There were shy looks and even a few tears from the children when the group of strangers entered the small room and plopped ourselves on the floor. It wasn’t surprising. I got the feeling that the children probably didn’t see too many foreign visitors in their town, a remote village in the cornfields of
As we sat and spoke with women at the counseling session on a warm day in Pakistan last week, it was clear to me that these women knew what they wanted—for themselves, for their families, and especially for their children. About 20 women, some in bright shalwar kamaz and others in dark burkas, sat under the shade next to a health facility. We discussed a topic important to millions of women the world over: how to build their families and plan for the future by thinking carefully about when to have children.
I was frankly surprised at the openness and candor of the women as I asked them sensitive questions about the decisions they make themselves and with their husbands, and the pros and cons of the available options. Pakistan remains a conservative society in many ways, but here the women demonstrated knowledge and understanding about the issue, and recognized how important it is to have the right to make reproductive decisions for their families. A mother’s choices have dramatic impact on the well-being of her children, which is why Save the Children works on the issue of family planning
with women around the world. For any mother, the health of her children—especially newborns—is affected by the age at which a mother first gives birth, adequate time between births, and the number of children she has.
This session was part of a comprehensive project Save the Children is implementing with the government in Haripur district, which rehabilitates health units to provide basic health services for pregnant mothers and newborns. The facility we visited earlier in the day is one of the most impressive facilities I have seen anywhere in the world at the primary care, or village, level. The spotlessly clean unit is staffed by two female doctors and several nursing staff as well as a pharmacist. A warehouse stocked with supplies is available on-site and the facility provides services 24/7 as needed. Women come here for prenatal visits, for family planning counseling and products, and to give birth in a simple, clean and safe facility with excellent care. Three women were in labor the day I visited and when I saw the care they received, I knew I would have felt comfortable having one of my own children there. In fact, in this district, almost 30% of mothers choose to give birth in the two primary care units that are part of this program. The other 71 facilities in the area account for about 60% of births and a small percentage of women go to district level hospitals. Clearly, many women in Haripur are choosing the quality and service they now find right in their own communities.
The challenge for our team in Pakistan now is how to expand our efforts beyond the two model centers, working with the government to implement the improvements we’ve made here across the entire district. We need to bring this effective model of health services to other poor communities where far too many children are still dying in the first critical month of life. If you would like to learn more about our maternal and newborn health programs, and the local health workers who are making a difference, please click here.
Alex Grey, Deputy Team Leader, Save the Children – Pakistan
Friday, January 28, 2011
Six months after the severe floods devastated the whole of Pakistan from the north to the south, an area greater that Great Britain, the crisis for Pakistan’s children is far from over. Cases of disease and malnutrition are increasing; millions are without adequate clothing and shelter during the freezing cold winter nights and in the worst-hit region, the southern province of Sindh, large areas still remain underwater. Many farmers will not be able to plant winter crops, meaning their livelihoods and access to food in the coming months and years is severely affected. Government officials say some of the worst-affected areas could take up to six months to dryout.
I recently arrived in Pakistan to take over as the deputy team leader for Save the Children’s flood emergency response. I decided to take the role after visiting in October, almost three months on from the floods, when I saw what a massive crisis this was (something that did not come across in the global media the same way that the Haiti earthquake crisis had earlier in the year). I had recently returned from Haiti, which was hit by the astonishingly devastating earthquake in January earlier that year, and I had not expected to land in Pakistan and see a disaster on the scale of which I did. After spending two weeks with the extremely hard working and dedicated team here in Pakistan who launched and were in the middle of a massive (and somewhat successful from Save the Children’s part) response, and after being confronted with such a massive crisis on the ground and seeing the dire need here in Pakistan, I knew I wanted to come back and work here.
