In this part of the series in which he narrated the aftermath of the massive flood disaster in Pakistan, educationist Taner Koçyiğit wrote how the humanitarian relief materials from Turkey were distributed. Koçyiğit also related his remarkable dialogue with the Turkish businessmen who brought relief materials.
Other aid organizations, which heard we had been conducting relief distribution with no problems thanks to the village chiefs, also asked for our assistance. Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality had sent its relief materials with a team of about 40 people. They arranged an old school building in the flood area as their coordination centre and dispatched all materials from there. Working devotedly, this team of 40 people stayed in the flood zone for weeks and constantly sought the assistance of the village chiefs for distribution. From then on, as the volunteers of the Kimse Yok Mu Association and the teachers of the PakTurk Schools, we had a say in the flood zone. The state’s disaster management unit and the Chief Minister’s Office closely monitored the services and provided our contact information to the relevant parties to assist them in distributing aid from Turkey.
It had been months since the flood disaster. Yet the needs in the flood zone never ended. Not a day went by without someone from any village calling us and saying, “We need such-and-such materials urgently, please bring them!” We also tried to deliver the incoming cash and in-kind assistance to those in need. Meanwhile, as one of our top agenda, we prepared for the slaughter of hundreds of votive sacrificial animals in the flood zone, for which procurement and butchering money was donated by people from Turkey. We procured the sacrificial animals from the flood zone as we would distribute the meat over there.
An incident that saddens me even after years
When the preparations were completed, we announced that the meat packets would be distributed from the mosques. Of course, we could not predict 3000 people would show up where we had expected 500 people. The day we distributed the meat packets will remain as one of the saddest days of my life because we had to send some people, who had walked for 5 or 6 hours and waited under the sun for hours hoping to get 5 kg of meat, empty-handed in the evening. This incident breaks my heart even today, as I can guess what the mothers went through that evening, holding their children by the hand and returning without receiving some meat.
Not only relief materials but also Turkish businessmen kept on arriving from Turkey. They wished to participate in the distribution and heal the wounds as much as they could. We would advise Turkish businessmen even not to give out a piece of candy to people, especially while conducting distribution in the flood zone. We explained the risks this could cause and asked them to be cautious because problems always happened during uncoordinated distributions to large groups. For example, some businessmen who took candy or money out of their pockets and tried to distribute them barely escaped being crushed by large groups hurling themselves towards the distributors.
A surprise encounter at the Eyüp Sultan Mosque
We had taken a group of businessmen to a village we visited regularly and, after a distribution that lasted for 4 or 5 hours, boarded them on their vehicles for their return journey to Lahore. We were caught unawares: Just at that moment, one guest started to distribute the rag dolls in his bag from the window of the minibus while the vehicle was about to move. When I saw people crowding at the window of the minibus, I immediately rushed there. As soon as I got to the vehicle, I saw children trying to grab the toys handed from the window by trampling one another while the vehicle was in motion. When a small girl picked up the doll being handed, she was caught between the hustle and bustle and pushed under the bus. I don’t know how I could suddenly pull the child from under the wheel, but I managed. I stopped the minibus and drove the children away promising them I would hand them the toys myself. Then I got on the bus and reproached the businessman who had done that irresponsible behaviour before seeing the guests off to Lahore.
Nearly 3 years after this incident, when I was about to leave the Eyüp Sultan Mosque in Istanbul after performing the morning prayer with a group of Pakistani guests, a person approached me in the courtyard and asked, “Do you remember me, brother?” I said, “No, sorry, brother.” He said he had been in one businessman group visiting the flood zone in Pakistan three years ago and had also been in the same vehicle with the person I had reproached for his behaviour. He added, “Brother, that friend of ours is a strict gentleman who roams with two guns at his waist. The moment you fumed at him and raised your voice, he would normally have definitely responded. Since he had been aware of his mistake and due to the shock of the incident, he hesitated to say anything to you. Your anger at him in that way cooled our hearts too because we became glad someone finally got angry with him!” I asked him to convey my regards to that businessman brother along with my request to forgive me. In later years, we continued to meet with that brother and the businessman in his group.
To be continued…
Part Thirty-Five: Organizational ability of the village chief in distributing flood relief