I first meet Ali Yusufali (YY) in Florida while attending the funeral of a close family friend. As we discuss CAI’s worldwide projects, YY suggests I visit some of them, promising me it’ll change my life; I am very interested. He mentions Afghanistan and India in May and I ask him to keep me in the loop about the final schedule. I have no stomach for Afghanistan, but India sounds great.
Google maps say the drive is three hours, but it actually takes us six, thanks to Delhi traffic and a quick lunch stop along the way. We arrive at Sirsi complex around Magrib when all the orphan boys are at the adjoining Masjid for prayers. The campus, which is across 11 acres, contains a hospital, school for 1,400 students (children from a 20km radius take a bus here), a mosque and the boy’s orphanage. The caretaker welcomes us and we are shown to a humble room that will be our home for the next two days. The large building is single floor, cafeteria/kitchen, boy’s dorm, study room, guest room and bathrooms. YY is still on the way, so we begin to unpack and settle in.
The boy’s watch a bit of TV and the caretaker Zakibhai lets them stay up a bit more as they are excited that YY and AR are coming. Their 8-hour drive is going to be more like 12 hours, so the boys eventually go to bed. Friday is chutti, meaning holiday; school is closed on Fridays and Sundays, so Zakibhai has been lax than usual; the boys go to brush and bed without a complaint. Again, something alien for an American father of four. Even the 17 year old did not complain and all are asleep by 10pm.
We visit the school and hospital that are on the same campus as the orphanage. CAI has helped renovate and add several classrooms to the school, which now has over 1,400 students. The school is in great shape and boasts a computer lab, chemistry, physics, biology labs and a library. The school has been awarded the Best District School honor.
We head back to our room to get freshened up for dinner at Sakeena Girls Home, a CAI undertaking, where we are guests of honor. I am really looking forward to this part of the trip, since I have daughters aged 7 and 4. Meeting these girls will help me relate to my girls, since I miss them dearly.
When we arrive, I notice WELCOME written in chalk in the alleyway. The girls are standing in a circle, holding hands when we enter. They recite salawaat a few times and are clearly very excited to see us, but AR in particular. Seated around us, they show off recently learned sooras from the Holy Quran, Imam’s names and even the names of the Imam’s mothers! Each time they finish a recital, AR rewards them 100 rupees; AR’s wallet is empty in no time. He really has a talent that makes the girls feel special; I pray I can make such an impact on humanity someday. AR visits these children frequently and takes time and effort to be here. These girls are almost like an extension to his family.
I start feeling anxious and guilty about leaving, though my family and work are waiting for me. I feel as though the children are happy when AR and YY are here. I wonder how they would feel after we leave. Next day, we see the boys before they leave for school; they look sharp and confident in their uniforms as they blend with their peers from school. We meet the principal of the school and say our final goodbyes to our wonderful hosts.
I pray to the Almighty that he bless YY, AR and all the people that bring meaning to the lives of these children. It is so easy to forget about them a world away. We are so busy with our lives / families / work; get attached to things that are meaningless in the grand scheme of things. I really applaud the CAI team for the work they do. I tell YY that the donors in America have it easy; they just have to cut a check. The hard part is being on the ground in these countries, where the work needs to get done. I realize why Allah puts so much emphasis on the care of orphans and widows after my brief experience with them. These children would be lost without Allah’s guidance and the hard work of CAI and others in the region.