Antida

Antida is one of the sisters who serve as a caregiver at the Dar ul-Karishma, our home for people with disabilities. I say “serve”, because she is not receiving any salary for the work she does. She felt it was her calling to become a religious sister and care for those who were neglected by society.
AntidaAntida was born into a poor Pakistani Catholic family. In her village, there was a school run by nuns. When her mother had given birth, the sisters visited the newborn and suggested to name her Antida, after the community’s founding saint, Joan Antidea Thouret.
Antida went on to study at the nun’s school. As a teenager, she felt the wish to become like them – that is exactly her own wording. She wanted to become a sister and help those who are poor. Her usual shy manner of speaking is less prominent when she talks about how this wish was fulfilled. In 2003, she joined the Sisters of Charity. “We visit families”, she narrates in a simple voice, as if there was nothing special about it, “we learn about their basic needs, we give their children education, and we take them to the hospital when they are sick. This is our work.”
Antida sits in front of me, in her plain habit of a nun, her chestnut-brown eyes displaying a sparkle whenever she mentions this work. She is younger than me, and yet, a strength emanates from her that surpasses my understanding. I lean back and let myself be enwrapped into her personality.

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Protests and monsoon rains

Last night, clashes broke out here in Lahore between the police and supporters of the Pakistani cleric Tahir ul-Qadri, a rather obscure figure who has lately become active in politics. Four people died in this incident. Qadri’s house, which is located in a part of the city called Model Town, was sealed off with a police cordon. He has planned to hold a demonstration in Lahore tomorrow to address some grievances with the government. If you’d like to know more about this man, I recommend a portray by the BBC journalist Ilyas Khan written last year: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-20998010

When I went to the archives this morning, there was already a lot of police everywhere carrying batons. Containers stood ready to be used for blocking major roads. But all in all, life goes on quite normal in most parts of the city. It only came to a halt around 11 o’clock when it rained uninterrupted for almost one hour. It was quite a veritable downpour, and I decided to leave the crumbling yellow pages in front of me together with the dusty air of the old books for a minute to observe the rain. Those moments when the monsoon rains are coming always carry a very peaceful atmosphere. I was leaning against the door of the reading room and looking into the rain, taking in the smell of monsoon, when an old man, bend forward on a walking stick came up to me. He offered me a chair, and we struck up a conversation. Together we stood and looked into the courtyard outside for a while as it turned into a river. On my way back home, the taxi got stuck in the middle of a road that had been almost completely flooded. Behind us, the water was closing up, and in front of us children were swimming and even diving in the muddy stream. Others had fetched a tyre and floated from one end of the road to the other. The next dry bit of land was about 500 meters ahead of us. All along the side of the road, people had lined up on walls to watch the cars who attempted to cross. Once they made it safely, they cheered. Two cars in front of us got stuck, but when a passenger bus came along, our driver dared to follow it. The water came almost up to our door handles and splashed on the left and right up to our roof! The engine was howling and struggling, the wheels were floating and not getting any grip on the ground, and I quietly said some prayers. We made it safely to the other side. This was one of the most daunting South Asian adventures I’ve ever had, I must say.

Street Wisdom

When I go around Lahore, I often use the rickshaw. Some of my Pakistani friends disapprove, but I think you’ll have more adventures. You can meet all sorts of people and sometimes great conversations develop. Rickshaw
Today, I took a rickshaw on Mall Road, and the driver asked me where I was from. When I replied that I was German, he demanded: “Please do a big favor for me – give your chancellor Angela Merkel my regards!”
I thought he was joking, and with a smile I answered: “Ok ji, do me also a favor, and give your prime minister my warmest regards, too.”
The driver got upset. “The devil I will do! We work so hard for our daily bread, and these politicians sit in their big houses and ruin our country. I am literate, I can read and write, and here am I, driving the rickshaw every day! I can barely pay for the rent or bring food to the table. We have no electricity, no educational system, no health care. You can forget our prime minister, he is certainly not my prime minister! But Germany is a good country, and German people are upright, honest people. So please give your chancellor my salaams, and consider yourself lucky that you were born in this country.”

Back in Pakistan

Hello everyone, I’m back in Pakistan! I arrived in Lahore last Wednesday, and since then it rained 5 times, I saw 17 little grey donkeys, I studied Urdu for 22 hours, and ate 3 mangoes. Just three? I know! But the mango season is not over yet, there will be more chances to make up for this neglect.
On Sunday, I visited our home for people with mental disabilities. It was such a joy to meet everyone again! Both caregivers and residents looked very healthy. Thanks to the two water filtration plants we had installed at the home, infections with waterborne diseases have gone back dramatically. Last year at the same time, one quarter of our ninety residents was ill with diarrhoea and other infections from polluted water. This summer, only three people have fallen sick!

The second project Omid-e Punjab funded was the renovation of the men’s bathrooms. Fourty-five people are daily using them. They were lifted to the street level in order to prevent waste water from flooding back inside. Shower cabins and toilet seats were installed, bathroom fittings added, floors and walls tiled, and the drainage system restored. We spent exactly 7,281 Dollar on it, or 5,421 Euros.
This is what the old bathrooms on the women’s side still look like. The men’s facilities were in the same bad shape:

Women's bathrooms     Unrenovated bathrooms

And these are the men’s bathrooms

after the renovation:

Men's renovated bathrooms    Men's bathrooms

Our next project will be to provide the same facilities for the female residents!

Hibernation

Hello and salaam everyone!

This blog will be closed until summer 2014 when I return to Pakistan. For now, my PhD studies demand most of my attention. Omid-e Punjab will continue its work, though. We’re currently preparing the home in Lahore for the winter. By the end of November, it should be equipped with a warm water boiler and a basic heating system – all solar-powered. Our residents and caregivers should not dread the cold season anymore! For regular updates and how to support the winter program, please check http://omidepunjab.com in the coming weeks.

Khuda hafis,

Maria

Chilling in Islamabad
Chilling in Islamabad

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!

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.