The Mehr Mutallam Memorial Trust (MMT) is a non-profit charity organization in Sakesar, a village in northern Punjab, Pakistan. Its raison d’etre is simple: serving humanity.
Created in 2011 by the member of a local feudal family as a tribute to the memory of his late parents and ancestors, MMT is based on the Islamic concept of Sadaqah Jariyah, charity that continues. MMT’s founders are Mehr Khaliqdad Lak, a former bureaucrat, and his wife Faiza Lak. Their two sons Hamza and Abdullah Lak, both serving bureaucrats, and their wives, Noor Hamza Lak and Saalika Mela Lak, are also part of the trust. This familial collaboration works on the splendid philosophy of each one doing their bit for the uplifting of the underprivileged.
One of the most amazing aspects of the work of MMT is its understated-ness: the Lak family do not promote their philanthropy. When I found out about MMT, its key element of helping people without any fanfare truly moved me. Selfless good acts as a positive motivation for others to contribute in their own way for alleviating hardships of the less fortunate. Pakistan, despite its myriad issues and a weak economy, is a deeply altruistic country, the loveliest manifestation of which is its non-profit, social welfare charity organizations, working locally, provincially, or nationally.
A few weeks ago, Faiza, my first cousin, invited me for a women-only day in her village Sakesar. The invitation also included a visit to their trust, housed in the Lak ancestral home, and that was the first time I heard about it. It was the day of the annual passing-out ceremony and prize distribution, held in February every year, for MMT’s three sections—Madrassa, Education Centre, and Vocational Training Centre. The fourth department is a free dispensary.
What was most noticeable about that event was the joy in that ancient home now turned into a safe space for the girls of that serene little village, known for its delicious oranges. Girls, of various ages, assisted by their teachers, presented their hamd and naat, and national songs, dances, and skits with an utterly delightful self-confidence. Their pride in their religious, academic, and vocational education and training beamed in their unfiltered smiles and their well-behaved interaction with the guests from Lahore, women of their own families, and their other village guests. A village is a large family; the familiarity, the closeness is lifelong, and on that day that bond infused the air of Sakesar.
What was also noticeable was Faiza’s obvious unease when the host Samra bibi, one of the madrassa teachers, and one of MMT’s longest serving workers and coordinators, praised the Lak family for their years long philanthropy. Satisfied in the work they do, and that too without posting self-laurels on social media, Faiza and her family believe their work’s results to be their best reward—serving the underprivileged, the less privileged, and training girls to be the best version of themselves. That is when I decided to write about the Mehr Mutallam Memorial Trust.
MMT comprises four departments
Omar Hayat Free Dispensary is an out-patient medical faculty with an in-house doctor and a nurse who provide free medical consultations and medicines.
Mumtaz Begum Madrassa-tul-Banat, a study circle, “imparts Islamic teachings—learning to recite the Qur’an with “Tajweed”, its proper enunciation; undertaking “Tarjama” the translation of the Qur’anic Arabic text; and delving into “Tafseer”, the explanation of the Qur’anic meanings. Madrassa’s annual enrollment is hundred and fifty students, many of whom go on to pursue formal education in a school setting.”
Mehr Khudadad Khan Free Education Academy “provides basic educational services in English, mathematics, and Urdu, focusing on literacy skills that are integral to becoming functional and responsible members of society. It also provides remedial services, such as revision, homework, and assessment preparation.”
Dhama Bibi Vocational Training Centre is a facility “to empower local women with skills to help them to find employment, or to support themselves financially. Established in the backdrop of Pakistan’s uncertain economic atmosphere, and financial dependency of many women on their families, it provides one-year training in vocational skills such as stitching, embroidery, painting, and manoeuvring cloth, skills that enable women to become expert seamstresses.”
Faiza says, “In a country like Pakistan where women are often discouraged from working outside the home, MMT aims to soften this outlook and reach out and touch as many lives as possible. To incentivise families to send their girls and women to the centre, those who successfully complete the training are generously compensated in cash and kind. Sometimes, they are awarded household items or sewing machines to help them in their domestic lives and to launch careers, if they opt to do so.”
The anuual event also has an exhibition of handmade products—such as embroidered shirts and dupattas, embroidered cushions and table linen, multi-use boxes, decorative candles—made in the Vocational Centre. Not for sale, all the products are gifted to guests.
The Mehr Mutallam Memorial Trust is beautiful humanity, beautiful empathy.
For Gulf News, I asked Faiza Lak a few questions:
Mehr Tarar: What is the story of the origin of the Mehr Mutallam Memorial Trust?