Having just arrived into my new role, and having went into the field and spent two weeks in Punjab and in Sindh, the worst hit by the floods, I realize there is still a massive amount to do to restore the lives of the flood affected communities, and I worry that things will not improve in Pakistan for a very long time. I say this, because I have sat and chatted with children in our temporary learning centres and child friendly spaces (huge tents that we constructed to replace damaged schools where kids come together, learn and play in a safe environment) and heard from them how, that even when the school building was there before the floods, they had not attended school in two years because the government-paid teachers had not come to teach them. If this was the case before the floods, I fear what the future will look like for these children. That’s why Save the Children has ambitious aims.
During my first two weeks in the field, I spent a lot of time in flood affected communities with children and parents hearing their stories about what happened during the floods, in the immediate aftermath and listening to and observing their needs now, 6 months on. One of the most pressing and immediate needs that children and parents alike conveyed to me time and again was still shelter, warm clothing and blankets. It’s warm and sunny in the days, but bitterly cold in the evenings – I have experienced it myself but nothing compared to what the flood affected communities here have to endure. The majority of children (and parents) I spent time with have one set of clothes, thin as they were wearing them in the summer, and the rest of their belongings (clothes, blankets, furniture) were washed away in the floods, often along with their houses. Some are now living in tents, some are building back mud houses themselves, which will more than likely only be washed away in any future floods, some are building temporary shelters (with the help of Save the Children and other actors), but some are still living under tarpaulins without blankets and warm clothing. Save the Children has been providing shelter,blankets and winter clothing and is still distributing these life-saving relief items but it is still not enough despite the massive scale and number of beneficiaries we have reached.
Another major concern is with health and nutrition. I visited a stabilization centre run by Save the Children in Shikarpur in Sindh, where severely malnourished children were referred to by our mobile and static health and nutrition teams in the field. I met with four mothers and their severely malnourished children and was moved to tears to see a young boy almost 2-years-old who was so malnourished that he looked only 5-months-old. Another boy could not stop crying, but no sound was coming from him because he was so malnourished that he didn’t have the energy to make a sound. I could see the pain in his eyes and in his face, and then I spoke to the mothers of these poor children, who were largely malnourished themselves, and heard their stories and of the pain that they felt because they did not have the means provide food and nourishment for their own children.
I thought of what that must feel like for a parent, to not be able to provide for yourself and for your children, and the indignity of it. Again, I felt my eyes welling up. The positive thing about the experience is that all these children who I spent time with were going to live because of the intervention of Save the Children and our wonderful staff who go out to the communities and mobilize them and work hand-in-hand to identify and address their immediate needs. In addition, the mothers’ details were taken and our livelihoods program will ensure that they will receive a cash grant which will hopefully see that their family do not go short of food and survive until the worst of this crisis is over. That day spent in the hospital with the malnourished children, their mothers and our dedicated staff of doctors made me realize how important it is for the government, donors and international community to keep responding as we move into the“recovery phase”, and we are all working hard and hoping that we can continue to build back better these communities in the months and years ahead.
As we look forward at our recovery strategy I am asking myself what we can do to improve the lives of children in Pakistan in the future. It’s what everyone is talking about 6 months on from the floods. However my first impressions and observations after spending two weeks in the field is that it’s hard, even impossible, especially for the flood affected communities in Pakistan, to think about or focus on the future when there is still so many basic immediate needs that have yet to be met.
We have had a great response so far and I am so proud of the 2,000 amazing and dedicated staff here working 7 days a week who have been distributing relief items, providing shelter and protection and safe spaces for children ensuring their health needs are met and that their education continues.The work here is far from done and it will take a very long time for Pakistan to recover, but when I visit a hospital and speak to a mother whose young boy’s life has been saved due to our good work, I am inspired, thankful and hopeful for the future of the children whose lives were (and are) at risk after the floods six months ago.
Friday, January 28, 2011
Six months since the floods struck Pakistan, Save the Children’s relief work has reached the most remote and distant corners of the affected areas. From the cold, mountainous hamlets of northern Swat to the devastated plains of Dadu in Sindh, our teams are working diligently to assist people across the length and breadth of the world’s sixth most populous country. More than 2.6 million men, women and children have benefitted since August 2010 from our work. Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to one of the worst affected places in Pakistan, district Rajanpur in south Punjab.
