02/09/2023, 14.33
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A town for the Christians of the brick kilns in Punjab

by Shafique Khokhar

Promoted by the Human Development Society, Fr Bonnie Mendes and Fr Simon Khursheed say the goal is to expand it with another 80 dwellings by the end of the year. Bonnie Town is also to house a parish, a school and a medical dispensary. The beneficiaries: 'Living here for free is no less than a miracle'.

Toba Tek Singh (AsiaNews) - The Society for Human Development, an organisation promoted by Fr Bonnie Mendes and Fr Simon Khursheed, is building a new town to house Christians working in brick kilns and the homeless in the village of Mureedwala, in the district of Toba Tek Singh, Punjab province.

In the past, the Society for Human Development worked to help people obtain a national identity card, then a social security card and even a pay rise. Bonnie Town - the 'town of Bonnie' - is named after the founder Fr Bonnie Mendes.

"I was one of the five members of the Public Security Commission set up by the Parvez Musharraf government," the priest told AsiaNews. "All the other members were Muslims. The government had built a park near the railway station and named it after a Sikh social worker, Tek Singh, in 2005. Someone had asked that the Christian community also have a place dedicated to them. The Chairperson of the Commission told us that we would have Bonnieabad. The people have never forgotten it. Now Bonnie Town is the realisation of that dream."

The project started in 2022 when the Society for Human Development bought a five-acre plot of land in Mureedwala to build houses for poor Christians that would be given free of charge.

In that year, 34 houses were built, in which as many families reside. Some 20 new ones have since sprung up, but the organisation's goal is to build 80 in total by the end of the year, after another six acres of land have been acquired.

"At the moment we have 11 acres but we are trying to get funds to buy another 14 acres for the town, so that we will have at least 25 acres and the possibility of having a parish built," commented Fr Simon Khursheed, president of the Society for Human Development.

"We want to build 500 houses, a new church, a school, a free medical dispensary and a training centre for women. I must appeal to God's people to support us in this noble cause because Bonnie Town will in future be a model for other organisations working for the betterment of the poor." 

In Toba Tek Singh, the two priests' organisation has been fighting to give dignity to the furnace workers, informing people about human rights and providing literacy and sewing classes.

"Now we are taking this a step further by building a house that will become their own. Like many other initiatives, this one is small, but with the cooperation of different people - including Muslim friends - it is showing signs of great hope. Most probably, as time goes by, it will house many poor people and it will be up to them to turn it into a great success," added Fr Bonnie Mendes.

"By making bricks we barely earn bread for our children, so how can we buy even a small piece of land," said Nasreen Bibi, one of the beneficiaries. "We only saw a house of our own in our dreams, but we thank God for Fr Bonnie and this great initiative. Now we live in new houses at zero cost, it is no less than a miracle in our lives."

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