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Archive for the ‘Pakistan’ Category

By David Burton


The village of Malik Ibrahim spreads across several square miles, with homesteads separated by their fields, perhaps a few houses belonging to brothers and sisters of the same family gathered together.

We had come to one of these little clusters to find out how much of an impact our work has had. We had given people training in sanitation, hygiene and the safe use of water, and helped them with kitchen equipment and tents to help them through the winter.

We were led through quite a sprawl of houses, scattered with scrub and cattle. The houses were made of mud, and the tents we had given were opened out on the walls to cover gaps that the villagers had yet to repair.

One house was made out of brick, and was decorated with pieces of colored foil. As I walked past, one of the villagers tried to usher me inside. I smiled, and declined, but he insisted, and leaned in to explain. ‘Church,’ he said.

I had to make my interviews, so I regretfully kept going, but I was surprised – Pakistan is a majority-Muslim nation, and I thought the odds of us finding a Christian community would be very small indeed. But here they were.

So I was surprised again to find the men a hundred yards further down the road greeting me with the hearty ‘salaam aleikum’ which I’m used to using at home in Bangladesh with Muslim friends. They were friendly, and welcomed me.

I was confused. I’m used to seeing different beliefs cause people to associate only with people of their own kind; watching religion become ethnicity. It happens all over the world, and it’s tragic, even when it’s peaceful. But here, it seemed there was a community of people of different beliefs living together very peacefully.

I asked my questions, and was encouraged to discover that not only had these men grasped the knowledge they had received, they were keen to pass it on to others. Including the Christians down the road.

I’m reminded of this today (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12617562), as the global story out of Pakistan continues to be about a tiny number of extremists and their divisive, murderous way. I read with sadness about attacks on politicians and citizens in Pakistan, not least because the people I met there were polite, welcoming, and proud of their nation. With good reason. Pakistan is remarkable.

I pray that the Pakistan I saw in Malik Ibrahim is stronger and more enduring than the Pakistan a small number of extremists are trying to make with the blood of others. I believe it is.

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By Leena Samuel

Saleem

Saleem Johnson remembers vividly the day he and his family were forced to leave their home, along with the other families in his village in southern Punjab province.  They all had heard the radio announcements warning them of the imminent floodwaters that would soon submerge their homes.  The radio advised them to leave their villages and seek higher ground, but most people in the village were reluctant to leave.  As one woman in Saleem’s community expressed, “We refused because everything we had, our whole lives, was here.”

Hoping and praying that the radio was wrong, Saleem and others in his village decided to stay…until the waters began to rise.  Though reluctant, the members of the village were fearful for their lives, and so they packed up a few belongings, bed mats and enough food to last a few weeks, and set up camp on higher ground just outside their village.  In the days to follow, they would witness floodwaters steadily increase to 7-8 feet deep, eventually submerging their village completely.  Saleem decided to send his wife and small baby to stay with his wife’s family in an area not affected by the floods, but Saleem decided to stay with his parents and the rest of his community camped out on the flood banks.

It was 10 days later when I met Saleem.  I, along with staff members of FH’s local implementing partner Interfaith League Against Poverty (ILAP), and an engineer from our U.S.-based partner, Engineering Ministries International, had traveled for 13 hours by car from Islamabad to assess the needs of flood-affected communities in southern Punjab province where, at that time, the floodwaters were at their peak.  We were told that Saleem’s community had not yet been reached with assistance, and so we went to find them and confirm the need.  It was an additional 10 days or so before FH and ILAP were able to return to Saleem’s remote community to provide relief assistance through distribution of food, critical non-food items, emergency shelter, and installation of new hand pumps for water, among other things.

Though he is relatively young (I’d guess mid to late 20s), Saleem instantly emerged as a community leader.  He was asked to help identify the most vulnerable members of his community, as well as provide leadership in distributions and assisting families in constructing emergency shelter.

Three months after being forced to leave their homes, the water levels subsided enough for families to return.  Most homes had been at least partially damaged, if not completely destroyed.  Saleem’s house was destroyed.  He and his family continued to live in the emergency shelter provided by FH until a few weeks ago when a local church built a one-room home for them.  Saleem’s wife and baby eventually returned and they are now living together in their new home.