Rajanpur is a narrow, 20 kilometers wide strip of land sandwiched between the Indus River on the East and the Sulaiman Mountain range on the West. Monsoon floods occur almost every year in Rajanpur, but in 2010 the scale and impact was much more severe. The local people were not prepared at all. In August last year, floods struck the district from both sides – banks of the Indus bursting on the east and hill torrents from the west – inundating 33 out of the 44 union councils in the district.
Overnight, a vast majority of the population in Rajanpur found themselves engulfed on all sides by an unending expanse of water, five to ten feet high. Currently, Save the Children is the only organization providing wide scale humanitarian assistance in Rajanpur. In an area called Bosangang, Save the Children’s mobile health teams have walked for several kilometers in knee deep floodwaters to provide people with basic healthcare services. I was visiting temporary schools built in places where public schools were completely destroyed.
As the ‘Psychological Assessment’ of flood affected children, conducted by Save the Children reveals, I realized how many students were facing several child protection issues, especially behavioral and psychological problems. Of all the children I met during the visit, I distinctly remember 9-year-old Jamshed at the government boys’ primary school in village Shahnawaz. Like other children in the school, he was busy writing Urdu from the blackboard but unlike others he seemed oblivious when one student began reciting a poem in front of the class. I walked towards him and asked him his name. I received no response. I foolishly asked louder and learned the reason for his indifference from the teacher.
Jamshed, along with two older siblings, is deaf. His father is a poor farmer who cannot afford special education for his children. Jamshed has been attending the primary school for two years and even without any hearing abilities, has learned how to write alphabets, grasp the meaning of basic words and make simple sentences.
The floods had submerged his village in six feet of water and displaced the people two kilometers away to a higher and safer ground. Jamshed stayed on this small patch of dry land with his family for over forty days, cut off from the rest of the world. With nowhere else to go, his family depended on helicopters and boats to provide food and drinking water. After the floodwater receded, Jamshed’s home suffered minor damages however the classrooms of his school were destroyed, furniture ruined and the teachers unable to reach the school due to destruction of the roads.
Jamshed’s cousin was incidentally near the school and helped me communicate with him using sign language. I was surprised to learn that Jamshed is a natural artist; he had made a television, cell-phone, bull cart and books from clay while his notebook was full of beautiful rural landscapes. He wishes to study till 12th grade and become an artist when he grows up. However, his cousin mentioned that since the floods Jamshed has become more shy and expressionless. He hesitates going to the nearby town of Kotla for errands with his father and is terrified whenever he hears about rain. Save the Children’s Child Protection team has also set up a Child Friendly Space in the vicinity of the school in village Shahnawaz. Specific psychosocial support is being provided to flood affected children at the CFS and identified child protection cases are also referred to service providers in the district.
Jamshed was very pleased to show me the handmade models of electronic items he had made. Like any other 9-year-old, he smiled at every question I asked, interpreted by his cousin and replied fervently with calculated hand gestures.
I thought about all the hard work Save the Children has done in Rajanpur since the floods: dispensing huge amounts of aid, distributing tons of relief goods and putting in thousands of man hours. We work in areas that have been neglected for decades. Education is rare and seldom do families escape the harsh cycle of poverty and deprivation. Our effort to educate one such poor child to gain even primary level education makes it all worthwhile. Like Jamshed’s cousin said, ‘If education is promoted here, there is still hope for children like Jamshed.’
Friday, October 8, 2010
In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, it quickly became apparent that text messaging could be used by charities as a powerful fundraising tool. Save the Children, UNICEF and the Red Cross, among others, recieved significant donations to support our response to the crisis.
Well here at Save the Children, we've figured out a new way to harness the power of text messaging and mobile devices in order to empower those affected by a disaster. We’ve implemented a text-messaging response service in Pakistan to handle any issues that might arise with our aid distribution.
How does it work?
