Support play in Pakistan

Following the devastating floods in Pakistan 2010, a team of rugby students at Beaconhouse National University (BNU), Lahore, co-ordinated with military and facilitated a student relief project to aid an affected village. They are led by English Literature lecturer and former Pakistan fly half, Jawad Haroon (Jay), with support coming from local rugby players, students and his brother, the ubiquitous Khuram (Special K).

Our involvement in the BNU flood relief work had been filled with exceptions, privilege and bitter disappointment. We had opted out of 1,500km cycling and set foot on a plane from Dubai. It may have been feasible to cycle from Karachi, but this wouldn’t have presented us opportunity to see the work first hand. To reach Sandeela, the BNU chosen village in the flood zone, we endured a 9 hour bus ride from Lahore whilst the obligatory chain smokers in the team of students puffed away endlessly on various tobacco blends. The ride was choking and uncomfortable, and was an entire world away from the freedom and choice that we love about cycling. Our base camp however was a primary school situated an hour from the flood areas, very safe, and a comfortable place to rest for a few hours before our final launch. We arrived around 4am and slept in separate rooms before our 7am launch, which in over 5 months, was the first time that Jodie had been out of my sight for more than a bathroom break. Finally, we arrived at the field, and set up 2 camps, around 2km apart. The first was an entertainment camp, where games were setup as a method of distributing toys, clothes and books to the children and families, the second, a medical camp in collaboration with the military.

Pods of architects assessed construction needs whilst psychiatrists conducted interviews with queuing patients. By chance, the team included a young qualified doctor who had been visiting family in Pakistan prior to the floods. He worked relentlessly through the remaining daylight hours to treat patients, assisted by two novice pharmaceutical assistants, who not only required the name of the drugs required, but the colour of the box they were contained within. Despite the two English amateurs, the camp provided much needed medical attention to a segment of rural Pakistan that has long since been forgotten. Many afflictions were not caused by the flood, but conditions that locals had been living with for much of their lives, some cases tragic and now beyond cure. The young Dr Omer Khokhar conducted diabetes screening on all patients, identifying several cases of severe type 1. It was an important task in identifying and recognising the underlying causes of other illness. We felt extremely privileged to have been in his company and would have helped for days given the chance.

As drugs were prescribed to the sick, children down the road screamed with excitement as our toy distributors ran rugby and ball games in a circus-like marquee. Most queued orderly, at least until they discovered ways of creeping under the canvas, and by the end of the day the volunteers were defeated by the innovative ways these children infiltrated the toy distribution. It was a fantastic afternoon and made a huge short term impact on many lives, not to mention our own.

As the day concluded and the military retreated to base, the BNU unit rejoined in preparation for the following day. Toys, clothes and drugs were locked down in a local secure house, and we returned to the school with a morning departure set for 7am. Awaiting a 5am wakeup call we bed down on the floor and looked ahead to a full day in the field. There had been many patients turned away at sunset, and many more with serious conditions that required further examination.

Morning came, and as I awoke I sensed that it was already later than 5am. As I stepped outside to light the stove, one of the students broke the devastating news to me. In the night, there had been a high level security threat, the military had not only informed all relief projects to leave the area, but were evacuating themselves too. I didn’t want to believe the news, the previous day had been inspiring, and in just a few hours we had sensed what could be achieved in an entire day. Now, there was to be no opportunity and we would have to withdraw with immediate effect. In just a moment the whole project had been put on ice, and we had no choice but to reboard the bus for a 12 hour return.

Today’s international news focuses on terrorism and controversy, and so part of our mission had been to feed back more inspiring stories, of courage and sacrifice in adversity. Ironically, our trip had served to further highlight the problems. So much effort and coordination had gone into getting aid to the many suffering, and although the experience hadn’t been overshadowed, it had certainly been tarnished. We hope that the BNU team are able to get back to the field soon and continue with their invaluable mission.

If you would like to find out more about the BNU flood relief project visit:

http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Bnu-wide-Student-Faculty-Flood-Relief-Appeal/117813354934192

In collaboration with “Resettling the Indus”

http://resettlingtheindus.wordpress.com/

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