DOLLY Sarwar Bhatti is an 11-year old Catholic girl. She is a fifth-grader at St. Anthony’s school in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and her place of birth. In this interview, Dolly speaks of the everyday concerns of a young Christian girl from a poor family, living in a country where a significant degree of chaos and lawlessness reign, and where Christians are targeted by Islamic radicals, either through violence or by way of the country’s infamous blasphemy law.
“Last year I was very unhappy because my father fell ill; he suffered hepatitis, and because of that he lost his job. Therefore, we have no money to pay our school fees; our teacher has taken our school bags into her custody. This is the saddest moment I ever experienced, because I love to go school and study, but along with my younger sister and brother, I just can’t right now.
“Even though we passed our exams, we have to stay home. The teacher has told us we can’t even get our exam results and we might even miss the start of new classes; we also have no money to buy books. God always help us and gives us strength. My maternal grandmother used to help us with food and also with our school fees, but she passed away. I pray to God that her soul may rest in peace.
“Even in this time of darkness, I can see the light by going to the church and reading the Bible. I regularly read the Bible and I go to church every afternoon. Those are moments of joy and happiness, because I know that God does good things for us; and He helps us through His people. My mom and dad are always involved in this happiness. We pray regularly as a family. It is always my family that is my strength; I always feel that God is with me and He has never ever forsaken me or my family—even though we are passing through hard times. I always keep my Bible with me and read passages, which always gives me strength and happiness.
“The area where we are living is not safe at all, because the majority of local youth is involved in drugs and the majority of the inhabitants of this area are Pathan people, and many of them are involved in both terrorism and drug trafficking. This country is not safe because of all the terrorism and bombings.
“These days, Christians are not safe in Pakistan, particularly girls, who are often victims of rape and murder. For that reason, we never leave the house without our parents and we do not get to play outside at all.
“I don’t personally know anyone someone who has been accused of blasphemy but I was very touched by the news of that Christian couple who were burned alive by the mob; and I just heard a story about a Christian boy named Sajid who was tortured by Muslims. This is very bad news; more such news comes from our school friends and relatives.
“I am often afraid; I fear that someone might accuses my father, mother, or myself, because it is an easy way to target someone in this country. We can freely worship in our church in the area and we haven’t experienced any violence, but at the gate of our church there are always two youngsters checking that no one who enters the church creates violence.
“Often, in the area where I live with my family, and also at school, I experience discrimination, even though it is a missionary school. Muslim boys and girls always treat Christian girls as ‘cheap,’ which means they don’t not want to drink water from the same tap from which Christian girls drink and they don’t want to sit anywhere near me or other Christian girls.
“At the previous school I attended, one run by the government, I felt very uncomfortable because of some of the textbooks; they referred to non-Muslims in ways that upset me. For example, there is the word kafir, which means non-believer, referring to someone Muslims don’t want to sit close to or eat with. But still I love my county because my family and my uncles and aunts live in here. I wish we could all move to another country, where we can be more respected and enjoy free education; where my family and I would be safe.
“I want to become a stewardess. I still have faith that my life will be a successful life, because I’m a student and I’m a child of God. Yes, as a Christian I have hope that the world will become more peaceful and I so wish that for my country as well. Many people think that Pakistanis are cheaters, terrorists, and greedy people.
“No one is helping solve the problem of poverty and lack of education. Other countries and our own leaders show little interest in helping solve our problems. If they would help us in the field of education, there would no double standard. The level of education in government schools is very poor, compared to private schools whose fees are so high that only the wealthy can afford to go there. Even the fees for missionary schools are high.
“There are Christians in the West? I thought that only Muslims were living in the West; but if that is so, why do those Christians not come here to relieve our problems and suffering? If Christian children don’t get a good education they won’t be able to apply for respectable jobs and they will be obliged to do very humble jobs, like sweeping streets and cleaning gutters.
My favorite prayers in scary times are “Our Father in Heaven” and “Hail Mary.” These prayers always give me strength. If I would get a chance to talk to world leaders, I would only ask them create peace in the world. No one in the world should be killed by bombs or blasphemy accusations!”
Tabassum Yousaf writes for Aid to the Church in Need, an international papal charity, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK);www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)