Faiza Lak: MMT was founded after the passing of my husband’s parents, Mehr Khudadad Lak and Taj Begum. One of their two sons passed away at a young age in a tragic car accident. As the only surviving son, my husband Mehr Khaliqdad Lak, after losing his parents, wanted to give back to society on their behalf. We wanted to do Sadaqah Jariyah—make a trust to help people in a way that the reward goes directly to his parents. It was our joint idea, we named it the Mehr Mutallam Trust [after Khaliqdad’s grandfather].
It started on a small scale. It is run on zakat; instead of giving our annual zakat to other places, we spend it on MMT. Our trust is entirely funded by us. We, of course, also go beyond our zakat limit.
MMT has an emotional origin. Alhamdulillah, it has truly flourished over the last few years.
How do MMT founders ensure that their contribution is not merely for temporary good but is a long-term agenda of training that is beneficial for life to the recipients?
Both my husband and I are fully involved in MMT’s operations—expenses, account balancing, selection of teachers, teacher training, enrollment of students, annual results. Being hands-on, I personally check students’ academic results. MMT requires multiple visits annually. When in Lahore or elsewhere, we receive daily feedback from the various departments. It is a very well-connected, well-run network of teachers and benefactors, in which everyone is on the same page. In this system of quick feedback, any improvement that has to occur takes place without any delay.
Our involvement is constant and comprehensive in different capacities. Our main focus is to work for people’s short- and long-term welfare. For example, the dispensary works for the temporary good—mild ailments, check-ups, and initial consultations. If a pregnant woman comes in for a vitamin supplement, it is prescribed and given to her for free.
MMT helps to create and sustain an environment of awareness and importance of education in the village. In a village in rural Punjab, it is not common for girls to get higher education, but with the creation of MMT that is owned, run, and supported by a local family, and looking at the efforts being put into it, free of cost, I think the people of our village are developing a sense of the importance of education for their children. MMT is changing mindsets. Girls who finish their term here would want their future children to receive good education. A slow cultural change of mindsets is taking place.
Is the curriculum upgraded according to the constantly changing requirements and challenges of the twenty-first century?
Yes. The upgrade is also based on the requirements of our country at a particular time. For instance, to counter the rise in extremism and radicalisation of youth, it is important to teach people that Islam is a very open, very peaceful religion. It is important to present the apt and true picture of what our religion entails, why Pakistan was created in the first place, and true representation of freedom and tolerance. It is quite easy to impart numeracy and literacy, but it is very difficult to impart civic values and ethics to people.
A big part of education in a rural area is imparting what we call in Urdu tarbeeyat (upbringing). Solid education is tarbeeyat of people along with giving them arbitrary and quantifiable information and data. To work on honesty, on integrity, on what makes you a good citizen. These very important concepts are part of the Pakistan Studies curriculum and are exhaustively touched upon by MMT’s teachers.
Children are also taught how to use new gadgets. They are given an honest picture of the benefits and drawbacks of gadgets, how they affect them and their language development, and how to limit screen time.
The curriculum is frequently updated, but it is done in a very organic way. It is not forced. As the teachers themselves are quite young, and they are closely in contact with my husband and me, it really helps for different thought processes to infiltrate and reach the people in the right way.
Your entire family—you and your husband, and your two sons and daughters-in-law—are committed to MMT’s wellbeing. What is the main strength behind this collective empathy?
The main strength behind MMT and its functioning is that the purpose should not ever be lost. That it is being done for a higher purpose, and not for fame or acknowledgment in this duniya, but for something that we are sending forward for the hereafter. Our belief as Muslim really strengthens that.
When after a whole year of hard work, you see how the children are feeling, their families’ happiness, and what a big difference it is making to the lives of people, that makes it truly worthwhile. All the effort, all the hard work, it all comes full circle. Seeing smiles on people’s faces, and to hear their duas for you that are truly from their hearts, there is honestly no replacement for that. Their duas are priceless. To be a part of somebody’s duas, to be a part of somebody’s fond memories, to have touched someone’s life, who otherwise might not have that opportunity.
There is a very strong sense of responsibility to create change in a place where the responsibility does indirectly lie upon us. Our religion mandates us in our position of guardians to look after our flocks. When we think of our flock, it is not just our families and children, it is also the village we belong to. We are responsible for them. If Allah has given us means, they are not just for our use. We have to share them, we have to spread that goodness. Whatever goodness it is, small or big, it wouldn’t be right to keep everything to ourselves. If Allah has given you knowledge, you share that knowledge. Whatever skill you have, we have to share and pass it on.
That sense of sharing, that sense of touching the lives of people, especially poor people, who might not have had access to certain things otherwise, that makes our work meaningful, gratifying, alhamdulillah.