The Rifaa Home for the Girl Child
The Rifaa Home for the Girl Child, a home for the destitute Muslim girl child, has been providing for the education and upbringing of several young girls since 1993 under the banner of the Rabita Welfare Trust. Ms. Sofia, the Founding Trustee, speaks with Young Muslim Digest about the journey of Rifaa, from being just an optimistic idea to its actual realization.
Q: Is Rabita, the parent-organization for Rifaa Home, a family-run organization?
A: It is a charitable organization; a trust, run by nine trustees with provisions for an orphanage, school, nursing home and other services for the society. Rifaa Home is a project of the Rabita Trust.
Q: What is the significance behind the name Rifaa?
A: Rifaa is actually a term in Persian, Urdu and Arabic. It stands for protection and security.
Q: What inspired you to start the Rifaa Home?
A: There was no inspiration as such, but even from my childhood, I believed that I should be giving back to the society in my own capacity. As a child, I would gather the children of the neighbourhood and help them out with their homework occasionally and teach them something or the other once in a while. As I was growing up, I saw generation after generation of women working as domestic helps. I often wondered why these girls had to work and were not sent to any schools. While these doubts did occupy my mind, I just hoped that one day, Insha Allah, I’d be able to arrive at a solution. Through all this I noticed my grandfather, actually work towards making a difference in the lives of the under privileged. He founded the Muslim Orphanage in the 1900s after he saw a few destitute boys eating from a dustbin. So, I think it would be right to say that my longing to do something for the girls paired with my grandfather’s dream for the children of the Muslim society became the inspiration for Rifaa.
Q: How did Rifaa Home finally become a realization from being just a dream? What were some of the challenges the organization faced?
A: We came together under the name of the Rabita Trust in 1993 and decided to open a Home for destitute girls and provide them with all the facilities they’ve been deprived of. The first location of Rifaa was Cooke Town where we managed to rent a house and accommodate five girls at the time. Since the property was adjoining the mosque there, the mosque authorities wished to merge it with the mosque building after the death of the owner, Mr. Jabbar Khan. His sons agreed with the plan and, after the sale took place, we were asked to vacate the building. Of course, they gave us time to vacate, but it still came as a surprise.
At that time, we knew the best thing that could happen to us was buying our own place, but we did not have enough funds to afford one. Luckily for us, I had bought some land on Hennur Road (the present Rifaa address) in 1995, for myself which had a lot of vacant space around it. But in those days, Hennur was synonymous with wilderness and nobody believed it was possible to establish the Home there. We negotiated with the owners for this land and they did agree too, but we did not have the money to pay for the sale or for the construction of this building. We went around asking a lot of people to help us in our project. After a lot of effort and sacrifice, in 1997, we managed to make a part payment. By 1999, we completed the purchase and started laying the foundation for this building and managed to complete the construction of just three rooms by 2000.
All this while, the mosque authorities were issuing a lot of warnings asking us to vacate. After a lot of insistence, they let us maintain one room as our office there. It was very important that we maintain our office there, firstly, because Hennur is quite a distance and hardly anybody would come this far just to make a donation. Secondly, people know us by that address; we couldn’t just acquire a new identity overnight.
So with approximately twenty girls, we moved over here (at the Hennur location) and faced a really tough time. The place was devoid of even basic necessities like electricity, sanitation and water supply. Proper sanitation facilities developed only recently in 2014, before which we had septic tanks which needed cleaning once in every six months. We were able to get an electricity connection with the help of supporting poles, but when it rained, everything used to crash down and the entire area used to be plunged into darkness. Sometime in late 2001, we got a permanent electricity connection. Living in the middle of nowhere, with no fencing or boundary wall, time and again, we used to give up hope that this project was ever going to be possible.
All this while, I couldn’t leave the girls alone here. Though there was a warden and a watchman arranged for them, I wanted to be close to them myself. I had to hurry with the construction of my own house so that I could move in here with the girls. After selling a farmhouse I owned, I managed to complete my house and move in here with my daughter. In the beginning, we started off by giving them home-schooling and, later, moved on to a more mainstream form of an education process. Soon, room by room, we managed to complete two floors of this building. Of course, Rifaa Home could not forever run on charity, and so we decided to arrange for our own source of income. We rented out the upper floors of the building, an approximate of 8500 sq.ft. for Rs. 23,000/- per month, to an Islamic institution called Kulliyath-ul-Hadith, which was also a charity organization that provided a PhD course in ahadith and followed the syllabus of the Madinah University. Though the income was mediocre, it still managed to pay for at least the salaries of two of our staff. Above and beyond all else, it was all Allah, the Almighty’s help.
Q: What according to you are some major challenges you will face in the administration of Rifaa in future?
