Sarim Burney’s trust gives shelter for victims of domestic violence, abuse in Pakistan
Sarim Burney started human rights work at an early age. At 20, the Pakistani activist was already involved in social work and the suffering he saw inspired him to form a trust for the upliftment of the downtrodden.
Over the years he has become known as a champion of the poor, working to root out injustice and bring stability in the lives of disadvantaged people in the country.
Burney has emerged particularly as a voice for women’s rights in Karachi.
The Sarim Burney trust offers shelter for neglected women.
He says he has been threatened by powerful gangs, criminals and mafias in the city, who try to stop him from doing his work.
However this has not stopped Burney from helping women who have been thrown out of their homes over family disputes and then victimised and harassed — often by their estranged husbands.
Burney speaks to Gulf News.
How did you decide to form a trust? How did you become an activist who helps the poor and those seeking justice?
I did not do much deliberation; serving those in need is a calling for me. So I just know one thing — that I am working for a noble and right cause. There is always satisfaction in my heart and I am always happy to serve the people. I am really proud of this to work for the people; it is the sole objective of my life.
Tell us about your early life and the beginnings of your trust?
I started working for the trust in the early 1990s. At that time I was just 20 years old and it was a really difficult phase because, in a country like Pakistan, to speak for justice is really one of the most difficult task. Being in city like Karachi just adds to the difficulties. Initially, I was threatened and harassed but nothing would keep me away from my mission.
Do you still have the same level of commitment and passion as you had the day you formed this trust?
Yes I enjoy same commitment and more passion now — you may say it is double what I had on the first day of the trust. Now we have a lot of support and prayers from the people. Every day, hundreds of people come here — men, women and children — who consult their problems and we try to resolve their issues.
How do you help people who visit your office?
We have various categories of issues we help people with. There is a women’s wing — for females who have no shelter or home, or who have been barred from their homes by their husbands due to the family disputes. We provide them free of cost counselling and lawyers’ help to access the court. Then we have children and other sections, whose doors are always open for everyone.
Any other work you are doing in Pakistan?
We are working with missing children. We reunite children who are lost or have been separated from their parents and families. In Karachi and other cities, there are hundreds of missing and homeless children so we are trying to send them back to their homes. We also work with women who have been victimised including acid victims, honour killing cases, those who have had their noses cut off by their husbands. We are helping the to access justice. The women consider me their voice and when they face any kind of injustice they contact me.
Have you helped anyone outside the country?
Yes I have sent donations and went to help tsunami-affected people in Indonesia in 2012. I have also been to Afghanistan to help the war-hit people. Despite our limited resources, I always try my best to help maximum.
Do you think some non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Pakistan are exploiting issues to access funds from international donors?
Yes this is a reality that some NGOs have exploited some issues in Pakistan — such as the issue of the child camel jockeys, which has been manipulated by some NGO’s for their vested interests — but this should not damage the credibility of NGOs in Pakistan. NGO’s are doing a great job in Pakistan so they must maintain that credibility so that international donors always trust them. As far as the exploitation is concerned, those who do so should be very much careful about this because when they sensationalise these human rights issues then the image of the country would be damaged.
How you meet your expenses to run all these projects like shelters homes and legal counselling?
I am working with very limited resources. We have lack of funds and shortage of resources, so it is always hard for me to meet all the expenses. I feel always weak in the funds issue but more active in my work. If I have more funds I am sure I can work more effectively, because we have a lot of issues and I plan to open more shelters in other cities and schools for homeless children.
What is your message to the international community about Pakistan? Though we have a very critical situation in Pakistan and there are human rights violations and other malpractices, there are a lot of people in Pakistan who are working for humanity and for noble causes. There are a lot of bad messages about Pakistan but there are good people too, so this message should also go abroad.