Saleem is continuing to receive opportunities to serve his community.  A month ago, ILAP selected Saleem to attend a training in SPHERE standards – or minimum humanitarian standards and practices.  Saleem feels like the training was a great opportunity and says, “Through the training, I feel like I am able to better motivate the community about better practices.” Saleem’s desire is to continue his education, so that he can one day work for a humanitarian organization to help the people in his village and other poor communities throughout Pakistan.

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By David Burton

I’ve been here before, but it seems like another world. Five months ago, I came from my day job with FH in Bangladesh to help however I could with FH’s response to the floods in Pakistan.

The devastation was shocking. New lakes sat where communities once were. Mud houses dissolved slowly into the standing water, leaving people exposed to the coming winter. Hand pumps gave out only dirty water.

We gave out tarpaulins and bamboo poles so people could repair their homes or build tents for shelter, we gave them kitchen kits so they could cook, and we gave them hygiene equipment and training so they could avoid the worst of the diseases that come with dirty water.

Now I’m back, and so much has changed.

A weird landscape, with lush green fields next to areas of barren scrub, has replaced the muddy plain I saw when I was here before. In many places, families have been unable or unwilling to return, because the land is either useless or too expensive to redevelop. In some places, they never left – taking loans to get them through the winter.

Close to our beneficiary community in Malik Ibrahim, crops are growing again, and houses have been rebuilt. I sit with men from four families who share an open area on which they keep their cattle. I ask them my questions – where they are getting their water from, what they remember of the sanitation training they were given, what latrines they use. The answers are hopeful – they’re getting water from an FH tubewell, and they’re practicing a lot of the training – but also underline the hardship they’re still facing. They had a latrine, but it was swept away in the flood. I ask them what they’re using now, and they just gesture towards the field.

I’m astonished – in this culture, such a thing is okay for men but unthinkable for women – and, without much hope of an answer, I ask them what their wives are doing. They shrug, and point to the field as well.

The time spent interviewing in Pakistani villages is an intense mixture of joy and hardship. There is no denying that people here would have struggled to survive the winter without the shelter and water we were able to provide. But they still need so much.

That’s the tough thing about disaster response in a developing nation. These people were already poor, then things got even worse. Across the world, I’ve seen people like this live their lives with extraordinary fortitude and ability, not as victims but as people determined to provide for their families and communities. Then a disaster like this happens, and all their hard work is undone. And they start again.

Please pray for them as they do, and for the agencies which are trying to help them rebuild their lives.

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The group of 20-30 Pakistani women sitting in front of me were eager for an opportunity to speak – they all had stories to share of the devastation they faced during the floods.  All of them were forced to leave their homes, many of which were later destroyed in the 8-10 feet of floodwaters which had engulfed their communities.  It is now nearly six months later, and these women have since returned to their communities, but the road to recovery is long.

As we continued to talk, the women began to sing the praises of the female hygiene promoters who were with us in the meeting (and graciously translating for me).  The women had participated in a two-hour health and hygiene promotion session led by the female hygiene promoters.  I was curious to know whether the women learned anything new from the session.  They began to call out the new practices they had learned from the brief session, including the importance of hand washing before meals and after defecation, water purification methods, brushing their teeth, how to care for their children, etc.  While ongoing engagement with these women will be critical to ensure they adopt the lessons they have learned, they did express how they and their children were already experiencing fewer upset stomachs and diarrhea since purifying their water and that they had fewer rashes on their skin from better hand washing and bathing practices.

After meeting with the women, the hygiene promoters shared with me about how the women had initially been resistant to using the Aquatabs that were distributed for water purification.  The women were convinced that the Aquatabs were contraceptives and that the hygiene promoters were trying to deceive them and prevent them from having more children.  In order to convince the women that they weren’t trying to trick them, the hygiene promoters (who are all in their 20s and haven’t had children themselves yet), drank the water with Aquatab solution in front of the women.  To say the least, they were convinced!

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Saima addresses the crowd.

On the first day of a field visit, we approach our first destination – a compound which has seen thousands of people come to receive emergency supplies since September. Expecting to see a hygiene and sanitation training session, we are astonished to experience a standing ovation from a crowd of two to three hundred men, some holding placards with messages of thanks.

We’re embarrassed, but as we awkwardly wave people to sit down there’s a second explosion of high-pitched cheering from a class of children in a building to the side of the compound. We’re ushered to seats at the front of the crowd.

