“JOURNEYING WITH THE FLOOD AFFECTED PEOPLE LIVING BY
THE SUPERHIGHWAY in HYDERABAD, SINDH, PAKISTAN”
by Sister Rebecca Conlon
Note ‘MOVING ON’ and ‘CONSTRUCTION WORK STARTED’ paragraphs below!
We, four Columban Sisters, working in Sindh Province, wish to thank the people of Ireland for all their generous contributions towards our flood-affected people here in Pakistan. Last August we had 20 million people on the move with one third of the nation (the size of England) under water. At the moment we cannot get Japan out of our minds because these tragic events change the whole life of a nation.
Over the past eight months we have been accompanying and providing flood relief to 118 families. They are living in the open desert which is a flat plain of sand, stones and dust with thorn bushes providing the only vegetation, just off the Super Highway from Hyderabad to Karachi. These families have no access to water, electricity or gas. They came with nothing but the bare necessities of life that also included a few cows and goats that they own communally. They belong to a Balochi Tribal group with a strong extended family/communal structure. They worked and lived as share croppers on land owned by a landlord. This meant that they got a percentage of the harvest, with the remainder going to the landlord. If the crops failed, they lost their means of livelihood and had to borrow from the landlord for their daily needs and therefore ended up being bonded to him until their debts were repaid.
These particular families recalled for us their terrible ordeal of being evicted by the flood waters. A young man captured the whole experience on his mobile phone, and from it we get a clear record of their whole ordeal of the flood. Firstly we see them looking aghast at the water gushing into their land, then we see their cotton crop being swallowed up in the flood and lastly, we see their landlord and his family making a great escape as they take off in their fleet of PRADOS, PAJEROS, etc… ten cars in all, at high speed, on the top of the bank. Through the dust flying in the air we can see our people trying to retrieve their string beds from their houses which were becoming submerged in the water. The landlord did not stop to ask ‘Are you ok?’ … Who would want to go back to these landlords?
We began by giving them a cooked meal because these families on the Super Highway had not eaten for three days Since then we have provided food supplies to each family on a weekly basis costing us about €2,500 per week. The family size varies from eight to twenty people on average, so each week we fed approximately 1,000 people. The signs of severe malnutrition in both women and children revealed that they were living at subsistence level even before the floods. We did our best to respond to their health needs.
We distributed tents, blankets, (500 of which we got from Ireland Aid through Trocaire, Ireland) and a trunk for each family which included bedding, mattresses, towels, clothing, crockery, sweaters, shawls and shoes. We gave charpois (string beds), sewing machines, water drums and coolers, charcoal stoves and games for all (footballs, cricket bats etc.) The total cost of these items to date is €27,107.
We also reached out to other families affected and on Christmas morning as we returned home from Mass there was Gullu, a man who had received a trunk, coming with a cake. It was a very touching moment to see this Muslim coming back, saying ‘thanks’ early on Christmas morning.
We started an Income Generating Scheme with the women and young ladies in the camp who are very gifted in handiwork and hopefully, through this, they will become self-sufficient. At present it helps them to provide for some of their families’ most basic needs. Each family received a sewing machine and to date, the ladies have received over €680 for their work. This is their road to dignity and independence. It is obvious that the women are transformed in spirit because with great joy and pride they come with their handiwork when we visit the camp. We pay them a good wage for each item because this is the only income for the family. Little girls, aged between eight to twelve years, are also part of this project together with their mothers and grandmothers! We have about 32 women on our list.
After four months of emergency relief, it was time to help our families to move on with their lives. To date they have got no help from either the Government or NGO’s. The people expressed their desire for a plot of land which would enable them to preserve their family/communal/tribal identity. Our Project Manager sought out a suitable place for them so that they could move on with dignity. On New Year’s Day we were in possession of all the legal land titles and deeds. This was indeed a great omen for us moving into the New Year. This cost €146,364 and thanks to you, our generous benefactors, we were able to purchase it.
CONSTRUCTION WORK STARTED:
On 11th February, 2011, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, we started to build 40 single-storey, two-roomed houses, with kitchen, bathroom and a small outer courtyard. These will be allocated to those most in need and who have no livelihood to go back to. The cost of one completed house is approximately €5,000, making the total cost of the housing project €200,000. Some of this has already been received through donations, but there is a still a need for more. In addition the people have to be helped to sow their crops, and the livelihood projects need support until they become enough to sustain the families who are engaged in them.
The scale of the relief effort is so enormous that it is hard to take it in, especially when one thinks of the millions of people who are in a similar plight to the Balochi people. The people we work with are a very small part of the whole, but journeying with them has been an Exodus experience both for them and for us who have been privileged to accompany them to a Promised Land on the outskirts of our city Hyderabad.
This is due in large measure, to the very generous donations we have received from you, the people of Ireland.
The welfare of the children and the elderly…..is constantly kept in mind.