him to the small terrace from where he could see the busy street.
With Said Ismail seated in a plastic chair, Lala forwarded his hand to allow him to read it for “luck”. Ismail curiously read the lines on Lala’s palm. After a minute or so, he smiled and told Lala in sign language that he will have two wives, ten children, and a motorcar. Lala smiled. Later, Lala helped him change his clothes and left him to sit in the sun.
Currently, sixteen people are housed at the facility. Lala is handling the affairs of the old age home by himself. “Running an old age home on donations is not easy,” Lala says. He didn’t get any formal education. However, he can collect donations and keep accounts. Apart from the local community, some overseas Pakistanis also send him donations.
Keeping in mind the needs of older people in Parachinar, Lala has purchased one and a half kanal land in the city, where construction for a purpose-built old age home has begun. Lala plans to shift to the new building next year. He is working tirelessly but he needs funds to ensure a swift transfer.
“We have spent more than five million rupees. The boundary wall has been completed and rooms are under construction,” says Lala. The new building will have separate sections for the elderly and the mentally challenged women.
Parachinar has harsh winters in December and January when the mercury drops to minus ten centigrade. In winters, keeping the elderly warm is always a challenge for Lala. “We have LPG heaters. In the evening, I turn on the heater which keeps them warm.”
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a Senior Citizen Welfare Act was promulgated in 2014 to ensure the well-being, comfort and dignity of senior citizens of the province. According to Section 3 of the Act, a Senior Citizen Council has been notified under the chairmanship of the minister for social welfare. In the last six years, the council has held five meetings.
The writer is a multimedia journalist. He tweets @daudpasaney