We set up “hubs” in Sindh, Punjab, Swat and DI Khan provinces, where people can call or text a suggestion or complaint about our health clinics and distribution centers. Once a comment is received, we circulate it to the relevant team who devise a way to implement the suggestion or address the complaint.
Every one of our Monitoring and Evaluations officers carries a cell phone dedicated solely to this suggestion/complaint hotline. (The Monitoring and Evaluations team make sure programs are running smoothly and efficiently.)
We also have a database set up where each and every complaint is filed so we know:
- What the complaint was
- How it was resolved
This revolutionary concept will allow us to ensure that our efforts have the greatest possible benefit for the flood-affected children of Pakistan. It also empowers Pakistanis to have input into the relief and rebuilding process, something that is crucial to getting those affected back to living normal lives.
October 8, 2010
Have you washed your hands today?
What may seem to be a common practice to you is not so common in other parts of the world.
Next week, Pakistan will join countries around the globe to promote “Global Handwashing Day” on October 15.
Why the need for a Global Handwashing Day?
Each year, children worldwide miss 272 million school days because of diarrhea. One of the easiest ways to help prevent the spread of diarrhea and other diseases is by washing your hands. But many school children, including children here in Pakistan, have no access to clean water or soap at their schools.
Last year, on the night before Global Handwashing Day, I received a text message. It said, “Washing hands with soap can reduce 30% of diarrheal deaths in children.” Several more text messages rapidly followed, each highlighting the benefits of handwashing.
One of Save the Children’s education officers in Khyber PakhtunKhwa Province (KPK) came up with the idea for the texting campaign as a way to spread the message to a lot of people in a short time. And, the best part — it cost almost nothing. He estimates that up to 3,000 teachers, community members and parent-teacher council members at the 150 schools where Save the Children works participated in the texting campaign, sending messages to their family and friends.
This year, we have lots of fun school activities planned, from poster competitions to skits to street walks with public officials, teachers, community members and children.
We will be posting photos of some of our activities and others from around the globe here on our blog, so we hope you’ll check back on October 15. Let us know what you are planning for that day, too.
Looking for a way to get involved? Why not share Save the Children’s new “dirty word” video on germs and the importance of handwashing.
Monday, September 6, 2010
The water has receded in Swat but has left behind vast needs.
Over 1,600 people died in the floods, many of them in this area when water from the mountains came rushing down into villages, bringing lots of large trees and debris, which tore away bridges, sheared off houses along the river and swept away whole villages. One of our staff at the local Save the Children office showed us pictures of that day – torrents of water running through what was the main street of his village. He told me stoically that the next day the main part of the village was gone. He lost several friends to the rushing water.
It will take a long time to get things back to normal in an area that was considered to be one of the most beautiful in the country, with steep green mountains, lush orchards and farms, and many streams and rivers. It used to be a place Pakistanis and visitors came to get away from the heat and crowds of the city.
That won't be true for a long time now.
Swat is not unaccustomed to misery. This also is an area that was devastated by conflict the last year, with heavy shelling between the Taliban and army displacing tens of thousands. Families were just starting to return to their homes and beginning to recover when the heavy rains hit this July.
Children are suffering from diarrhea and skin diseases caused by dirty water. They need to get back to normal routines and start school again. They were happy to see us today but several told us with sadness in their eyes about how the water rose so quickly, forcing some of them out their homes in the middle of the night. When they returned many of their homes were missing or damaged, their land eaten away by the surging river.
The greatest needs right now are still for the basics — household supplies like buckets, jerry cans, soap and pots and pans as families lost everything. Food is also needed as fields were swept away along the banks of the river.
I saw a distribution of household and hygiene kits, a tent distribution, a health clinic and hygiene training, and saw the first day of our food voucher program. With this program, funded by Food for Peace, we are able to give families vouchers that they can use in the local market to buy the foodstuffs they most need. Our staff who manage the program told us "This works so well because it isn’t a hand-out and it lets people buy what they want from the local shopkeepers". The vouchers will buy enough food for a month and support the local economy as well.