A: Finance is our biggest challenge; without it, we cannot accomplish a single task. Our expenditure on the salaries of our staff alone comes up to Rs. 75,000/- every month. We have to pay the school and college fees of our girls. Since our senior girls are studying in Oasis Pre-university College, just their admission fee cost us Rs. 50,000/- for each girl. Our petrol expenditure is Rs.1000/- per day. We need finances to support the education of our girls. Their sustenance is not an issue as it will come along somehow by the Will of Allah. There is an extent to which people can go on helping us, after which we need to make arrangements for ourselves. Kulliyath-ul-Hadithhas been our tenant for five years now, but they too will be vacating sometime this year. So, we need to make other arrangements for our source of income.
Q: From where do you manage to arrange for funds to run Rifaa?
A: We have people from all communities who contact us inquiring about the kind of donations that they can make. We tell our donors to not send us money but rather contact the online grocery store, Big Basket.com and send us groceries in any amount that is convenient for you. We accept anything and everything in the form of charity. We receive a lot of clothes in charity as well. We decided to look through the clothes and separated the good sets, which we later put up for sale at our Cooke Town office at very subsidized rates for the labour class. One of our trustees Ms. Farzana looks after this task and manages the sales. We sort out the things that we receive and if they are in a respectable condition, we utilize them for the Home or else we either give it away to the slums or sell it. That is our source of income. Every day we make a business of at least Rs.100-200/-.
Q: Is there any government aid involved in the administration of Rifaa?
A: No, we do not let the government interfere with our policies. If we start taking government aid, we should also adhere to their policies. The government policy dictates we need to take in children from every community and no religious teachings will take place over here. Moreover, we need to make arrangements to suit the needs of all the religions since we are a secular country, or else we’ll be blamed for doing forced conversions. So, as a management, we’ve decided to keep the government well away from the administration and we are faring quite well, Alhamdulillah, even without their aid. We have Allah as our Trustee and that is more than enough for us. At most times when we are completely helpless and see no hope from anywhere, help comes to us, and we know its Allah’s hand behind it.
Q: What is the kind of schedule that the girls follow?
A: After Fajr Salah, the girls get about doing their daily chores, and get ready for schools and colleges. By daily chores, I mean to say dusting, cleaning up the place and doing their laundry. For everything else we have a maid that comes in and also another lady who washes the utensils for us.
They have their breakfast and eight of them leave for a school in Sevanagar, at 7:30 in the morning, where there are in the tenthgraderight now. The driver comes back to pick up the other four girls who go to Oasis Pre-University College and drops them at the bus stop from where the college bus takes them to college. The school-going girls return at 11:30 AM and freshen up. Then, Sheikh Noor, an Arabic teacher who graduated from Madinah University, comes to teach the girls. Even though they’ve finished many important books on ahadith, we still want them to be in touch with their Islamic education. The Sheikh leaves at 1 PM in the afternoon, after which the girls see to their homework and assignments. At 4 o’clock in the afternoon, there’s a tuition teacher who comes here to assist them with subjects such as Maths, Kannada and Science, and she gives them rigorous practice till 6 PM.
The Oasis group returns from the college at 4 PM, after which they get busy with their college work. Finally, they retire for bed after Isha Salah, since they have a really early start to make.
Q: What kind of an educational system does Rifaa follow?
A: Initially, it was just home-schooling, but now they go to proper schools and are on par with the other students. At Rifaa, we give more importance to their religious upbringing. We make their religious background very strong so that they aren’t affected with the worldly distractions outside.
Meanwhile, we also train them in academics, using textbooks that the other schools follow, so that,once they are done with their Islamic studies, they can be put into schools from where they can continue with their academic education. People ask us why not put them into schools directly. The first requirement for any school is a birth certificate, which the girls do not have. The least we could do was preparing them in such a way that no institution would shy away from giving them a little consideration.
Q: What is the upper and lower age limit of the girls at Rifaa?
A: Eight years. We do not take girls above or below eight years, because eight years is the exact age at which a child is able to comprehend what you’re trying to teach them. And also children below this age are not able to take care of their hygiene and grooming. Girls above this age are too well-versed in the ways of the world and it is difficult – nearly impossible – for them to adapt to a new environment. We cannot risk the upbringing of fifteen girls for the sake of one girl. So, eight years is the limit we have set for ourselves after going through a lot of upsetting experiences.
Q: How do you secure the future of the girls in terms of self-sufficiency and marriage?
A: Currently, we are dealing with our second batch. Our first batch has moved out of here,Alhamdulillah, and is very happy in their lives. The girls in that batch were not very interested in academics; they were more attracted towards a happy family life. Even so, they were given basic English education and in-depth Islamic education as well. While at Rifaa, they learnt a lot of art activities and are very skilled at handwork. As we got reasonable marriage proposals for them, we ensured that they were given the security of a marriage and family in which their husbands are financially secure men. Most of them are in and around Bangalore, while three of them are out of station.
