Written by David Stranack, Trustee of SOS Children UK
This is a special story about two sets of twins, one living in the UK, and the other in Pakistan. Through an arranged child sponsorship, SOS Children brought the two pairs together...
If you’re a parent of twins, as I am, you’re always interested in other people’s stories of identical siblings So, my ears immediately pricked up when I heard about a pair of twins in England who are sponsoring two identical orphans in Pakistan. With my journalistic interests aroused, I arranged to meet Sheena and Tania Zuberi at their home in Harrow, London.
The roots of the Zuberi family lie firmly in Pakistan, a country with which Sheena and Tania, although born in England, have a strong affinity. Not only are the girls biologically identical, but their lives have consistently followed a single path. They both studied chemistry at Imperial College London and both went on to obtain degrees as Doctors of Philosophy – the highest academic qualification possible. They have both had jobs with the same companies and are currently working together in Cambridge at the forefront of scientific research. A truly remarkable history of ‘identicalness’. But in spite of the very considerable success they have achieved in developing their lives and careers in England, the Pakistani origins of their family are still very important to them.
So it was with shock and horror that the Zuberi family read the news of the earthquake that devastated large parts of their homeland in October 2005. The Asian tsunami a year earlier had attracted world wide headlines. Pakistan’s earthquake did not receive the same sustained global publicity, but it was no less a disaster for those whose lives were shattered by this second horrendous natural calamity. Large parts of towns were reduced to rubble and whole villages were obliterated. The earthquake left a trail of devastation and deprivation in its wake. When the death toll was finally counted over 78,000 people had died – and, inevitably, many children had become orphaned.
SOS Children mobilised immediately. With our established infrastructure of Children’s Villages, which had been built up in previous years, we were well placed to help the new generation of orphans. Eventually we opened our doors to 224 children who had lost their mothers and fathers in the disaster, and whom we will now care for to adulthood.
The Pakistani community here in the UK mobilised as well, and huge efforts were made to ease the plight of the home country. In the Zuberi family it was Tania, firstly, who was moved to help in a practical way. She decided that SOS Children was exactly the right organisation through which to channel her aid, and she now sponsors a little girl called Shaheen who lives in the SOS Village at Quetta. Shaheen lost both her mother and father in the earthquake. But this first step started Tania and her sister thinking. Identical twins are very special. Supposing they could find a pair of twins in Pakistan to sponsor jointly? Identical twins sponsoring identical twins. Could this be unique?
This was where Ayesha Khan stepped in. Like Tania and Sheena, Ayesha was brought up and educated in England, but still has strong family links with Pakistan. She is leader of the SOS Children's Village Pakistani Supporters’ Group here in the UK, and is also a Trustee of the UK charity. So Ayesha was charged with the task of finding a pair of identical Pakistani orphans to sponsor.
It took a little while. The aftermath of the earthquake was as traumatic as the event itself. Children were found struggling for survival among the ruins – but were they orphans, or were their parents still alive? In the case of identical twin sisters – Saira and (another) Ayesha – there was little doubt.
At the time of the earthquake they were just nine months old. As their house collapsed around them their mother protected them in her arms. She died as a wall fell on top of them, but little Saira was dug out of the rubble alive, and thought to be the only survivor. Incredibly, three days later Ayesha, also still just alive, was discovered by the rescue teams buried in the ruins of the house. A miraculous but miserable start to young lives, in a poor part of the world without a mother’s love.
The children were taken in to temporary care at the SOS Village at Rawalpindi while attempts were made to track down their broader family into which the girls could perhaps be integrated. The search was not successful. And so it was that Saira and Ayesha became established and permanent members of the Rawalpindi SOS Children community.
Back in England Ayesha Khan had found the answer to Tania and Sheena’s request. As ever, more money was needed to fund the Pakistani twins care and education, and the two sisters in England leapt at the opportunity to sponsor and support the two sisters in Rawalpindi.
The bonding between two sets of identical twins living in very different circumstances on opposite sides of the globe is very special. Indeed the relationship between twins is itself very special – as I know from my own sons – and is something that non-twins have difficulty comprehending. As Sheena explains, “It is a unique relationship which transcends all boundaries. We share a connection no one but a twin could appreciate or understand – a connection that defies explanation. Sometimes we amaze ourselves when we think and say the same thing at the same time ‘in stereo’. A twin is a friend for life”. Tania nods as her sister speaks and adds, “We are sponsoring Saira and Ayesha because even without meeting them we already have an understanding and an invisible connection to them. This twin thing works both ways, and we hope that sponsoring our little twins in Pakistan will give them something to relate to. They lost everything in the earthquake, and when they are older and told they are being sponsored by twins back in England, we hope it will give them a sense of security as they face the future”.
Child Sponsorship with SOS Children
Of course you don’t have to be a twin to sponsor an SOS orphan. The story of Tania, Sheena, Saira and Ayesha is just a heart warming, if unusual, example of the huge volume of sponsorships around the world that help to provide loving homes and education for the 78,000 children in our care. My wife and I sponsor little Kanny Sowe, who is just six years old and lives in the SOS Village at Bakoteh in The Gambia. We have been to visit her twice, and the village keeps us up to date with her development and progress.
The SOS child sponsorship scheme enables people to make a real difference to the lives of children who desperately need our help, and the personalised act of giving and receiving is often the foundation on which a very special relationship is built – as Tania and Sheena would testify.