Though we appreciate the expression of thanks, it is not us who merit this welcome, but the development workers who have come with us to conduct the training. They have been working 12 or 14 hour days for months, traveling in cars and on motorbikes to very remote communities.

The most remarkable among them are the women – there are not many women on staff with our local partner, but a handful of female staff have been hired, mainly to serve as hygiene promoters to the women beneficiaries of the project.  The culture of Pakistan, particularly within the communities that we are serving in southern Punjab Province, is very traditional in many ways. The expectation for most women is that they will marry early, raise children and rarely leave the home. The idea of women speaking for themselves, and operating independently, is an extraordinary one.

The crowd in the compound, though excited, is not focused. Even as we sit down, some are starting to drift away. So we are astonished to see Saima*, one of the female workers, rise to her feet and address the crowd. Speaking strongly, she makes herself the focus of the crowd. This is not just audacious, it’s something which many of these men may never have seen before – a woman speaking with compassion, authority and confidence. The drifters stop, and sit back down.  The training starts.

Saima would be first to admit that her confidence would not be possible without the strong and supportive men in her life.  Growing up in a community in southern Punjab Province where women and girls were not allowed to leave the home or be educated, Saima’s father defied cultural norms and made sure that all five of his daughters received the same privileges as his two sons, including providing them with education.  In response to family members and neighbors who challenged the freedom he provided his daughters, Saima recalled her father responding, “These are not my daughters, these are my sons!” While studying at the university, Saima fell in love with a fellow student who had grown up in a rural village some 20 kilometers outside of the city where their university was located.  While his family was very traditional, this man shared the same values of Saima’s father and encouraged Saima to study hard to achieve her dreams of a successful career and family life.

With the blessing of her father, they were married soon after graduating from college, and now are living with Saima’s husband’s family in the rural village.  Before working as a hygiene promoter with FH’s local partner, Saima was a school teacher.  Since the beginning of her marriage, her in-laws have questioned why Saima is working rather than focusing on family life and having children.  In response to her in-laws’ challenges, Saima says, “I face them and I don’t lose my courage – this is very difficult and sometimes I feel discouraged – but my husband encourages me, and tells me to keep strong.”

Saima.

When Saima heard about the opportunity to work as a hygiene promoter among flood-affected families, she felt strongly that she needed to apply.  Two days after her interview, she found out that she was hired for the job.  She recalls her proud husband’s response when they received the news, “ ‘It is for your praying, for your courage, and for your patience,’ he told me.” Saima is thankful for her job and the opportunity to serve communities impacted by the floods.  She is hopeful that this is only the beginning.

“I have some dreams for my future,” she says.  “I want to live in the city and my husband and I want to establish our own home…that is why we are working hard together to achieve that future.” It was certainly clear to me on that first day in the field when I saw Saima confidently speak in front of a crowd of enraptured men that she was no ordinary Pakistani woman.  With the continued support of her husband, along with her determination and courage, I pray that Saima will continue to overcome obstacles and obtain that bright future that she is dreaming of.

* not her real name

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From mid-July through September 2010, heavy rains devastated communities spanning from the north to the south of Pakistan and caused the Indus River to overflow.  Nearly 20 million people were affected and more than one million homes were destroyed.  Food for the Hungry began responding in August through a trusted local partner, Interfaith League Against Poverty.  In September, FH received funding from USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance to provide 8,000 families in southern Punjab Province with essential non-food items (including hygiene kits, kitchen kits, jerry cans, buckets, mosquito nets, Aquatabs) and emergency shelter.  We also addressed water needs through the installation of new hand pumps.

Leena Samuel (Emergency Response Unit) and David Burton (Communications Officer for FH Bangladesh) traveled to Pakistan from February 14-23rd to assist ILAP with the close-out of the six-month grant received from OFDA.  This was the second trip to Pakistan for both Leena and David, who were sent to the country during the initial weeks of FH’s response to the floods.  For the next two weeks, the ERU blog will focus on their reflections from their week in Pakistan.

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By Pete Howard, Director of Emergency Response

Children in front of a temporary shelter.

It’s snowing here in Oxford, England where I am now based. I am sitting at my desk, with a cup of coffee, next to a heater looking out my window as the snow settles on the world outside. From this place of warmth it is quite a nice scene – cozy in fact. But since my job is to work with disasters around the world it is hard to enjoy the coziness without also thinking that there are some in the flood-affected areas of Northwest Pakistan right now that have a very different opinion of the snow.