Now we have our second batch, which is more aspiring than the first. They want a proper education before anything else, and we are ready to support their education for as long as they wish to study.
Q: What are some of the achievements and contributions of the alumni that make you proud?
A: Our girls are very talented, MashaAllah! They are excellent in their academics. They recently appeared for an All-India IQRA examination in Arabic, in which they all received ‘O’ Grades. The girls are on par with their peers, in terms of achievement. While at Tawakkal International School (where they finished their high school), all of them brought home a lot of certificates in various fields. Our biggest achievement, I can say, is that when we went for their admissions, the Principal at Tawakkal was very apprehensive about taking them in. But, in time, she was all praise for our girls and always used to say that these girls surpass all the other girls in terms of confidence and dedication.
From our previous batch, one of our girls completely wiped out all bida’ah practices from her husband’s house. Now we can say that if they are able to distinguish between haram and halal,then that is an achievement for us.
Q: How do you think Rifaa is different from other Muslim organizations and other orphanages in the city?
A: Rifaa is different from other Muslim organizations because, other organizations take in only those children who are certified orphans. They demand the death-certificates of both parents, a destitute certificate from the Tahsildar and so many other formalities. At Rifaa, we have police officers who come here with destitute girls who were found abandoned on the streets and they ask us from where will they arrange for a certificate for this child? Our belief/ question is this: just because the child does not have a certificate, can we let her remain destitute so that she can be picked up by another Christian missionary group? Knowing full-well that Christian missionaries are always on the lookout for such children, should we allow one of our own to join them? That is why we are different; because we do not discriminate between destitute Muslim children.
Even in terms of the quality and the environment we provide, we stand apart from the typical Muslim orphanage. Our children are very well looked after, Alhamdulillah. There is no halal food that they have craved for that we do not provide them with. Even in matters of clothing,the girls of the Home do not wear the clothes that come in charity. They have their own tailor and we provide them with decent clothing. To be sure, wearing second-hand clothes can give any child an inferiority complex, which we do not want our girls to have. They are provided with the best that’s there, Alhamdulillah.
We ensure that nobody who looks at them says that they are destitute. They are not destitute. They are well looked-after and have Rifaa to rely on. We may not boast of a huge crowd of girls, but they definitely receive individual attention and the best that we can provide them with.
Q: Have you received any national recognition for what you do?
A: In the year 2007, we were given the Godfrey Philips Bravery Award in Hyderabad. Godfrey Philips recognizes NGOs from all over the country and honours any one of them for outstanding contributions towards society. Before that, we’ve even received the Mirza Ghalib Award from the Mirza Ghalib Academy for our work.
Q: What are your long term goals for the girls?
A: Our aim is to provide them proper moral and academic education and more importantly, in whatever field they choose for themselves, they need to be able to contribute towards the welfare of the Ummah in any capacity at all. We do not want to dictate their choices, but we sincerely believe they should actively give back to the society more than what they received from it. For instance, if one of our girls chooses to join the medical field, we would recommend that they do free checkups for the underprivileged. We have some girls here who have mothers working as domestic helps. We want our girls to become independent and be able to support their families. Secondly, we keep teaching them that no matter where they are, they should never compromise on two things: their Salah and their Hijab.
Q: How far are the guardians of the non-destitute children involved in their upbringing?
A: The children are usually left to our care and forgotten even if they have their so-called guardians. We keep requesting them to come and visit these children. Every second Saturday of the month we call them, but hardly anybody turns up.
Q: How do you manage to provide the girls with an identity or recognition later on in their lives?
A: The non-destitute girls,whose mothers are around, have an Aadhaar Card which gives them the recognition they need. As for the girls who have nobody in their families, I think their Grade 10 certificate, with their names and their fathers’ names will be able pave the way for them when we apply for their recognition.
Q: Do the girls go out to any other Islamic institution apart from schools and colleges as day-scholars?
A: No, we do not send our girls out as day-scholars. This is our policy because we believe that, for proper grooming to take place, they need to be under our supervision. Once they start going out they come under a lot of unhealthy influence which spoils the environment of the Home itself. We send them out for a lot of interactive events, workshops and other public platforms but we ensure they are under our observation. So this policy does not hinder their social upbringing in any way, it just ensures that they are morally safe from any sort of corruption.
Q: Is there any policy that you’ll specifically insist on?
A: Loyalty, dedication, discipline and hygiene.
Q: Do you plan on collaborating with any other trust for the administration of Rifaa in the future?
A: If we find someone who shares our ideas and concern for the institution, we’ll be the first ones to shake hands, but it is not so easy to find like-minded people. Many orphanages which run under big banners boast of a huge student body, but is the same true for the kind of hygiene they provide?