Abasen foundation have provided support to many displaced people who have been forced to leave their homes due to the security situation in North West Pakistan
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Registered Charity in England and Wales (1157009)
TALES OF HOPE Monday, July 20, 2009 Chris Cork The more I saw, the less it looked like a disaster. There was human suffering and tragedy to be sure; on a scale almost beyond comprehension. Countless lives have been lost, or shattered by injury and the loss of homes and businesses. The disruption for millions of ordinary people is beyond calculation and is going to take years and billions of dollars to repair. Finding bad news about the lives of the IDPs is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel ‚Äì open any newspaper or tune to any TV channel. Pointing the finger of blame or incompetence at any agency you care to name, governmental or otherwise, likewise presents no difficulty. It would have been easy for me to write about the failure of all and sundry; but there is another side to every story and even in this darkest of times there is light - even hope. For almost five years I have worked as the in-country consultant for the Abaseen Foundation, an NGO whose service delivery arm is in Pakistan and whose fundraisers are in the UK. They are aren‚Äôt big, rich or famous and go about their work with a minimum of fuss and fanfare. They have gained a reputation for reliability and when the IDP crisis developed they were one of several local NGO‚Äôs called to duty by the government. Spending two days looking in detail at what they had done over the last two and a half months was an education in the art of the possible. Thursday morning and the Health Cluster meeting in the committee room of the Health Secretariat, Peshawar. A dense, busy, and mostly well focused weekly gathering where participating agencies share information. Nobody panicked about anything, the agenda got properly covered, squabbles were minor and a lot of work got done in ninety minutes. Amongst the dragons they killed was a story aired by a private TV channel regarding an outbreak of cholera allegedly involving 300 people in Kalam. Wrong. About 50-60 people were affected by an outbreak of simple gastro-enteritis; a woman and child had died ‚Äì but they died of dehydration and not cholera. There was no epidemic and sloppy reporting had turned a routine and manageable situation into the crisis beloved of news-hungry TV channels. A multitude of other topics were covered, some in depth others less so ‚Äì medical screening for IDPs, the management of high-risk pregnancies, coordination or lack of it with the military, and unrealistic expectations on the part of returnees many of whom were experiencing levels of health care they had never had in their lives before. We dispersed just as the news of the murder of a well liked and respected UN official was breaking, a good man gunned down in a failed kidnap attempt. Larama camp cooked under a sun that spared nobody. Abaseen Foundation is providing the health input alongside UNICEF and a basket of other agencies. They also work with IDPs via social mobilisers who visit the over-800 tents regularly. A spirit of self-help is encouraged and was perhaps most evident in terms of the cleanliness of the camp generally. Tents are organized into groups of twenty and each family given an area for which they are responsible. One day out of twenty they clean their designated area. Apparently nobody has complained, the system works and the camp is almost a model of public hygiene and, according to a teacher I spoke to, considerably cleaner than Mingora city from whence he came. There is potable water on tap (yes, I drank it), a fan for every tent, street lighting, decent latrines, camp committees to oversee things like health services as well as planning ahead for the coming monsoon and organizing digging teams and implements; a fully-functional basic health service, a mother-and-child nutrition unit and a range of schools that are bursting at the seams. Children had banded together and set up an open-air shop selling sweets; a man had set up shop trading through a hole in his compounds‚Äô boundary sheeting. Home it wasn‚Äôt, and everybody had a grumble about something or other. But nobody was hungry and, at the end of a long hot day, an astonishing figure. Zero. Not a single woman or child has died as a result of complications of delivery since the camp opened. Now that really did make me sit up straight and pay attention. Friday morning and a tour of IDPs living off-camp in schools. There had been a severe outbreak of common sense on the part of whoever decided to cluster related families together in schools. Private, secure, facilities already installed and a (sort of) bricks and mortar home that was infinitely better than life in a tent. There were complaints about the quality of the flour they were given. I looked. Mostly husk. No complaints about health services, and we talked to a woman whose left leg was a mass of bolts and surgical steel. Terribly wounded, she had been brought to the Abaseen hospital at Nahaqi. They saved her leg and her life. Her cousin Sidra was in class nine and looking forward to going home and back to school. There was a moment when I had to turn away and gather myself together. It was our last visit, going to see an interesting family, I was told. The husband, uprooted and jobless had found himself daily work in the fields. His wife, a mother to eight, was found to be an expert seamstress but the poverty of the family had meant that she never had a sewing machine of her own. She does now. Abaseen bought one for her and gave it to her last Friday. I looked at her face as it was placed on the charpoy before her. There was a tear in her eye. And mine. The sewing machine she will take back with her will make a living for the family for years to come, and the look on her face said that she knew she had just been presented with the keys to a kingdom she had only ever dreamed of before. Several hundred very happy children gathered under tentage back at the camp for an event organized by Abaseen and UNICEF. Singers sang, and one small child said her times-table to thunderous applause and cheering. There were races with apples on the head and everybody won a prize. Health and cleanliness was the theme and each child took home a care-pack with toothpaste, toothbrush, prickly heat powder and a bar of soap. A couple of private TV channels came to cover what by any standards was a good-news story and I got on the bus back to Islamabad. Abaseen Foundation and the other agencies large and small governmental and non-governmental, have ensured that the IDP crisis, vast as it was and is, did not turn into a disaster. I could list the things they had got wrong and it would cover pages, but I could also list the things they got right and it would cover more pages than the list of mistakes and follies. I‚Äôm going to Swat in six weeks to see how the lady with the sewing machine is doing and if Sidra ever got back to school. Watch this space.
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