Today, Pakistan Is a Different Place


Blog by Thomas Schwarz of CARE Germany-Luxemburg, May 22, 2009

It”s been two and a half years since I last visited Pakistan. At that time, I was in the valley of Allai, in the north western part of the country. In October 2005, a massive earthquake struck the province. I visited the region twice: right after the disaster and a year later. CARE was able to help, in great part due to donations. Together, with the affected population, we built new schools – ones that many girls attend for the first time. This continues to be a big step, because girls” education is not a given in this part of the world. In cooperation with Pakistani engineers, CARE offered trainings for housing construction so that buildings would be more stable and, hopefully, not collapse when another earthquake hits the region. With CARE”s support, Pakistani experts also built ditches in order to support agricultural activities.
At that time, I met a man in the valley of Allai who told me something I haven”t forgotten since: that before the aid workers came, he didn”t know that strangers could also become friends.

At first, the people in the mountains of Pakistan seemed totally foreign, their home land like a terra incognita to us. By now, we have gotten to know each other. The people have very old traditions and are extremely religious. I feel at ease with them.

Today, not far from the valley of Allai, in the Swat valley, people are in great danger again. Millions and millions are fleeing their homes and running for hours to escape fighting. Because they are still within their own country, we call them “internally displaced persons" rather than “refugees.’ But, nevertheless, they are on the run trying to escape the violence. Two and a half years ago, Pakistan suffered from a natural disaster. Today, it is not nature but a human-made catastrophe.

The figures that circulate are changing on a daily basis, but the United Nations estimates that most likely almost 1.5 million people are on the run. For now, most of them find shelter in the homes of family or friends. Many of my CARE colleagues have family or friends who are affected by the situation. Along with Islamic Relief, CARE provided first aid to 500 families, the equivalent of 3,700 individuals. They received kitchen sets, hygiene kits, plastic mats, shawls for women and men, mosquito nets and family tents. Compared to the total number of victims, that is not a lot. But it is a start, and the support provided will change the living conditions of these families. CARE and the other relief agencies working in the region urgently need support to scale up their activities.

The country I come from has not known war for more than five decades. Germany is spoiled in that respect; most of us know nothing but peace. I wish that my people - and all the others living in wealthy and peaceful parts of the world - will show solidarity for the people in Pakistan, who so suddenly have become victims of war. I came to Pakistan to help spread this message.