At the very last minute

Nasreen with Sister Hend
Nasreen with Sister Hend

Believe it or not, but on the last day of my stay in Pakistan, three hours before I’m leaving for the airport, we found a nurse who will teach at our home! Her name is Nasreen and she has been giving basic hygiene and first aid courses to villagers for the past thirty years. She also has a daughter with mental disabilities which makes her particularly sensitive to our work.

Allan, Nasreen, and I
Allan, Nasreen, and I

Even after searching for a whole year, we could not have come across a more suitable person! I’m extremely happy we’ve found her. The first picture shows her discussing the course outline with Sister Hend, the financial manager of our home. The grumpy-looking guy on the second picture is actually quite a nice person. His name is Allan and he is the British engineer who installed the solar systems and water filter at our home at minimum costs.

Have to stop writing here because I still have some things to pack. More updates will be coming soon!

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A Pakistan premiere

In Pakistan, ground water is often polluted with heavy metals, such as Lead, Arsenic, Copper, Iron, Mercury, Chromium, Nickel, Cadmium, and Zinc.

Small system, big difference
Small system, big difference

There are many reasons for this contamination. Industrial waste is basically disposed everywhere and famers are using fertilizers and pesticides excessively. No one seems to enforce environmental laws here. Or people just pay a bribe and get away with it.

This waste water plus those chemicals trickle into the ground. Underneath the ground, the pipes transporting drinking water to people’s houses are usually old and have already corroded. The waste water mixes into the drinking water and people end up drinking this stuff. The heavy metals carried by the water cause long-lasting damage to their kidneys and livers. They are also a major reason for cancer.

When our British engineer Allan tested the tap water at the home, he found the concentration of heavy metals exceeded the permissible limit set by the WHO by 14 times. Fourteen times! Right on the next day, he donated and installed a Reverse Osmosis Water Filter System. Not a cheap Pakistani or Chinese one, but a good British filter. It runs with a small motor which presses the water through the different filtering membranes. Because the electricity goes off all the time, but the motor has to keep running we had to solar-power it. After finishing his installation, Allan declared: “Mate, this is a premiere! It’s the first place in Pakistan where this kind of water filter is running on solar power!”

We raised our glasses filled with clean water to toast on this success.

Cultivating Resources

We are desperately trying to find a nurse these days who could teach a course to the caregivers at our home. It’s freaking difficult, I can tell you! There is no support from the Pakistani government, to begin with. Official statistics on how many per cent of the country’s population live with disabilities are completely absent.

Sister Antida, one of the caregivers, with Sumera
Sister Antida, one of the caregivers at our home, with Sumera

Estimates assume 10 to 15 per cent which would affect more than 20 million people! On a medical level, disabled people are usually treated together with trauma patients and others who suffer from mental illnesses. The sisters at our home drive down to the psychatric hospital every other week with their residents for routine checkups. Not because they think this is the right way to do it, but simple because there is no other place for disabled people to receive medical treatment in Lahore!
A google search lists a number of non-governmental institutions in this sector, but many of them only exist on paper. Even if they are functional, they never respond to emails nor do they pick up their phone. Lahore has roughly ten schools for children with special needs, but there seems to be just one other institution like ours that offers them a permanent place to stay. It’s a German project and just like us, they are struggling to find qualified staff.
Sometimes it feels like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Things we take for granted

There was no post yesterday, because I still felt sick and had to spent all day in bed. This morning, however, I was much better so I went back to the home together with Allan, a British engineer. Thanks to him, we could solve many problems in the past couple months. These were the main issues:

Basic commodities we usually take for granted were not available at the home before this summer. They suffered from regular power cuts of up to 16 hours every day. Without electricity, neither the water pumps were working, nor fans and lights. Sleeping at night is very difficult once the fan stops. The water coming from the tap is highly poisonous due to the high level of contamination. Patients kept getting sick with gastro-intestinal diseases.

Allan and a resident standing under a solar-powered fan
Allan and a resident standing under a solar-powered fan

Can you imagine a life in 40 degrees Celsius (or 104 Fahrenheit) and high humidity without fans, let alone AC units? A life in a dangerous part of the city, and your house is pitch-dark every night? A life with polluted water that causes stomach pain, cramps and diarrhoea all the time? A life in which you have to wash the clothes of 90 people, but there is no water?

