* To supplement Independence Day celebrations, the Daily Times will highlight, all of August, the individuals who continue to make Pakistan proud. Our 18th interview is with award-winning philanthropist and social worker who is the force behind SOS Children’s Village Pakistan, Souriya Anwar
I have always been associated with various social welfare projects. I suppose this is a ‘calling’ like any other and if one has the motivation, there’s always an opportunity to get involved.
You are the founder and the president of SOS Children’s Villages. Why did you decide to name the organisation that? What were some of the initial challenges you might have faced before launching SOS?
Although I started SOS in Pakistan, it’s not my creation. It’s part of SOS Children’s Villages International which is working in 138 countries and is the largest childcare charity in the world. Member associations, like ours, are completely autonomous and managed by a local Board of Governors. Frankly, there have been few challenges given the generosity of our people and their sympathy for orphans.
What ethos and disciplines does SOS live by?
SOS has a clear goal of ‘a loving home for every child’. To achieve this, we set high standards of operation and give regular training to staff, followed by monitoring and evaluation of the projects.
SOS is dedicated to children only. Have you ever felt the urge to do something similar for the elderly?
Sadly, the elderly are not receiving the attention they should. However, there are a few tentative beginnings and I’m personally involved in one of them, aside from SOS.
I have always been associated with various social welfare projects. I suppose this is a ‘calling’ like any other and if one has the motivation, there’s always an opportunity to get involved
You are the proud recipient of many awards and laurels for your work. What according to you has been your biggest achievement so far?
I consider my biggest achievement is that out of the entire global SOS family, SOS Pakistan is the only self-financing association, outside Europe. Credit for this goes to our donors but it’s important to first establish credibility. If I can claim another achievement, it must be harnessing the good in our society and using our amazing volunteers to establish centres of excellence all over the country.
Have there been any success stories of the children of SOS Village?
Yes, many. Doctors, engineers, architects, bankers, army officers, Information Technology specialists, teachers – the list is long!
How do you divide your time between staying at home and at work?
In the beginning, I had to give a lot of time but nothing impossible. It also helped that my husband, being a doctor, was also very busy. We now have a competent management team in place, which is as it should be.
Have you ever felt so connected to a child at the Village that you wanted to personally adopt them and take them home?
Not to any one child but I sometimes wished that I could be part of their family which, in effect, I was being their “Khala”.
If you were PM for a day, what three things would you like to do for the country?
A) Involve the brightest and the best of our nation in think tanks to address our problems without any political reservations. B) Make it mandatory for every child to be in school and therefore, out of the labour market. C) Establish homes where the destitute people can live in dignity.
How different is SOS from other orphanages like Edhi Home etc?
Very different. We do not establish orphanages, we provide the children with a home and a life which is as close as possible to normal.
Tell us about a memorable incident in your career.
It has to be the story of Afzal, a street child who was brought to SOS. He was a multi-talented boy, studied at the National College of Arts, Lahore and ran away in Hong Kong when he went there with a theatre group. He became a successful businessman and married a Taiwanese girl whom he renamed Souriya. “Souriya is the name of my mother and I want my children’s mother to have the same name.” Donated a family home to the Lahore Village which is the only such example worldwide.
How is the recruitment process at SOS Village like when it comes to taking care of the children?
We have a strict criteria for admission. SOS is for orphans or abandoned children and not for the destitute.
What motivates you to excel no matter what?
I don’t think there’s an option. We’re dealing with human lives and must take this responsibility very seriously and always remember, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well!
What is your vision for Pakistan and what does it mean to be Pakistani for you?
My dream is for Pakistan to fulfil its potential and lift people out of their misery. This can only be achieved with honest and concerned leadership. I’m proud to be Pakistani and prove that each one of us, in our own way, can make a difference.
We, at Daily Times, consider you one of our national heroes. Who are some of yours?
My heroes have to be others who have served humanity like Dr Ruth Pfau, Sister Gertrude and of course, Abdul Sattar Edhi. From present day, I must mention Dr Amjad Saqib who started Akhuwat and is taking so many other amazing initiatives to ameliorate suffering.
A DEDICATED SOCIAL WORKER & PHILANTHROPIST
Souriya Anwar is a prominent and a leading social worker and philanthropist of Pakistan. Apart from being the founder and president of SOS Children’s Village, Pakistan, she is involved in a few tentative projects that cater to senior citizens as well. She remains a dedicated social worker with over four decades of service to humanitarian causes. Her interventions cover many social issues, in particular the welfare of orphans, the disabled, health, education, women’s uplift and the care of the aged. She’s recognised as an expert in the field of social welfare whose advice is regularly sought on related issues. Her major contribution to nation-building has been the establishment of the SOS Children’s Villages Pakistan in 1975.
HELM OF AFFAIRS
Under Souriya Anwar’s leadership, SOS Children’s Village, Pakistan has expanded to 52 projects in all parts of the country and is recognised as the nation’s leading organisation in the field of child welfare. It’s trusted and supported by the public and the government, and is completely self-financed.
A NATIONAL STAR
Anwar has received numerous awards for her passionate espousal of the rights of the less advantaged. In 2013, non-government organisation Canada Pakistan Business Council (CPBC), which is set up by Canadian and Pakistani businesses, to promote trade between Canada and Pakistan, held its 30th Anniversary Gala Dinner & Awards Night. Each year, the CPBC takes pride in honouring distinguished individuals who have served the community and contributed to building societies. During the event, they presented her with the Humanitarian of the Year Award at their annual gala. This award was presented to recognise the tireless contributions made by her. Last year, The Jinnah Society conferred its prestigious Jinnah Award on her in recognition of her selfless services for the humanity at large, particularly for the special and orphaned children.
ADVOCATE OF EDUCATION
Anwar is a strong advocate of education in Pakistan. She says if she were made PM for a day, she would make it mandatory for every child to be in school and therefore, out of the labour market. In 2011, the United States Educational Foundation in Pakistan hosted the 8th Annual Fulbright & Humphrey Alumni Conference in Islamabad, in which the theme of the conference was ‘Giving Back – The Role of Alumni in the Socio-economic Development of Pakistan.’ She gave an inspirational keynote address during the event.