We, David Morton, Holly Engelman and I are very comfortably holed up in our Karachi Sheraton digs. Tonight we are told we are dining with the Mayor of Karachi, a city with a population of a mere 13 million or so.
Yesterday our PIMA hosts took us around to several PIMA supported clinics that cater to the poor and the poorest of the poor. We were also told of medical camps that are set up in the more rural areas that provide free operations. In one doctor’s moving account, we were told of the prevalence of cataracts in the local population with historically many people going blind often simply due to lack of medical attention. There is a simple lens replacing operation that can be done so that the vast majority of these cases can go from very poor eyesight, moving toward blindness, to not even needing glasses.
He told us of how he would get up at 4:00 a.m. on a Saturday, his weekend, drive for several hours, personally do 70 cataract operations until late into the evening and then on Sunday do even more and then return late Sunday. He said these camps, staffed entirely by volunteer doctors and nurses, have done as many as 1000 operations in a weekend. PIMA reports that the government health programs do not provide nearly what is needed. Thus, their organization actively seeks charitable donations and volunteer support to bridge the gap between what is needed and what is currently available.
We have yet to meet up with the wheelchairs and supplies from several relief shipping containers that have arrived in Pakistan. The distribution of these supplies and the formation of relationships is the heart of the purpose for our being here on behalf of Wheels for Humanity. Much of the supplies that have been sent have also come from U.S. Mormon relief efforts.
We visited a refugee camp today along with a hospital and small clinic for the refugees. We will be going into Afghanistan, inshallah (God willing), on Wednesday to visit Spin Boldak area refugee camps. They are considering taking us to Kandahar if conditions will permit. We are holding as the Light assists with releasing the relief supplies from holding at the government receiving locations. The containers from Wheels for Humanity have arrived in the Quetta area as well as others that we are helping to deliver from the Mormons and the Noor Foundation.
Our hosts are proud, dedicated doctors who want to make sure we have a direct experience of the situation and their ongoing effort to help (going back over 20 years). Their medical society is separate from the one associated with the Pakistan government, and so they are doing many programs that the government simply does not do but are very needed.
One of my favorite moments was being taken into a recovery room in a Karachi hospital where mother, family and a one-hour-old baby was. I loved giving the photo of the grandmother holding her new granddaughter.
In Islamabad we had yet another in our series of evening gatherings with members of PIMA (Pakistani Islamic Medical Association). About 10 medical doctors joined us. The host was educated at Yale and reportedly very successful in his organ transplant practice in the U.S. He is apparently the first such transplant doctor in Pakistan having decided to return to serve his motherland.
Also with us is a woman from Karachi who, since the bombing started last October, has personally raised over $100,000 to bring relief supplies to those directly affected by the war. We are told that the relief effort practically stopped inside Afghanistan and is much needed at the moment.
In Quetta we visited a PIMA hospital that offers entirely free medical service. We saw several patients from Afghanistan who have war related injuries, mostly from the bombings. They have an impressive orthopedic and prosthetic unit in which they now make and fit their own devices to suit the particular circumstances that are common to this area. This brings a potent experience of the results of the war and the attending needs.
The PIMA organization is intent on making sure we know first hand and with our own eyes and compassion, the needs that are here and the current well established efforts that are in place but sorely short of what is called for to assist. They want help and welcome international support. We were shown machines and technologies that are considered obsolete by western standards but still quite useful in their practice. They are calling for more equipment and supplies and particularly the knowledge and training to utilize the higher standards that are available. Often the problem is being able to maintain the equipment since parts and repair is not readily available or afforded.
We have had some open discussions of the various issues that are at play in this situation. They are thankful that we are presenting an American presence that is here to help and willing to entrust our welfare into their hands. It is an honor and blessing to be with them as they are a powerful force for the greater good.
Tomorrow our itinerary calls for entry into Afghanistan to Spin Boldak and Kandahar. Thankfully today we have seen with our eyes that the Wheels for Humanity wheel chairs and supplies are now available for distribution. Allah ku shukara (thanks be to God).
This is being sent to you from Chaman, Pakistan, just over the border from Afghanistan where we are staying at the PIMA headquarters along with about 50 other relief workers from various agencies, NGOs, etc. It is very inspiring to be here, as the human needs are tremendous and the willingness to serve those needs is more than whatever it takes. I will have much to say about this as the experience deepens. We are now at the heart of the reason for our being here. Tomorrow we are set up to enter Afghanistan to visit various refugee camps and onto Kandahar. We were shown digital photos of the war situation including the camps, injured, and damage to structures and infrastructure.
Tonight David Morton was invited to do a presentation on Wheels for Humanity and his talk was an inspiration for all. Dr. Hafeez-ur-Rahman, President of PIMA, also gave acknowledgement to the Good Works Foundation and told of a newspaper story of a Kandahar woman who has 9 children, lost her husband and now is feeding her children animal feed as for months she has not been able to get rice, meat or other food for her family. We have been told many personal stories from people on our trip such that the grim reality of the situation is all the more real.
God has blessed us with this opportunity to be here to serve and to experience directly the need to serve. We are very aware of the Light and prayers coming our way to share with all. We are referred to as brothers and sisters and it is true.
We stopped at another new PIMA clinic in Spin Boldak. The locals were patiently lined up outside waiting to get some medical attention. This clinic is the first professional hospital ever to be located in this area and includes a fully functioning operation room and radiology lab. I was probably the most popular guy as I was kept busy taking some Polaroid photos which I gave to the locals, particularly the younger ones.
We later visited a main hospital in Kandahar that PIMA has taken over in order to re-establish the staff and infrastructure needed. As we were approaching the main entrance we noticed that the guards, who are typically not in any kind of uniform but merely distinguished by carrying the Kalashnikovs, were rather excited and talking with our hosts about something. We found out that some of the Taliban fighters were holed up in the building next door, refusing to surrender. They were concerned for our safety so we were quickly escorted to what they considered was a safe haven.
As the PIMA staff continued on a tour of the hospital, David, Holly and myself waited out front and soon were having fun with our Kalashnikov-carrying friends who look undistinguishable from their Taliban foes. When our PIMA escorts came out from their tour to find us fraternizing and taking photos with the Kalashnikov guys, they were somewhat flabbergasted. I suppose it was a bit like seeing the lions and the lambs lying down together.
There have been a few moments in which guys carrying their Kalashnikov rifles approached us, at several checkpoints or some kind of stop. These guys don't wear uniforms, and we saw the camouflage uniforms of the Northern Alliance so we know the difference exists. One situation involved our caravan stopping to look at an American parachute that the locals were now using as a roadside tent. Then 4 rifle carrying guys started approaching our car from somewhere previously unseen, our escorts started yelling “drive on, drive on”, but I noted the smiles on their faces and chalked it up to their welcoming us as is their custom. One fact is certain -- we are safe and sound and have been constantly honored by our hosts and whoever they have introduced us to. There has not been a sign to us of unwelcome. Yes, walking in the light works.”
David Morton and Holly Engelman are still staying in Chaman in order to at last begin distributing wheelchairs in the camps, clinics and hospitals in and near Chaman, Spin Boldak and Kandahar. The official red tape and logistics have kept this operation on hold. But we were told that today the wheelchairs and other relief supplies would be available. Your prayers and Light are a continuous support.
I am full of good experience and compassion as I leave Pakistan and Afghanistan. I am sure you share this in your heart of hearts.