With Allan’s generous and energetic help, your support, and us connecting these two, the home is now equipped with

– two solar systems that keep lights and fans running

– a water filtering system to provide clean drinking water for 90 residents, plus solar panels to keep it running when the electricity goes off

Many issues remain to be solved. We have to organize medical training for all the workers, enforce cleanliness and basic hygiene, install a solar system for the caregivers, because they can only do their job if they sleep at night, find a way to heat the home during the winter months, install a solar-powered warm water boiler, find therapists and qualified staff to work with the residents – and so on. If you would like to help us in our efforts, you can do it here: Support Us Now

A girl named N.

“N. has a strange story”, tells me Sister Antida while she is serving her food.
“She grew up in Faisalabad. As a  young girl of about 12 years, she used to work as a maid in the house of a rich family. One day, her employer’s son raped her. The shock of this incident and the resulting pregnancy caused her to lose her mind.
After this happened, her family cast her out and she lived on the street. Some well-meaning neighbors brought her to our home where she gave birth to a beautiful daughter. The child spent the first years of her life in our institution, until a family in Malta adopted her. Now she is eleven years old. N. sometimes remembers that she has a daugther and asks for her. We tell her that the girl will come to visit once she is old enough to understand her mother’s condition.”

N. sits on her chair and looks up to me with soft, melancholic eyes. A slight smile appears on her face. I raise my camera to take a photo. This sadness in her eyes! I put the camera down again, ashamed. To take her picture feels like exploiting her. I don’t want to be another person who uses N.’s body for their ends, no matter how well-intentioned they are. But I want to tell her story, because when I walked away from N., I cried.

Bashir

We might have finished off those bugs yesterday, but they got their revenge! Unfortunately, I became sick and had to leave the home. For now, I’m staying at a guest house in the city center of Lahore, but I will go back to Yuhanabad regularly. My heart and my notebook are still full with the experiences of those few days at the home.

This is one of them:

Bashir sitting on his bed
Bashir sitting on his bed

Bashir Sardar gently grabs my arm and insists that I follow him. “Miss, you have to see this, it is all clear and obvious”, he states in a mixture of Urdu and English. The old man leads me to a waist-high wall at the entrance of the men’s living complex. He starts pointing to the red bricks and says:
“Look here, 56,983 … the Australian Dollar is less … the Central Bank of Pakistan … it is evident, evident!”
I am standing in front of him, confused. What is he trying to say? Agitated he stumbles from one brick to the next, drawing me nearer to the wall and pointing to numbers stamped on their surface. They read S2 and V5. He pauses for a moment, throws me one of those gentle looks and closely observes my face to see whether it would light up with understanding.
“S2, you see? And here is V5, you see? The number is 95639202. In Singapore! They have Australian Dollars!”
Like John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, Bashir tried to add the pieces of a puzzle which he couldn’t understand. The numbers had a hidden meaning, he explained to me. Everything was connected. As I listened to him talking about secret conspiracies and their involvement of capital flows, I discovered some German words in his speech: Sonntag, Montag. Where had he picked them up? What was his true story?
The stock exchange lists the Australian Dollar with 5,794, he said.

Maybe life’s puzzle had been too difficult for him to solve.

Day Four: World War B

The coolness of yesterday’s rain did not last long. Soon it was hot and humid again. Greasy, poisonous-looking water filled the trenches and ditches of Yuhanabad where it mixed with trash, plastic bags, and human waste – the perfect breeding ground for mosquitos and diseases.

Allan dancing with a resident - she laughed so much!
Allan dancing with a resident – you should have seen her laughing!

Stench was arising from water holes, spreading foul-smelling air over the whole quarter. The sisters told me that a Cholera epidemic was already going about.
This morning, a British engineer who also supports the home arrived with his two Sindhi assistants in tow for the Great Disinfection Operation. Warfare was declared to all bugs and mosquito larvae who had dared to settle down on the premises. Toilet floors and seats, kitchen counters and cooking equpiment, tables and chairs in the dining room, mattresses and pillows – nothing could escape Allan’s wrath. He was on a mission. Every surface, down to the last door handle and light switch, was sprayed with the natural chlorine he had made at home. Allan had figured out a cheap way to produce the disinfectant by electrifying cooking salt. A four liter bottle cost him only 800 Rupies, about eight US Dollars. Halfway through his battle with the bugs, he even found time to dance with one of the women. The smile on her face was indescribable.