Lahore: A desperate plea for help from a teenage Christian boy in the Punjab, led to BACA delivering their second batch of food aid during the Coronavirus pandemic.
Saqib Maish, (17 yrs), contacted BACA for help after remembering restoration work that we had completed after the 2017 floods, which devastated his village of Sheikhan and the surrounding Punjab province.
This plea was one of many requests for help BACA receives for food throughout Pakistan since the COVID-19 Pandemic, but we were eager to help as this community is one we are already connected with. Our earlier work included medical camps, clean water and installing toilets to promote cleanliness and good hygiene.
On 31st March 2020, BACA began a COVID-19 food aid programme to all the locals who were mainly street-food-vendors and shoe-shiners.
Pakistan like most other countries, has not escaped the Coronavirus pandemic and at the time of writing has so far suffered 4695 cases with 66 deaths and the mortality rate of just under 1.5% is expected to rise rapidly.
Official records state 2287 patients have been tested positive for the pandemic in Punjab, 1214 in Sindh, 620 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 215 in Gilgit-Baltistan, 219 in Balochistan, 107 in Islamabad and 33 in Azad Kashmir.
Pakistan has imposed strict containment measures in response to the virus that included closing schools, banning public gatherings and shuttering all businesses that don’t sell groceries or medicine but unlike some other countries, the effects of a prolonged lockdown in Pakistan could have much more dire economic and potentially fatal consequences. The National Coordination Committee (NCC) has decided to extend the countrywide lockdown till April 21.
Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan’s address to the nation, stated that 25% of Pakistani citizens cannot afford to eat twice a day under a lockdown. Fears grow for the millions of Pakistanis under great poverty, many of which are Christian who are going hungry through not earning, as their life revolves around earning enough to feed themselves for one day. If the country issues more stringent lockdown measures forcing people to stay home it could have a catastrophic effect on their health and ability to fight off a n infection. Many Christians are reporting starvation and when we arrived at Sheikhan already several families had been rationing on one tiny meal a day.
Mr. Khan in his television address summed up Pakistan’s grave reality: "If we shut down the cities… we save them from corona[virus] at one end, but they will die from hunger on the other side … Pakistan does not have the conditions that are in the United States or Europe. Our country has grave poverty.’’
BACA’s response to the request for food was an immediate distribution to families the following day, but others are having to wait as we seek permission to travel via local authorities. We also need enough funds to pay for the necessary food gifts to help struggling families.
In addition to the food distribution BACA shared better awareness of the ways in which COVID-19 is spread, how to avoid and the dangers of ignoring the pandemic. We also are teaching every community that we meet how to wash hands properly and to wash them frequently throughout the day. The need for self-isolation has been discussed and taught and we are explaining the need for social-distancing, however we few local shops in rural communities are practising appropriate distancing and our officers are explaining. BACA also gave advice on how to use gloves when out shopping or on errands and avoiding any physical contact outside of immediate family such as hugs and shaking hands. We are teaching a minimum of 6 feet distance from one another in places where people accumulate like shops.
We continue to encourage people to prayer and worship despite churches being closed and a prayer is said with each family - from a distance.
The villagers were already praying for God’s help and were happy with the government’s announcement of several areas of support. A small grant for all citizens who have been identified as non-property owners, who have not travelled abroad, have no vehicle registered to them and a salary of less than 15,000 rupees per year., will be made available. There are also strict laws during the period that prevent any evictions by landlords. Though no grant has been received through this scheme to date it is believed sums of money will be released by the end of next week.
Saqib Masih is a slave working in a brick factory, which is temporarily closed and has no source of income through this difficult time. Speaking to BACA, he said:
“People in this area are labourers surviving on daily wages, we live on a day to day basis and have no savings - we were unable to gather extra food for ourselves to feed during a lockdown.”
“Even worse, due to the panic caused by Coronavirus shop prices have increased so much that now we were rapidly running out of money and food, and forced to ration ourselves to a bowl of rice a day.
"Our large families were suffering and faced starvation till God provided this wonderful food gift."
Among the Christian houses was a Muslim family and the patriarch Mohammad Yasin requested a food bag as he is a diabetic patient who was rationing and very week. BACA included him in our deliveries without discrimination and we prayed with him at his request with no duress. He was counselled as were the other Christians all of whom were feeling a little worried.
The trip to Sheikhan was not without other complications and despite seeking prior permission, the driver who assisted BACA was slapped in the face by a police officer who was enforcing the lockdown. Our staff place their lives and risk the safety of their families in their desire to help the most vulnerable communities in Pakistan. Please pray for them.
Mehwish Bhatti our national executive for Pakistan, said: "There are many requests coming to us for food deliveries.
"We cannot possibly serve everyone on our existing budgets, as on top of these emergencies we are helping families escaping blasphemy laws with food, homes and other needs.
"We will be visiting A desperate deprived Christian town in Lahore next and then the tent community of Islamabad.
"After this we are praying for more support and help from the global Christian community as we cannot continue our work without it."
Reports that Christians in Karachi were ignored by Muslim NGO, 'The Saylani Welfare International Trust' are disappointing and we intend to visit the Christians who have been left without support in the area.