“The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” – Einstein
By Farrah Naz, Photographs by Farrah Naz
hat fateful Saturday of the earthquake in Pakistan is probably etched in the minds Pakistanis both at home and across the world forever– like BBC so very aptly put it ‘a generation lost’ – Over ninety thousand people perished and more than fifty thousand were injured by the earthquake that devastated the northern areas of Pakistan where entire villages were destroyed and countless people buried alive. Centered about 95 kilometers north-east of the capital Islamabad, the tremors were intense in Pakistani Kashmir, northern Pakistan and central Punjab including Islamabad and Lahore. The first quake was followed by a series of aftershocks of magnitudes between 5.4 and 5.9 for days after.
I usually wake up quite late in the morning, and it takes loud ‘wake up’ calls to get me out of bed in time to make my early appointments. But on that day I was up with just the first jolt as everything shook around me. My stomach churned when I saw my children were not in their beds, and I ran out of my bedroom screaming for my husband to get them out of the house. Just then it stopped. My two-and-a-half year old, completely oblivious to what had happened, saw my panic stricken face and immediately asked an innocent, ‘kya hua mama’. I picked her up and said, ‘earthquake baby – danger!’ using a word she understands well. Her face transformed with worry as she sensed my tension.
By this time the television news coverage had started, with all channels reporting the collapse of Margalla Towers. Pictures of people attempting to rescue those trapped under the concrete and the injured being carried away on stretchers was beamed into our homes. As more news started coming in from other cities and towns, the scale of the devastation became more apparent. The initial situation in Pakistan seemed chaotic as the country tried to come to grips with the tragedy. The international community responded to Pakistan’s call for assistance, and as a Pakistani, I am truly grateful to those people who put their lives on hold to help us. Pakistanis turned out in droves to help too, and while there were scattered stories of unsavory incidents, there were tales of great heroism as the country rallied together to do whatever they could to help.
The rescue operation is now over, and the challenge is now one of meeting the needs of the survivors. About four million people have been left homeless as a result of the earthquake. Many of whom are women and children. While a number of aid agencies have targeted the population as a whole, there are few organizations working specifically for this vulnerable group. One such group working privately is an NGO comprising of a dynamic young group of some very ‘Purpose Driven Women’ called the ‘Friends of Children’. Why I feel completely impressed by them is the fact that these are women with families and lives of their own, yet here they are still making time to junket up north every chance they get to help out. One of the group is a friend and I know about their fund-raising for Children’s Hospital, Lahore, which they have been in actuality, involved with for the last eight years – (with their plans all truly inspiring) Their Fundraising solicitations are truthful and smart, and accurately reflect their mission. These women have the advantage of social influence and connections, and operate with a promise to allocate funding wisely, and to respect the dignity of beneficiaries of their assistance. As such, they avoid exaggerating their successes, and have focused on accurately reflecting their mission by ensuring truth in solicitation for funding, and delivering results that are meaningful and honest.
For instance raising funds for the Children’s Hospital, Lahore has been an on – going process, where they plan to establish a rest house/saraiay which will be called ‘Saaiya’ (roof ). This will provide accommodation for family members of poor patients who travel down to Lahore from all over Pakistan and end up on the Hospital grounds while they wait for extensive medical investigations and treatment. Two members of Friends of Children provide medicines worth three hundred thousand rupees per month from their own pocket for needy patients, while another member, the President of the Group Noveen Amjad set up a free Diabetic Ward for Children, the only one of its kind in Pakistan, all on her own. Noveen Amjad not only runs it but she herself also funds it. Anyway when I heard there was a lot of activity going on for the earthquake relief I ended up at my friend Shazia’s house one evening to do my bit and perhaps get a first-hand account of what is really happening in the effected areas and we had our chat during the course of which I decided to write about them. I found myself completely in awe of all they have done and are planning to do….the chat ended more of an interview. I asked her about where on earth had this idea of forming an NGO come from with such a demanding life that she already has and she told me that she herself and Noveen Amjad who are the founder members founded ‘Friends of Children’ eight years ago – It was a chance happening with each of them with a sick child on different occasions and after a visit to Children’s Hospital, and on exchanging notes later, decided that there were opportunities to help other children through the hospital.
Other friends joined the group, i.e., Humeira Sohail, Iram Omer, Asiya Sheikh and Mehreen Humayun bringing the total permanent members number to eight (There are also a few silent members who put in time whenever it’s possible for them i.e., Kausar Humayun Akhtar, Semeira Arif Zahoor, Sabahat and Sameera Mahmud). Shazia says that they are beginning to really enjoy themselves and they find that the experience of being able to help people in distress can be very satisfying, and a comfort for the spirit.
Shazia says that though she has been involved in helping others for some time, but ever since the Earthquake her outlook on life has changed completely. Her priorities have changed, and life has a different meaning for her now, ‘We are running after all kinds of things in life and suddenly you die so what is all the effort for – why are we not living our lives working on making those we care about and people around us happy and comfortable instead’.
To her the earthquake has been the strongest wake up call, and her mission in life is now only to help those less fortunate. I asked her to describe the feeling and she said, ‘Death like silence and mourning – an air of disbelief. The People were in a trancelike state – it was a very deep emotional and psychological stoned look – Death in their eyes! Like Doomsday had come to them – families left incomplete, some having lost limbs with no family members left to care for them, orphaned children, women who probably never left their houses are left all alone in the world to fend for themselves with absolutely no idea of how to take care of themselves along with countless old people.’
Friends of Children began their relief work on October 14th with 8 containers making up their convoy, which was headed by Erum and some of the other prominent members Shameel (Erum’s Husband) Shazia Malik, Noveen. All of them mobilized their families and friends into helping them put together goods worth lacs of rupees including medicines, bedding, food items, tents and warm clothing. Erum, Shazia and Noveen distributed cash in envelopes to the victims of the earthquake in Ayub medical Complex and CMH Abbotabad. They visited some rest homes created by the Government at Muzaffarabad Kashmir, Balakot, and Mansehra and were accompanied by the Assistant Commissioner of Abbotabad. They distributed medicines to the field camps. Some team members i.e. Shameel Alam along with ‘Sanghi’ another NGO went to Batal to create a tent city and he incidentally was so perturbed by the experience that ended up selling one of his beloved horses to be able to help pay for some of the expenses. Doctor Sajjid Maqbool (The Head of Children’s Hospital) opened a pediatric ward in Muzaffarabad hospital and Batgaram hospital along with UNICEF, and ‘Friends of Children’ has been helping him provide better health facilities. They donated a truck to help in the transportation of the injured and doctors to remote areas.
According to ’Friends of Children’, the main issues that need attention after the earthquake are the plight of the orphans, the Handicapped, the widows (beSahara women), and the Homeless who are left with no financial resources. Shazia feels that while the Government is trying to do its best, the sheer magnitude of the task requires a coordinated effort. This could come about if the Government plans out an operation and includes NGOs and other private organizations in one team that acts in a cohesive and integrated fashion. The mission should focus on providing the affected population with the wherewithal to reconstruct their lives, because when the aid and the media are gone, these people will have to survive on their own, with dignity and respect. ■
This article was originally published in the print edition of the “The Knit-Xtyle Fashion Review,” Tkfr issue 13, January 2006