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The value of one hundred smiles
Aniqa Feerasta
Shaila Abdullah
18 May 2011
  • Shamim Hassan Shivji is one of those rare individuals who spent a great deal of her life being what many prospective parents consider a lifeline.

    She is retired now, but for nearly 16 years starting in the 1980s, Shivji placed close to 100 Karachi orphans with couples in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, and East Africa. Then living in Pakistan, she and a neighbour routinely cared for orphaned or abandoned infants while seeking out good homes and loving families for them.

    Shivji looked for three factors in prospective parents: financial stability, educational background, and spiritual inclination. “We made allowances in terms of financial state when we thought that a certain couple would do a fine job of raising a child,” she relates.

    A mother of four and grandmother to six, Shivji says that her passion grew from watching her father – known to those in her childhood village as Baba – perform a similar service in Songea, Tanzania. He and his family would care for orphaned or abandoned infants until Baba could find suitable families for them.

    “I was too young to understand the attachment factor, and I always wondered why my mom cried when she remembered those children – even decades later,” says Shivji. “Now I know.”

    Shivji recalls one infant placed in her care who was particularly agitated. After hours of soothing, he was still inconsolable and had no intention of giving up the fight. So she took him into her arms and gently whispered: “Please why don't you go to sleep. I am so tired. I can't hold you all night in my arms, I also have to rest.”

    She recalls feeling the baby's soft hand caress her cheek, and the next thing she knew, he had gone to sleep. Shivji says that the baby's touch was the touch of the divine, just as she believed that her entire mission of placing children was guided by a higher power that provided her the strength and courage to continue the selfless work.

    Today, Shivji lives and works in San Antonio, Texas. Over the years, she has met many of those whom she placed as children.

    “They all seem well behaved, well groomed, and going to good universities. They all seem so happy,” says Shivji. “That is my reward.”