Monday, 21 February 2011

Through muck and bullets World Vision Pakistan is fighting fit

PAKISTAN - ‘Muck and bullets’ describes the working environment for World Vision here in Pakistan. Six months ago we lost seven dear colleagues to the bullets fired in a raid on our office in Oghi, Mansehra district. Now we are working flat out to reach people whose lives are reduced to living in the muck of flood debris and their destroyed homes and fields.

The main office in Islamabad is a whirl of activity from which our sub offices in Peshawar, Multan, Sukkur, Buner and Lower Dir draw staff, direction and resources. A map of where our 125 local staff and 14 expats are working and how they are travelling about would look like one of those maps in an in-flight magazine criss-crossed with red lines. It’ll get more crowded in the next week or so as the 100 plus local staff we are taking on for the response are in place.

I survived seven bullets; it has given me a strong will. I wanted to stay with World Vision and now I want to work on the flood response
Yesterday, Monday 24th August was a typical day in our emergency response. Ali, World Vision Pakistan’s senior communications officer and I asked some of our colleagues what filled their day, how it feels to be working in World Vision on this response and how the tragedy at Oghi has affected them. Here’s what they told us:

For Steve, the response director, the day was packed juggling three unwieldy responsibilities, making decisions on how many staff to hire, authorising purchases of relief goods for shelter and hygiene kits and approving reports of work we have already done. He is treading a thin line spending money we are promised but haven’t yet received, committing us to a programme of response that will need our fundraising estimates to be realised in full.

“My highest priority is to get the funding we need so we can decide to support 40,000 families.” In truth the decision is already made; Steve leads our team in making it happen. His other priority is his responsibility for the security of all our staff. Steve says, “Oghi makes security a must do. One thing that helps is that it has made people less likely to push us to break the rules. We have clear boundaries set by the security regulations; they free us up to work safely. It’s like when I am driving in the wet, trying to pass a truck ahead of me. The security provides the best quality tyres, brakes and windscreen wipers for me to do that safely so I don’t have an accident.” Steve is never satisfied for long; he wavers between being content with what we can do and wanting to do more.

Our next stop was to talk to Rauf, senior security officer. “Yesterday I was on the phone all day, getting security assessments from my officers in the field in Multan and Sakkur where we are setting up new operations, making contact with police and security forces so we get the early warnings we need to know when there are heightened security threats in the areas we work. I must have made more than 40 calls to 25 or more people in addition to texts, Skype and e-mail.

I feel glad to be part of the response; my uncles and cousins in Swat lost crops and property in the floods, now they are really stuck without communication links or transport if any of their families get sick. I’m just as happy we are extending our work south to Punjab and Sindh where the need is so great. We wouldn’t be able to do what we are doing in this response without the new security measures and procedures we developed because of Oghi and the lessons it taught us.”

Khushboo had only worked for World Vision for three days when she was caught in the attack on our Oghi office. “I survived seven bullets; it has given me a strong will. I wanted to stay with World Vision and now I want to work on the flood response. I have been working in the office here coordinating assessment information and updating reports every day. I would really like to go out to one of the new offices and work there where I can really see what we are doing.”

If she were to travel north to KPK province Khushboo would see the health work we do at primary care level in three clinics in Lower Dir and she may be involved in helping to organise some of the additional clinics World Vision is planning to set up. She could also be part of supporting the specialist diarrheal treatment unit we have just set up in Lower Dir in case the epidemics we fear become an awful reality.

I’m excited to be working with such inspiring staff. They are committed to World Vision and to Pakistani people
Dr. Raffiq told me his day yesterday was spent in discussions with health ministry officials about the arrangements for the specialist unit. He explained that similar discussions in Sindh where we hope to establish another diarrheal treatment unit are likely to be lengthier. “In KPK people know us because we have worked there for some time now. It’s different in Sindh. The health department does not know us and we have no reputation there so we have to gain their trust. We have to prove we are not like so many organisations in the past that have taken up their time, asked a lot of questions but have not done anything to help in the end. Other international agencies are different; they know us and say they are very glad to see us coming to help in Sindh.”

Dr. Raffiq’s colleague, Claire, a health systems specialist, is in Multan, Punjab province. Her experience echoes Dr. Raffiq’s apprehension. “I spent yesterday in some long and frustrating meetings where we could not arrive at decisions that would allow us to move forward. People seem unable to comprehend the scale of the problems facing them. We are trying again today but it will take time before we all agree on what is best. I had the most satisfying conversations with some of the community members who had been driven from their homes by the floods. They told me what had happened to them and what they needed to rebuild their lives. Many of them borrowed heavily to grow the crops that were lost just weeks from harvest. Now they have no way to repay their debts, they are ruined as well as homeless. Knowing this helps us to think about how best to help them to rebuild. This gives us all hope for the future.”

I asked Claire how she feels coming into Pakistan to work on the flood response with the World Vision office here. “I’m excited to be working with such inspiring staff. They are committed to World Vision and to Pakistani people. They are determined to make a difference and have a great ability to find creative solutions. I knew some of the people killed in Oghi as friends as well as colleagues. Their lives would have been wasted if we turned our back on people in Pakistan.”

Our response to the flood started where we have been working for nearly twenty years, in KPK, formerly known as the North West Frontier Province. Our sub-office in Peshawar is the hub of shelter kit distribution. I asked Aziz, the office manager, what his day was spent on.

It’s hard work in the heat, especially during Ramadan when we are fasting during the day but people are more desperate because of the floods so we must continue
“We were in the village of Chaki Drab to carry out a needs assessment there. We asked the local people to take us to the homes that are most affected and particularly to identify any widows or households headed by children. We are careful to divide the resources equally amongst a small number of villages so that what we give is useful, enough for a family’s shelter, hygiene and kitchen together with a month’s basic food supplies and it is spread to reach those most in need in several worst-affected villages. We are careful not to duplicate the distributions done by other organisations so we find out who else is working in the village and talk to them. The district administration also coordinates the aid efforts to make sure they are well distributed. Every day I am visiting these villages, seeing the devastation the floods left behind, smashed brick walls, mud filling the houses, lakes of stagnant water. We are trying to help with immediate needs but also with plans for recovery and rebuilding.”

Aziz was the manager of the Oghi office. By chance he was travelling to Islamabad on the day it was attacked. He returned to deal with the terrible aftermath. He says it made him realise how insecure life is but that there are ways of working that reduce the risk. He pointed to the successful household enterprise development work that was able to continue through partners even if World Vision is not there.

As the floods continue to spread in Sindh, World Vision is working tirelessly to build a base to provide shelter and hygiene kits, food and means of water purification to people in Sukkur and Khaipur. Saeed, the commodities coordinator, has been attending meetings with officials and carrying out assessment visits to communities. “It’s hard work in the heat, especially during Ramadan when we are fasting during the day but people are more desperate because of the floods so we must continue. Because of everything that has happened we are more motivated because we are working for a better cause. World Vision is stronger than ever.”


First published on August 27, 2010, 13:51. Last updated on August 30, 2010, 14:14.

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