Pakistan: Home no longer exists

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

by Saskia Bolt, ICCO

Karachi, a city of 16 million people. It was there that a partner of ACT Alliance member ICCO found itself in a completely new situation following the floods.

Near the office of an ICCO partner, a refugee camp shot up in the months after the floods. The ICCO partner established a temporary school, dedicated itself to clean water and created a health centre in the camp.

They've never done relief work before but felt they had to do something when the survivors were so near them, literally. Some workers now devote their time doing relief work.

In this camp, 1200 families were crammed in. The school and the doctor could be found in the factory building.

Children’s voices echoed through the empty corridors of the grand, but run-down buildings. Sitting on rugs, hundreds of children received free education. Teachers often lived in the camp themselves. The children got homework every day.

Some families drove 13 hours to come here, about 700km, leaving behind everything and had almost nothing to go back to.

The school offered a certain rhythm to the days and freed parents of the burden of responsibility of looking after their children all day. The school was an enormous chance for the children, none of whom had ever been to school.

The free healthcare was in great demand. Three nurses saw about 300 people a day. Most people here were in general better off than they were before the flood. But what totally bound them was their lack of plans for the future. They were very much a people with nothing to go home to.

Tagul, 38, has lived in the camp since August last year. She has nine children and lives in the apartment together with four grandparents. They lost their four acres of land and 17 goats and had to travel 13 hours to come to this camp. The ICCO partner supplied them hygiene kits containing oil, soap, Vaseline, washbasins and washing powder.

Four of her children go to school in the camp. Tagul’s husband found a job as a taxi driver in Karachi. There is no better alternative than staying in the camp at the moment but Tagul is happy she doesn’t have to work the land any more. Farming was strenuous, women were unsafe and the work left little time for caring for the children. In the camp, living conditions are better than before. Moreover, the children are fine in the camp and feel safe, she says.

Just outside Karachi, an enormous sandy plane is filled with rickety tents, struggling to stay upright under a fierce wind.

This is an unofficial camp, in which the ICCO partner has set up a school and a hospital. Aveel and Nedie are the young parents of three beautiful children, and little Mehdi was born here. They drove for hours on a truck to get here, having heard that they would find help here. Besides, Nedie’s parents were already here. Home for them no longer exists. It was very difficult for the heavily pregnant Nedie after arriving in the camp but she managed to get to the ICCO partner hospital to give birth. However, their plans for the future remain terribly unclear.