Educationist Taner Koçyiğit wrote about the flood disaster in 2010, one of the most devastating natural disasters in Pakistan’s history, the humanitarian aid mobilization led by the PakTurk Schools and the magnitude of the need for relief materials.
When we first heard about the flood disaster in Sindh and Punjab in 2010, we had a meeting with a few friends to see what we could do immediately. We thought we should inform the parents of our students and the businessmen we knew without delay. At the beginning of the meeting, we informed the parents and the businessmen that the aid truck would leave early the next morning. We also said the relief materials should reach the school by the evening. Many parents and businessmen sent basic needs such as milk, flour, oil and water to be loaded on the truck. Others brought cash to meet other needs such as travel expenses. A friend went to the nearest market to buy a thousand pair of slippers, and another to order large quantities of oily flax-like flatbread called “paratha”, which Pakistanis like eating so much, to receive it early in the morning.
Everyone tried to do their best. In the evening of the same day, the relief materials to fill two more trucks were collected in the garden of the school before the dusk. These materials had to be loaded onto trucks and stacked in a way that would not cause confusion during distribution. We mobilized the boarding students in the dormitory; almost all worked with great enthusiasm and we loaded all the materials on trucks within a few hours. Meanwhile, the banners we ordered to display the source of the aid arrived and we hung them on the trucks.
How could the flood survivors cope with the heat we could hardly stand?
We thought it would help to take some friends who knew the local language well. We completed the preparations to leave with a few Pakistani university student friends. To make the distribution early in the morning and return to school in Multan before dark, we had to set off at night, because we did not know the condition of the roads. It happened as we thought; the journey, which we expected to take about 6 hours, took 9-10 hours and we could only reach the flood zone in the morning.
Our four friends reached the flood zone with trucks and we with our own private vehicle. It was one of the hottest times of the year in the flood zone. We sweated profusely along the way; we were tired. By the time we reached the area, we were exhausted. Meanwhile, we thought how tens of thousands of flood survivors, who had no place to rest in the heat which troubled us even for a few hours, endured. These people were also desperately waited for the military boats to bring food supplies. After having a quick breakfast with friends, we immediately got to work.
Two trucks of relief supplies distributed in 10 minutes
When we delivered aid to the flood victims helped by the soldiers, we understood how vital the materials we brought with us were. Especially the parathas and the fruit juices donated by a tradesman served as balm for the people’s wounds. However, we still lacked many things. We interviewed flood survivors and soldiers to identify the needs and took notes for the next batch of aid delivery. We realized we had to bring a lot of materials especially cooking utensils, blankets, torchlights, anti-mosquito sprays, medicines etc.
On the first day, when we were going to the island where people were stranded, we were thinking, ‘Where will we distribute the materials?’ When we arrived, we could get off the boats with difficulty because everyone wanted to receive help as soon as possible. In about ten minutes, everything we had was distributed. Children cried in joy and their eyes shone as we approached the villagers. They were very happy while drinking fruit juices. We were much impressed by the scene. As we were leaving the island, we thought what those people would do in the evening or what they would eat the next day. Seeing the gleams in the eyes of the children waving us goodbye being replaced by sadness and anxiety shocked us all deeply.
We always had them on our minds
We returned from the disaster area to our school in Multan, planning to collect more aid and bring more bread next time. We talked to friends about getting better organized for the next aid deliveries. We could eat nothing all day and we were very tired, but when we saw the condition of the flood survivors, we forgot ourselves and distributed everything we had. While eating the dinner our friends in Multan had prepared for us in the evening, we still had in our minds the sights of the day and the survivors. As seven friends, we spent the night asking one another, “Wonder what they are doing now?”
Even now, I feel and remember how we slept under the coolness of the air conditioner on the mattresses prepared for us the night we stayed in Multan, without fear of bugs. Although my body was relieved to sleep in the cool air and in safety, it hurt me to think about the condition of the flood survivors.
The next day, we had breakfast and left Multan to return soon. Along the way, we talked with friends about plans for the next aid campaign. We could deliver relief materials that would save the day. It was very necessary to distribute bread to people in the aftermath of the flood, but people needed permanent support to resume their lives eventually. We could not afford such aid. We reached out to the government officials seeking to participate in the aid distribution programs as volunteers. Meanwhile, how could we have known the officials of the “Kimse Yok Mu” Solidarity and Aid Association had arrived from Turkey and were waiting for us in Lahore to be briefed for organizing more humanitarian relief runs?
To be continued…
Part Thirty-One: The massive flood disaster and the first aid from PakTurk