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Overcoming personal tragedies to help others in Pakistan


Overcoming personal tragedies to help others in Pakistan

The South Asia earthquake destroyed and ripped families apart. But despite enormous personal loss and hardship, some Pakistanis are drawing on their inner strength to help others deal with the tragedy. Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency has now delivered more than 2,000 tonnes of relief supplies to Pakistan to help the earthquake survivors.
2 November 2005
Sanam Ara (left) lost her family in the earthquake and is now volunteering at the kindergarten in Bassian camp, northern Pakistan.

BALAKOT, Pakistan, November 2 (UNHCR) - Looking at 16-year-old Sanam Ara at work, it's hard to imagine that she lost her entire family less than a month ago.

"Spending time with the children is fun. I am really enjoying my time here," says the young kindergarten teacher at Bassian camp in Balakot, northern Pakistan.

The higher secondary school student lost her parents and brother in Balakot town on October 8. "The earthquake flattened all houses in the town, leaving only debris around," she recalls. The earthquake, the worst in Pakistan's history, claimed some 73,000 lives and displaced around 3 million people in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and North-West Frontier Province.

The inner strength that Ara has gathered to overcome her personal tragedy after the life-shattering experience of losing her family is immense and unbelievable.

"I am now living in the camp with my uncle's family," she says, helping a four-year-old child in the tent school to work on a colouring book. "When I volunteered for this kindergarten class, I was told that I have to help these children to overcome the trauma of the earthquake."

She adds that time flies by whenever she is in the school. But once back in her tent, she feels the void in her life. "It all changed in a minute - a month ago I was together with my family and now there is none."

Ara is among millions of people who are trying to come to terms with the tragedy of the killer earthquake.

"The resilience of these people is amazing, they have certainly not given up hope," says Colonel Atif Shafiq of the Pakistan army, who is in charge of Bassian camp. "Soon after we established the camp with UNHCR support, survivors started to come from all sides of the camp. A few days after the earthquake, life seemed to start all over again. It seems that people here are now looking towards the future."

The kindergarten school in Bassian camp now has more than 100 students and is managed by UNICEF's local partner, the Society for Sustainable Development. The NGO also provides water together with Action Against Hunger, while South Korea's Centre for Emergency Response is setting up kitchens to provide hot meals. The International Medical Corps has set up tents for basic health care.

Home to more than 2,000 people, Bassian camp is one of 12 temporary camps where UNHCR is coordinating relief efforts with the Pakistan military, non-governmental organisations and charities. As part of the collective UN response to help Pakistan after the earthquake, the UN refugee agency is overseeing camp management in affected areas - providing relief items and technical support in site planning and camp management, while bringing in NGO partners to provide services like water, sanitation, health care and education.

"We have been working closely with the government of Pakistan for 25 years to help Afghan refugees, and we remain committed to help Pakistan through these difficult times," says Guenet Guebre Christos, UNHCR Representative in Pakistan.

Since the earthquake struck, the UN refugee agency has rushed some 2,000 tonnes of relief supplies, including urgently needed tents, blankets and plastic sheeting, to Pakistan from its global and regional stockpiles. A massive joint UNHCR/NATO airlift of 860 tonnes of emergency supplies from Incirlik airbase in southern Turkey over the last two weeks is expected to be completed in the coming days with over 90 per cent of the supplies already transferred to Pakistan.

Under the UN flash appeal of US$549 million, UNHCR has asked for $30 million to continue its camp management work for the next six months. To date, it has received $5.7 million in pledges, and has already spent more than $5 million out of the $7.6 million on loan from its operational reserves. If more funds do not come soon, the agency may be forced to slow down the pace of relief work in camps.

By Babar Baloch in Balakot, northern Pakistan