I met a young girl of about 13 years old. Because of the fighting, she had been out of school for several years. She had recently returned home and thought this would be the year she could start school again. Sadly, the floods have damaged her school and now she must wait again to start back. Without help, she and others like her will miss out on all the opportunities that an education offers.
Save the Children's work on distribution of non-food items, mobile medical clinics, food voucher distribution, and child-friendly spaces is helping tens of thousands of people in the Swat valley. It is just a part of the work we are doing in many areas along the main rivers where more than 17 million people have been affected by the floods.
As our staff in Pakistan work hard to meet the needs of children here, they worry that they will not have enough resources and people will start to forget about the tremendous difficulties still to come. The international humanitarian community and people around the world need to continue to help Pakistan recover from this largest disaster they have ever experienced.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
When you sponsor children through Save the Children, you have the unique chance to change lives and to build relationships with girls and boys in need. One New Jersey family has made sponsorship an integral part of their lives. Kim, Tom, and their daughter Felicity sponsor four children from Egypt, Mali, Nepal, and Haiti.
The best thing about sponsorship is that the family is connected to the world around them. Kim noted that it allows them to support Save the Children’s programs that work to impact lives and build strong communities. She realizes it takes time to achieve sustainable changes and sponsorship allows her family to remain engaged through these community transformations.
Felicity, 11, raised over $3,000 in February for Save the Children’s relief efforts in Haiti by selling cookies and she is currently raising funds for our relief efforts for children affected by the flooding in Pakistan through selling pins.
Kim and Tom instilled their passion for sponsorship in their daughter at a young age. Felicity began writing to her family’s sponsored children when she was just 6. She was encouraged to write to their sponsored girl in Mali named Korotoumou when she began learning French. Felicity now writes to her family’s sponsored children monthly. “I am very happy and excited when I get a letter,” Felicity says.
In their letters, they share what they are learning in school, stories about their families and pets, and about their favorite activities.
Felicity’s advice for letter writing—keep it simple! Felicity understands the importance of being involved in sponsorship. She says, “You have to start young and take the time to be part of the close relationship you can gain from giving to others.”
What makes sponsorship special to you? We’d love to hear from you!
Friday, August 27, 2010
Save the Children's Reporting Coordinator in Pakistan
After spending three weeks in the cold mountainous Swat
valley, I arrived in the hot and humid climate of Multan to work
alongside Save the Children teams working in the worst affected
districts of Muzaffargarh, Rajanpur and Dera Ghazi Khan. The floods
arrived here a week after the showers began in late July. There were
reports of nearly 300,000 people displaced overnight. There was also
news of entire villages living on the highways and in government
schools of Muzaffargarh and Multan. However, none of the reports came
close to the reality on ground.
Displaced by flooding her village, Sakina camps at the side of the road with her 10 children and goat
Photo Courtesy Jason Tanner
Destruction in Muzaffargarh
The sight of makeshift shelters and tents begins at
xthe border of Muzaffargarh and Multan districts. Long lines of men,
women and children are found loitering on both sides of the busy
traffic. Besides those displaced from remote areas, people of nearby
villages are also found on the highway – their dilapidated homes
visible a few meters away. It is mind-boggling to consider the
populations affected by the floods. In the district of Kot Addo the
lives of approximately 112,000 men, women and children have been
disrupted. These vast numbers of people do not have food, shelter,
clothing, access to health care and have completely lost their
livelihoods due to the floods. They will certainly require assistance
in the coming months, if not years, to not only resettle and establish
their lives but also to rejuvenate their income generating activities.
Imtiaz, 25, with her 2-day-old unnamed baby
Photo Courtesy Jason Tanner
Relief to Brahimwala
Save the Children is the first NGO that has provided
food rations here. The packages include wheat, lentils, cooking oil,
micronutrient biscuits as well as tents, jerry cans, water buckets and
blankets to people who have lost their homes in district Muzaffargarh.
