Aliha Nasrullah – Spreading Life’s True Message
Aliha Nasrullah was a just another 21 year old with her entire life had been revolving around just being the best student, getting top notch grades, being super involved in extracurricular activities, and what not, but one day her life as she knew it, came crashing down to a sudden halt.
Back in January 2011, when Aliha was in grade 12 (A1), she was attending a Model United Nations at LUMS when all of a sudden, she collapsed. She woke up in a hospital in excruciating pain, crowded by a dozen anxious family members and confused doctors who had absolutely no idea what was wrong with her. All she was informed of was that her liver and kidneys were failing, and she didn’t have a diagnosis let alone a prognosis. She was dragged from one hospital to another and had to ultimately take a gap year, which she thought at the time, was the worst thing that could ever happen to her. Fast forwarding to August 2012, countless blood tests, biopsies, and ultrasounds later, her body was mysteriously collapsing and she had once again gotten discharged from yet another hospital with a huge question mark on her medical notes.
‘On the day I was getting discharged from there, I was in the lobby, sitting in my wheelchair, wallowing in self-pity, while my parents went to take care of the hospital bill. And while all that was getting taken care of, I saw a family of 3 sitting a few steps away from me, on the bare floor, hopelessly looking at their tiny infant.’
When Aliha asked the family what was wrong, the mother started crying and said that the doctors had told them there was no hope for their child unless they took it to a better medical facility, which they couldn’t, because they had already taken a loan from someone in their village to travel all the way to Lahore, and it was impossible for them to afford to stay any longer in another city, let alone go to a more expensive medical facility and pay all the bills again. The members of that family went into more details of all the struggles they were facing, and at that very moment, Aliha realized that her medical problem and its entailing self-pity was nothing in comparison to the struggles countless people had to face. Deep down inside, she knew that she had options, even if all of them ultimately didn’t turn out to be successful. It was understood that if she didn’t get an answer from one hospital, her parents would take her to the next. If the doctors in Pakistan couldn’t do anything about her medical situation, she could fly off to France, or maybe Norway or America, and put an end to her torment.
‘I realized that I had been living a very sheltered life, but not only in the materialistic sense of it. A major part of that shelter was having the hope that “with every hardship, there is ease.” But at that very moment, in that hospital lobby, it killed me on the inside to know that I was unable to extend my shelter to that family and give them hope that everything would turn out to be all right.’
A few months later, Aliha went to America, got diagnosed, got treated, and everything came back to normal, She completed her A’ Levels, started her dental program in New York, but none of that mattered that much since, because of that encounter, she still felt guilty that while her life was back on track, theirs probably wasn’t. After much thinking, she realized that even though she would love to give all the underprivileged a sheltered life like the one she had been blessed with, she was being a bit too optimistic, because she obviously couldn’t.
‘However, what I can do is try to extend my shelter for them and help out in whatever capacity I can.’
So from that day on, Aliha’s life became an ongoing battle to do her part in the large scheme of things. She, with the immense help of her friends and family, began to initiate small projects. They started off with their annual toy drive in 2012 where, every year, they would take 750 goody bags to Children’s hospital on the first day of Eid and distribute them among the patients there, because during her medical leave, she had to spend an Eid at a hospital and it was far from festive, to say the least. Then in 2014, they prepared family food packs and medicines for the drought victims in Thar that catered 350+ families for an entire month. The response they got was so overwhelming that not only did they manage to collect enough funds to finance their food packs, but also build deeply dug wells in the vicinity that were not to only cater the local drought victims but also their livestock for the years to come. After Thar, in 2015, they started working on their monthly food distribution project for widows in Kotha pind in Model Town where they managed to help 500+ families.
‘But while I was involved in these projects, I was ceaselessly working to formulate a concrete plan. And after 4 years of painstaking effort, hard work, and getting everything into order, that plan materialized into Barkat Foundation.’
Barkat Foundation is a small non-profit, charity organization that Aliha and her people initiated to provide free basic healthcare to the underprivileged in rural areas of Pakistan. Making the medical experience she had to go through during her gap year and the encounter she had with that family in the hospital lobby, the inspiration behind this initiative, through their free medical camps, they try to make proper medical care accessible to those who are deprived of it and counter unauthorized medical practitioners, especially those in rural areas, who exploit the underprivileged by practicing quackery and cause countless complications and deaths per year.
For now, they are focusing on a small village called Narang Mandi which is an hour away from Lahore. Every alternative Sunday, they take a competent doctor from Lahore who provides his/her services to about 100 patients per camp, gives them proper medical consultation, and then prescribes them the medicines they need. At the end, Barkat foundation buys all those prescribed medicines for them too, so that they don’t have to pay anything at all.
The best thing about this is that the local community of Narang Mandi is so involved in this little initiative that the women in the neighborhood where they arrange their camp, offer to make lunch for them every time they come, and have been doing so since the day of the second camp. Another man in the neighborhood offered to donate his front yard for the camp as a token of his gratitude and appreciation and as a way to cut down on the foundation’s monthly expenditure. A dhobi in the area has kept a little box in his shop and urges all his customers to help out in whatever way they can.
‘Yes, we’re not curing cancer here, but we’re trying, and struggling, to do our tiny part by providing the underprivileged a basic necessity of life. Every single minute we invest into making Barkat better, brings us closer to buying Diarrhea medicine for that kid who can’t go to school because he’s sick. Every single effort we put in means we’re one step closer to helping that mother, who’s the sole bread-winner for her family, recover from Typhoid, and get her back on her feet.’
Going to sleep at night with that as her last thought is cathartic. It is uplifting for Aliha to know that she is that 21-year-old girl, who many thought couldn’t do much because of her age or gender, who was able to finally debunk all those baseless claims and showed them that the glass ceiling can be shattered if it is hit hard enough. So reflecting back to the day when her 16-year-old self came to know that she was to take a gap year, and she thought that it was the worst thing that could happen to her, little did Aliha know that all her tears were going to be in vain and that her gap year was going to turn her into someone who would be proud to say that she is not just a nobody, but a nobody with huge dreams in her pocket and a passion for helping people.
‘It is truly awe-inspiring to see so much love and gratitude being sent our way, and most of all, finally being a ray of hope for a person other than our own selves.’
Interview by Hammad Anwar