It’s been several months now since I returned from Pakistan where Food for the Hungry has attempted to bring shelter and other essential items to people affected…but with the snow falling here in Oxford I can’t help but wonder once again about those still without shelter after the largest disaster in modern history in terms of people affected. How are they doing? I also wonder about their peace and security because while I was there several bombs went off not too far from places where our partners on the ground were working – and many people died. As if to highlight the lack of security, one of my Pakistani friends insisted that we have security as we traveled into the communities saying, “Pete, I pray for safety everyday and I will do whatever I can to protect you, but there are dangerous people here that don’t want us in these villages helping.” So as I sit in the warmth and safety of my home in Oxford, what do I do with the fact that countless Pakistanis are still without shelter as winter sets in and live with fear that another bomb will explode and take someone they love?

Maybe the best I can do this Christmas season is remember with prayer the beautiful words of promise found in the book of Isaiah, “for unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” May the people of Pakistan feel not only warmth and shelter from the onset of winter provided by generous donors and aid workers but also our prayers and the security that the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace can bring.

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Driving to the village of Malik Ibrahim, I felt uncertain what to expect. Weeks in the Pakistani capital, working on logistics, had kept me far from the hard edge of the recovery effort amongst the worst floods seen in Pakistan for decades.

It lies miles from the banks of the River Indus; but such has been the extent of the disaster in Pakistan that I knew it had been overrun by flood water. Stepping from the car, I was surprised to find cracked earth beneath my feet; isn’t this a flood zone?

Yes; and what I was seeing was the difficult truth of flood disasters. It’s not just that there’s too much water; it’s that there’s too much water in the wrong place. Once the water has left its course, there’s no controlling where it will go or what it will do. The sight of flooding is shocking because it’s the sight of a country bleeding internally.

Infrastructure is ruined by such a vast volume of water; floods do damage which remains long after the water has subsided. As we drove towards the village, irrigation trenches on one side of the road had been filled to overflowing; on the other side, they were empty and dry. This is a chaos which will ruin farmers for many months to come, whether they have been drenched or dried after the unpredictable torrent.

This has an even more desperate appearance in Malik Ibrahim. The land is watered by canals, which make this otherwise-arid land farmable. Situated a few miles from the intersection of two of these huge channels, the village was dealt a cruel blow in July. When the water of the floods swept from the mountainous north, down the plain to Malik Ibrahim, they overwhelmed the 10-foot deep canals, breaching them in a total of 11 places. A flood which would have reached a few miles from the banks of the Indus was given far greater reach, and the lives of thousands were ruined.

FH arrived in Malik Ibrahim in mid-September, and I was there to see distribution of our supplies to those most in need. The first step is to help people get a roof over their heads, then a meal, then a household – but the dispatch of these supplies is the culmination of several weeks’ hard work.

Houses have been destroyed – often made out of simple mud bricks, they have literally dissolved in the flood water – so we were giving out basic shelter kits. A few lengths of bamboo and some tarpaulin, some nails and some tools, and people can either put up entirely new houses, or repair and add to the remains of their existing homes.

This is crucial to good recovery. Homes are more than shelter – people need places they can rest. When their homes are destroyed, people lose everything which gives them a sense of belonging and stability. They cannot control their environment or ensure the security of their children, or cook for themselves, so we were also distributing hygiene and kitchen kits.

It was fascinating – and humbling – to see the supplies being handed over. Before reaching Malik Ibrahim, I had been working nearly 1,000 km away in the capital Islamabad. I had trawled warehouses and spent many hours negotiating prices to ensure that we could reach the largest possible number of people with the quality of aid they needed.

Over the course of several frustrating delays – including, incredibly, public holidays where no trucks could be found for distributing emergency aid – I had thought about these supplies until they lined up in my mind like numbers. 5,500 kits for 5,500 families, to reach a total of 44,000 people – yet in Malik Ibrahim, I was reminded with a bump that each one of those people was unique and desperately in need – yet also dignified and worthy of themselves, a child of God.

As always when working with beneficiaries of relief or development, I was humbled and silenced by the awareness that these people are not looking for hand-outs, or money for nothing. All they need is a helping hand to get them back on their feet after the most devastating event of their lives.

