Last week, six relief workers in Mansehra, a city in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP), died after an attack on their office. In 2008, gunmen killed four staff members of another international aid agency. Charities and international aid organisations are under constant threat in Pakistan, particularly in the NWFP, yet a group of women continue their humanitarian efforts in the region, despite the risks.
Meaning "We are all Pakistani", the Hum Pakistani Foundation was formed last summer by a group of Pakistani women who joined together as representatives of other organisations or on their own to help the three million internally displaced persons (IDPs) of the Swat Valley who had to leave their homes following the Pakistani army's operation in Northern Pakistan to root out Taliban extremists.
In the midst of so many crises, the government's efforts to provide relief to its affected citizens often leave much to be desired. It has been incumbent on the private citizens of Pakistan to come together and take charge of providing relief to their less fortunate compatriots.
In less than a year, as the first umbrella organisation to bring together more than 20 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and thousands of people to work towards the common goal of alleviating the misery of the IDPs, the Hum Pakistani Foundation was able to set up schools, medical camps, community centres and psychiatric counselling centres in the Swat Valley. It also sent $100,000 worth of food, medical supplies, water storage tanks, stoves and other products to areas most in need.
Today, as many of the IDPs have returned to their homes, the foundation is focused on helping the residents of Swat and Malakand, the most troubled areas of the NWFP, rebuild their lives. Here, Hum Pakistani has been given forts and other buildings by the Pakistan Army which, in collaboration with UNICEF, it is now using as schools, hostels and community centres.
Many of these community centres are used for the rehabilitation of young boys between the ages of eight and 16 who were allegedly kidnapped by extremists and were able to run away. Most of these boys were being indoctrinated and trained to become suicide bombers or informants.
The centres focus on re-integrating these boys into society by providing them with medical and psychiatric assistance, offering them schooling and, eventually, vocational training so that they can pursue professions in carpentry, electrical services and appliance repair. This spring, these boys will also be given agro-therapy, participating in farming as a way of dealing with their trauma.
As Feriha Peracha, Project Director of Sabaoon – an academy for the vulnerable youth of Malakand and Hum Pakistani partner – explains, "Agro-therapy is important for these young boys, not just as therapy, but as a skill to enhance their output as many of them come from farming backgrounds."
Additionally, the foundation has created community centres that aim to empower women. They provide a space in which women can safely interact with each other and learn skills that will eventually help them set up small businesses focusing on indigenous crafts, such as pottery and embroidery. This model is now being picked up by other organisations in different parts of the country.
The outreach of the Hum Pakistani Foundation is possible because of collaboration with its sister organisations, such as the Pakistan Red Crescent Society; CARE – a foundation focusing on empowerment through education; the Pakistan Medical Association, Shirkat Gah – a resource centre that advocates for women's rights; and Sabaoon, among others.
The members of the Hum Pakistani Foundation believe that humankind is like a single body: if one part of the body is in pain, the rest of the body cannot function properly. Similarly, a nation is unable to function properly when so many of its people are in pain.
As such, the women of Hum Pakistani Foundation connect and nurture, offering assistance to the needy. They know that it is only after all this foundational work has been done that the healing will begin.
* Ayeda Naqvi is a Lahore-based journalist and social activist. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).