During one such distribution to the village of Brahimwala, I learned
how the villagers had departed from their homes in haste to reach safe
ground 25 kilometers away in the city of Muzaffargarh. There were no
registration points or information centers available for the displaced
to receive aid. They spent many days under the open sun before finding
temporary shelters on open grounds, roads and rampantly setup camps.
Food and drinking water distribution was irregular and chaos erupted
each time a truck arrived with provisions.
Unfortunately, the urban poor who live in shantytowns
of Muzaffargarh and Multan had joined the displaced to fight for
whatever donations they could lay their hands on. The needs are so
As soon as the waters receded displaced people
returned to their homes. Although, most villages are still submerged
with the flood’s deluge of putrid water and mud, families have pitched
up tents alongside roads and canals. Water in Brahimwala has withdrawn,
demolishing each and every house in the village. The conditions are
appalling but with nowhere else to turn, people are living amidst mud,
flies and the remains of their houses squashed on the ground. The murky
flood waters and searing heat has worsened the dismal condition and
have increased the prevalence of diseases like diarrhea, malaria, skin
and respiratory infections.
Each and every member of Save the Children realizes
that an intense and continued support is essential to normalize the
lives of flood-affected people in Pakistan.
Shamim,45, mourns the death of her four children and husband.
Photo Courtesy Jason Tanner
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Save the Children's Reporting Coordinator in Pakistan
Ishrat, a 6-year-old Pakistani girl, calls the village of Brahimwala home. Brahimwala is situated near one of the several canals which irrigates the wheat, corn and rice fields of district Muzafargarh with water from the River Indus.
In late July, epic monsoon rains caused flash floods in the River Indus. Vast torrents of the flood waters totally collapsed the banks of the river in southern Punjab, especially in the districts of Muzafargarh, Rajanpur and Dera Ghazi Khan.
"We heard in the late afternoon that a massive flood was coming towards Brahimwala." said Ishrat’s father, Talib, a sharecropper. Ill-prepared for the disaster, they grabbed some precious items such as food and clothing and rushed towards the city of Muzafargarh.
"My mother grabbed me as we ran out of the village," Ishrat remembered.
That evening the village was struck with flood waters at speeds of 30mph. The mud and brick houses collapsed within minutes as the entire village was submerged in six feet of water. Ishrat and her family were part of the mass exodus of 300,000 people who fled to Muzafargarh by motorized vehicle, donkey-carts and on foot in search of safer ground
"We walked for many hours that night and slept under a tree." Ishrat said.
In the next few days, the government, armed forces and local charities had set up temporary shelters and began providing the displaced families with cooked food.
However, Talib said, the distribution of food was chaotic, “we were lucky to receive even one meal a day."
Just when they were expecting the waters to recede, approximately 700,000 displaced people in Muzaffargarh were shocked to hear that they had to evacuate the city. A single road was used by these people to reach neighboring Multan. Ishrat and her family moved into a generous villager’s home near Multan city – 12 people in three rooms. They survived for 10 days on the handful of food rations provided by their hosts. When they heard that the flood waters finally receded from Brahimwala, they immediately returned home.
"Everything I owned is either destroyed or covered with mud." Talib said. "My share of the harvested wheat is ruined and my home has entirely collapsed."
As the rains continued, Ishrat and her family were hungry and had no roof over their heads. Devoid of all possessions and savings, the family was destitute and vulnerable.
Save the Children’s teams began to assess damages and select the neediest families to receive food rations and temporary housing items in Muzafargargh district. Due to extensive flood damage, Brahimwala’s residents were one of the first areas selected for emergency support."The people came to our village and asked us questions," Ishrat said. "They promised to give us some things to make our home."
Talib was delighted the morning Save the Children handed him a tent, blankets, jerry cans and buckets for his family. Food rations — including 170 pounds of wheat, 30 packets of micronutrient biscuits for his children and 5 liters of cooking oil — were provided the following day.
Ishrat ran around the rumble of her home clutching a water bucket, excited that she will now have a home.
"I have no words to describe how grateful I am. We have a roof over our heads and enough to eat so I don’t feel hungry anymore."