A Toronto-area woman is putting into effect a different kind of pro-life work – assisting poor children in Pakistan through the foundation of a home and school.

Josephine Lal-Din started Fatima House in Sialkot, north Pakistan in 1983. Initially serving 45 children, the facility has grown to the point where it now assists 562 children, and plans are in place to establish the first Roman Catholic College in Pakistan – a country that is overwhelmingly Muslim.

“It’s open to all denominations, as long as they are in desperate need of being helped,” says Lal-Din.

“Our aim is to help humanity, everybody … The ultimate goal of this Fatima House project is to keep the name of Jesus alive in Pakistan, and also address the poverty level through education.”

Fatima House is named after Our Lady of Fatima, the apparition of the Virgin Mary to Portuguese children early in the last century. “Because she appeared to poor children, and my institution is for poor children, I called it Fatima House,” says Lal-Din.

After serving as a teacher in her native Pakistan, Lal-Din immigrated to Canada, where she pursued the same profession in the Toronto area beginning in 1965.

After a short break to obtain bachelor’s and master’s degrees, she returned to teaching and spent 18 years in the field. All the while, she squirreled away funds for what she calls her “dream” to come true.

“I came up with the idea that one day I would return (to Pakistan) and build a home for the destitute poor and orphaned children. This was my dream and I never wavered from it.”

She spent her summer holidays in Pakistan, observing children on the streets, begging, half-clad, underfed, sick and dying on the roadside. “I gave them money because they were begging and I thought my duty was done. But somehow, the idea stayed with me and the image of those children stayed deep in my heart. A voice was ringing in my ears: ‘Josephine, you can do better for them … Teach them how to fish, so they will not go hungry.'”

From her personal savings, Lal-Din purchased a plot of land and, with the funding help of a Belgian charitable organization, was able to build a one-floor facility with 11 rooms that could serve 45 children.

New facilities were added over the years, with the assistance of Canadian friends, schools, churches, and the Canadian International Development Agency.

Additional plots of land were also bought, expanding Fatima House’s land size to 5 1/2 acres and making it possible for it to grow much of its own food, including wheat, rice, potatoes and fruits.

Residents now stitch their own clothes and weave their own cots, while 21 staff members assist Lal-Din on site.

Since 1980, Fatima House has touched the lives of some 8,000 children, and many of these children have gone on to work in professions such as nursing and teaching.

“Every year, I spend eight months in Pakistan and four in Canada,” says Lal-Din. “My duty is to raise enough funds for the whole year to give the children education, medicine, food, clothing – all the basic needs over and above affection and love.”

Spiritual exercises are another important aspect of life at the home and school, through biblical teachings and worship services.

Never one to rest, Lal-Din is eyeing further expansions and has set her sights on establishing a Catholic college connected with Fatima House by about 2008.

“I need a building. I have land at the back … We need more furniture, building materials, a computer, photocopier, school bus. So many children are not reached and are dying on the road. We also need a bigger chapel. There are so many things that we need.”

Lal-Din’s facility is accepting donations through the Fatima House Trust Fund, 3345 Silverado Dr., Unit 62, Mississauga, Ont., L5A 3Y8. Telephone: (905) 275-0140