The Spirit of the Pakistani People


Blog by Thomas Schwarz of CARE Germany-Luxemburg, May 28, 2009:

It is about noon up here in the northwestern province, or maybe a little later. In one of the camps for displaced people we meet a teacher, who is now volunteering to help his fellow countrymen. He tells us his story: "When all of the refugees arrived, I did not hesitate. I contacted the government to register as a volunteer. 'What can I do,' I asked them. 'How can I help?'"

It amazes me how many Pakistanis volunteer to improve the situation for the displaced people. This teacher of politics and English is one of many I have met who show an astonishing solidarity with the ones in need. Somehow, this reminds me of the readiness to help each other after natural catastrophes like floods or earthquakes. Many people even ask their employers for time off work so they can work for aid agencies, the United Nations or the local government. It is the help of all of these people that is much needed, irreplaceable and a great act of humanity.

12,000 people squeezed into one camp

We are visiting a camp that originally was designed to accommodate 7,000 people. Nobody would have ever thought that this would not be enough to house all of the displaced people, especially because there are many camps around. By now this camp houses, according to official data, more than 10,000 people. Others estimate the number of displaced people in the camp to be as high as 12,000. Security is deployed not only at the entrance but also within the camp, giving the exhausted people a feeling of being protected.

The manager of the camp warmly welcomes us and tells us about the overall situation. Workers at the camp set up two transformers and are in the process of setting up a third one. They hope to supply all the present occupants with electricity.

A big problem is that there are only 400 toilets for everybody. Even though there are 200 more being built at the moment, this still will not be enough.

"These people know how it feels like to lose everything," says the camp manager. "None of them knows how life will go on, what the future brings. They have no idea of what is coming."

That was also my impression when I spent some time with the displaced people. One special incidence was when I met the three sisters, Shazia (18), Saima (16) and Kashmala (6). Having a high fever, Kashmala lies on the ground, huddled in a corner of the tent.

"She is traumatized," the man who is translating for me says. "It is just too much for the children. For this little girl it is especially hard."

Twelve square meters for five people

This tent measures only twelve meters square. This is really not big for a family consisting of five people. A fan offers some relief from the humidity. Luckily, the power is working right now. I am not yet seated when they already turn the fan towards me to give me some comfort. The mother asks me where I come from. When I say I am from Germany, she tells me that her cousin is living in Germany.

"He is a doctor," she says. "If you have any kind of medical problem, you should contact him. He will be of help." She then hesitates. "Unfortunately, I cannot give you his number right now. I have it in our home. I will send it to you as soon as we get back."

A very small mat made out of a material that looks like rubber catches my eye. "We are waiting for sleeping pads," the mother says. Some they carried from their home in Banikot Savat. Still, they do not have enough mats for everybody.

They invite me for tea. They also promise me that their cousin, the doctor in Germany, will help me whenever I am sick. That is just how they are, the Pakistanis. That is how I have always appreciated them. Most of them are – compared to our standards – very poor. On top of that, 2.5 are now escaping from a war. Despite this, even with strangers they have just met, they remain friendly and open-minded. What moves me most is how hospitable and helpful they are. But right now it is them who urgently need our help.

And they need our help now. In two or three weeks, it will be too late.