Today, October 8th 2015, marks the 10th anniversary of the South Asia earthquake which struck Kashmir and northern Pakistan. More than 80,000 people died and 4 million were left homeless. Kamran Uddin was among a group of UK volunteers who went with Islamic Help as part of an emergency response. These are his memories.
It was an experience that even now, after a decade, I still can’t comprehend. There was so much going on at the time. It’s a weird sensation reminiscing about it now as I am able to remember the journey, yet, at the same time it all feels like a blur.
I was a full-time teacher turning 21 at the time. I was part of Islamic Help’s core group of volunteers, helping out in any capacity whenever needed.
We have to remember that at the time Islamic Help had only been in existence for just over 2 years and it was run only by volunteers, some of whom had full time jobs while others were students. There were no paid staff members.
Not being of Pakistani background [both my parents are from Bangladesh], yet being brought up among a lot of my friends, colleagues and mentors who were from Pakistan, I could see their pain and their determination to help out in any way possible.
I remember being told I was going to Pakistan to help out. It was my first ever overseas deployment and to be very frank I didn’t have a clue as to what I would be doing there that would be of benefit. Luckily for the ‘inexperienced way in over my head’ me, I was fortunate to be around some very level-headed individuals who helped me ease into the necessary tasks, a good core of people that I could learn off. This helped me apply myself in the best way possible.
Although there are a lot of things to talk about from that journey, there were two of major importance; one was a harsh but valuable lesson, and the other a treasured memory.
A Harsh Lesson
In the early stages of the emergency relief phase, tents were being handed out to the victims of the earthquake who had lost their homes in the disaster. They would come to the distribution areas and take away tents to provide shelter for their family.
Unfortunately this provided an opportunity for some people to misuse the trust and efforts of the people and abuse the aid delivery system.
Tents were handed out on the understanding that they were being used to shelter victims and their families; instead, they were being taken by some and sold on the markets for personal gain at treble the price.
This absolutely shocked me. It burst a bubble. It was a scenario that I thought was not possible. I was dismayed and angered. How could people do this at such a time? It was a sad state of a combination of poverty and greed that had led to these deceitful actions and it’s something that really opened my eyes.
It was my first taste of a harsh reality that I had been protected from. This is something that has really stayed with me till this day.
The Treasured Memory
To end things on a more
positive note, the work that the team and I did at Al-Shifa Eye
Hospital was definitely among my best moments. During the aftermath
of the disaster, we were allowed us to use a ward at the specialist
hospital to operate on victims from the earthquake.
An operating theatre was set up dealing with all kinds of wounds and procedures such as amputations, skin grafts, limb braces etc.The injuries and wounds were horrific to say the least.
Throughout certain parts of the ward you would get this constant odour of decayed flesh, something that we had to get used to very quickly. Doctors and nurses from all over the world were flying in to provide as much medical help as possible.
In the midst of all the chaos, amongst these casualties – men, women and children, some with limbs missing, others with braces holding their arms or legs in place, the majority of them with their wounds bandaged, away from their homes, families and friends, some of whom they had lost to the disaster – I saw something that I didn’t expect to see. A smile.
Why were these people able to smile through all this hardship? How were these children still able to play through this ordeal? Their strength of character really took me by surprise.
I got on with a lot of the victims having spoken to most, if not all of them, about their traumatic experience and giving them the opportunity to speak to someone and to offload.
However, there was one particularly child who I really struck a beautiful bond with. No older than 2 years with golden brown hair, a bandage around his hand and a beautiful smile, the ‘rice-loving’ Sheryaar was a bundle of joy and pleasure to be around.
He may not have been old enough to understand and realise the magnitude of the event or his losses, but he helped me appreciate the simpler way of life and what little it takes to make someone smile in these pockets of the world.
Ten years on, I pray that the victims have found some form of solace. I pray that they have found their way and are able to appreciate the more humble things in life that we take for granted time and time again. I hope, somewhere out there, a young boy by the name of Sheryaar is enjoying his days of adolescence to the fullest.