Khana Ghar
Left: Parveen Saeed at Khana Ghar, Karachi Pakistan. Right: Children await food to be served. Image Credit: Courtesy: Parveen Saeed

Her journey...

  • Saeed dreamt of being a journalist but abandoned her ambitions
  • She has been running the public kitchen for 16 years
  • She aims to eradicate poverty and hunger from Pakistan

Dubai: Parveen Saeed, a resident of Karachi, vowed to help feed the poor after her neighbour, a mother of two, killed her children because she could not afford to feed them.

Saeed had a comfortable upbringing, living in an affluent neighbourhood and being well educated. Growing up, she dreamed of being a journalist. “We were subscribed to various Urdu-based newspapers and I always told everyone that I want to become a writer for one of them,” she said.

As she grew older, her ambitions became a reality and she attained a bachelor’s degree as well as a master’s degree in journalism. “After graduating from high school, my father asked me if I’d like to continue my education and I still wanted to pursue journalism,” she said.

Although she wrote for a number of publications in Pakistan, after gaining her education, she later got married and abandoned her career.

“After getting married and having my first daughter, I wanted to get away from affluent life and lead a humble existence instead.”

She soon moved to Karachi’s Surjani Town that has mostly low-income households and poverty is prevalent. Observing her new surroundings, her passion for doing something for the needy increased.

However, according to Saeed, her family members found her request to move odd.

My mother and brothers were sceptical about my decision. They thought that I will soon return because I wasn’t used to such conditions. I wasn’t used to not having electricity, for example.

- Parveen Saeed, a resident of Karachi

“My mother and brothers were sceptical about my decision. They thought that I will soon return because I wasn’t used to such conditions. I wasn’t used to not having electricity, for example,” she noted.

However, she persisted. “After seeing people who don’t get two meals per day, there’s no gas or transportation, you can’t leave. Life just became that way and I never looked back.”

Khana Ghar 2
Parveen Saeed speaking to women in Khuda Ki Basti. Image Credit: Courtesy: Gulf News

Living a new life in Surjani Town, she heard of the news that impacted her life decisions. Her neighbour had apparently killed her two children because they were starving.

“My mind couldn’t accept that a mother’s heart could do such a thing. When I spoke to the woman, she said, ‘if you were in my place, you’d do the same too’ and that stuck in my mind. I soon decided to do something about it.”

The 59-year-old first started giving out food like lentils and rice cooked in her home to those in need. However, in 2002 she and her husband, Khalid Saeed, started a project called ‘Khana Ghar’ (house of food). The initiative aimed to provide food to those who could not afford it, at a small sum three Pakistani Rupees.

She said that she takes the amount so that people are purchasing the meals instead of getting them for free, so that “their self-respect remains intact”.

Khana Ghar 1
People await food packages at one of the pick up points in Karachi. Image Credit: Courtesy: Parveen Saeed

Her parents and brothers soon changed their outlook on her choices as well. “They were very proud of me. My brothers would proudly tell everyone, ‘Parveen Saeed is our sister’,” she said.

Her children and husband constantly supported her initiatives. “Even though he is quite ill, even till this day, my husband visits Khana Ghar daily,” she said.

The public kitchen runs every day, feeding about a 1000 people daily and welcomes people from all communities. “It was opened on the basis of humanity. Everyone is welcome. We have Muslims, Christians and Hindus coming in,” Saeed said.

The mother of two said that she wants to see poverty getting completely eradicated in Pakistan, however she believes that she can’t do it alone.

Khana Ghar 3
Women await lunch at Khana Ghar. Image Credit: Courtesy: Parveen Saeed

“Until now I’ve gotten immense support. Whoever has heard about my initiative has told me ‘sister, I am with you’. But I can’t do this alone,” she admitted.

People should be starting from their own surroundings, she said. “Look around you and see who needs help. It’s not important that I have to be a part of it, do it for whomever you want.”

Speaking further on encouraging people to take steps towards giving to the needy, Saeed said, “I don’t see a lack of money. I see a lack of good deeds. Anyone can donate and any amount is helpful. You can donate small amounts but donate regularly.”

The kitchen has currently two locations in Karachi, one in Korangi and another in Khuda Ki Basti as well as six different pickup points across the city.

The pickup points have timings at which food is sent from the main kitchens to be collected by those who need it in those areas. The designated spots are set up at Lyari, Ajmer Nagri and Nooruddin Goth, among other areas in Karachi.

Saeed does not take up volunteers for Khana Ghar because she believes in providing people with a steady income and creating jobs. “They receive the same rights and salaries that would have been given at any restaurant,” she said.

Unemployment is an issue in Karachi. “If people don’t make an income, it leads to street crimes and other problems that are evident in the city,” Saeed said.

Head chef, Yasmeen Jafeel has been cooking for Khana Ghar for 14 years and heads the kitchen. “We chose her because she cooks well and she really needed a job to support her six daughters,” Saeed noted.

However, Saeed does all the grocery shopping for the establishment herself. “I know what is needed, what spices are missing and how much grains we need,” she said.

Monthly, it takes about PKR 600,000 (Dh 16,483) to run Khana Ghar. The amount fluctuates depending on the food products donated each month.

A large amount of lentils, wheat flour, spices and meat is used each day. For example, per meal serving, if beef is on the menu that day, meat from about two cows is needed.

Talking about managing a family of her own while running Khana Ghar, Saeed said that she never neglected them. “I never disturbed their [her daughters’] daily routines when they were growing up. I never neglected my home. I shared what I do with my family and they are proud of it,” she said.

Saeed has two daughters, Kanza Saeed and Jaweria Shaikh, who have always been involved in Saeed’s initiatives. “They were always enthusiastic about my efforts. Even growing up, they showed interest,” Saeed said.

They help her manage the kitchen and take care of administrative work, such as answering e-mails and managing the website.

Talking about her life choices, she said: “The life I previously had was nothing compared to what I do now. I never regretted taking this path in life. I would do this until I live and hope to do it until my last breath.”

She has urged everyone to play their part in helping the poor. “Everything counts when you donate. But if you give someone something they can make a living out of, it’s even better, like if you can afford it, give them a rickshaw.”

She hopes that one day, basic food items will be cheap enough for everyone to afford in Pakistan. “It’s a basic necessity. It greatly affects the poor and everything is related to hunger,” she said.