These supplies have helped with many people’s short-term insecurity. But sadly the ground around Malik Ibrahim is saturated and the water will be standing for many months. Crops will not be planted. Next year, when the attention of the world has turned away, millions of people in Pakistan will run out of food reserves, and they will need our help still as they continue to struggle, and bring themselves out of this affliction.

This is not the end of the story for Malik Ibrahim. There are many challenges ahead, and we pray that, with their new homes, the people here will find the beginnings of stability and recovery. We pray that we will be able to be here to help those most in need, as new challenges present themselves, and to help people to be part of their own recovery.

David Burton is an International Communications Officer with FH Bangladesh.

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Two children outside an FH shelter in Malik Ibrahim
Malik Ibrahim is far from any large settlements, and was not reached for many weeks as floods swept through Pakistan. FH, with our local partner Interfaith League Against Poverty, started distributions of crucial supplies there about a week ago, and I was there to see it.

Houses made only of mud bricks have been swept away, literally dissolving in the flood water. When they lose their homes, people not only lose shelter but also the central location in their lives. They cannot cook for themselves, or care for their families.
FH beneficiaries take away shelter, hygiene, and tool kits for their family on their donkey cart
We are distributing hygiene kits; kitchen kits to allow them to cook for themselves; tarps, bamboo and nails to let them build new shelter; and water-cleaning supplies to help them filter or purify the now-stagnant water which is the only thing they have to drink.
Children in Malik Ibrahim with a simple water filter in their home
When I arrived a distribution was ending, having reached another 200 families. A few yards away the families who had received kits a few days before had put up their shelters and were using their hygiene kits. Children played between the tents. In a few homes, new simple water filters sat attached to their buckets. The sun beat down, and it was good to see that these children would not have to quench their thirst by drinking from the standing water which lapped behind a mud barrier a few feet high just outside the village.

FH’s manager on the ground in Malik, Saleh Uddin, told me that a few days before a meeting had been held with a newly-formed local committee, educating the community about good health and sanitation practice. This is an important part of helping the helpless – not just those made homeless by the floods, but those who were powerless before. By engaging them, as well as local influential community figures in the decisionmaking process, we make them stakeholders in the change brought by lessons like these.

An FH Shelter next to a makeshift roof-and-no-walls cover made out of sticks

An FH shelter next to a makeshift roof-and-no-walls cover made out of sticks

Local people were engaged in their recovery from day one, moment one. Saleh Uddin writes ‘it was a really amazing day, to see local people participating like this’, and I saw the fruit of that just days later. It is so important, in recovery, to ensure that people, not provisions, are at the heart of the work. People must own their own recovery.

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Today, I watched the departure of the last of 26 huge trucks filled with aid depart the warehouse here in Islamabad. Traveling overnight, they will reach the town of Rahim Yar Khan over 500 miles of broken road, and arrive during tomorrow.

They carry, between them, material to give 1,800 families shelter, hygiene and kitchen supplies. They carry the means for families to start recovering their lives together. Eventually, FH will supply relief to 44,000 people – 5,500 families of 8.

Imagine being a householder living deep in the Pakistani wilderness, close to a levee which has not been maintained, unable to move for lack of money, waiting for the day that your house will be swept away, and your family be added to the numbers – 20 million – needing assistance in your nation.

Then one day the floods come, and you know that there is nothing that can be done. And you are lost, in a flood of rainwater and humanity.

I imagine this every day, because in order to get the people whose lives have been devastated – by these floods, by the disease that’s followed, by the breakdowns in society, by the loss of their homes – there is a lot of work to be done far from the area of damage.

I’m here working for Food for the Hungry, seconded from my day job as Communications Officer for FH Bangladesh to help with the intense process of giving shelter and clean water to 44,000 people in southern Punjab.

The first step is to help people get a roof over their heads, then a meal, then a household – but the dispatch of these supplies is the culmination of several weeks’ hard work. Helping people at this sort of scale takes a huge organisational effort of planning, ordering and management. This is stuff you don’t see on the news. But it’s been amazing to witness the amount of effort that is needed to even make a dent on the numbers of people suffering in Pakistan.

But recovery is a complicated, and often long, process. Pray for the people of Pakistan, and pray that we can go on to help more of them.

Dave Burton, ERU Communications in Pakistan

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