Back in July, when monsoon rains inundated Pakistan, there was no shortage of news about the floods. We received constant updates on the villages that were washed away, the homes that were submerged, the families that were displaced from their homes. We heard stories about children who were malnourished, about mothers who were vulnerable to disease. We inspired each other to raise money, to deliver relief items to the camps, to share in our collective humanity.
But when the floods stopped, so did the news headlines. And as the ramifications of the disaster slipped further away from the front pages, our attention shifted elsewhere.
I speak from personal experience. In August, we [my company, ML Resources Social Vision, along with Pakistani Peace Builders, and Indus Valley Productions] partnered to launch Relief4Pakistan, a grassroots campaign that leveraged social media platforms and people-to-people relationships to raise funds and awareness about the unfolding flood disaster. In our first phase, we decided to vet and choose an international relief agency working with a local team on the ground and delivering emergency first response relief effectively. We were lucky in many, many ways, mainly because we ignited the campaign amid the swell of citizen giving and awareness. We raised $150,000 in about two months, centralizing those funds to Mercy Corps.
As we saw the success of the campaign grow and truly turn into a movement, our team was inspired to do more. Together with OperationUSA (an international relief agency, which, contrary to its name, is a privately funded charity focusing on community engagement and mobilization), we designed what we hope is a unique model for post-flood recovery, taking a community-based approach to address immediate needs and layer the initiative by partnering with social innovators working in housing, solar energy, education, and health sectors to have a long-term impact. We realized the key to success was partnership and collaboration, not trying to reinvent the wheel. We also knew we needed to focus on the areas that weren’t receiving aid or attention from the government or aid organizations, helping those communities falling through the cracks.
That is how we came across Sardar Wali Khan Mazari, a tribal leader of the Bangla Ichha Union Council, a cluster of four villages in Rojhan, the sub-district of Rajanpur in southern Punjab. Rajanpur was one of the hardest hit areas of Pakistan, and Bangla Ichha, along the western banks of the Indus River, suffered tremendously. 2/3 of the population (30,000 out of 40,000) were displaced by the disaster, homes were destroyed (about 5,000), and 20,000 acres of farmland were submerged, resulting in tremendous ramifications for this heavily agrarian society.
Mazari has been and is an incredibly inspirational figure amid this disaster. He told me, “In the immediate aftermath of the floods, I provided shelter and food aid to about 5000 IDPs on my farms and in my village. The army also set up a refugee camp just outside our village on my land to provide food, shelter, and medical aid to the flood-affected people. However, the civil authorities were slow and inadequate in their flood relief response in our area…”
The tribal leader soon led a “long march” from his village of nearly 1,000 people to the district headquarters in Rajanpur (a walk of 200 kilometers) to pressure authorities to deliver aid (via the oft-reported “Watan” cards) to the Bangla Ichha community. He noted,
The people’s reaction, especially in Rojhan, has been overwhelming. They felt let down by the government and by some of their sardars who were ‘missing in action’ and weren’t providing any support. The poor people of the Mazari area of the district, besides needing aid, wanted someone to inspire hope, somebody who would listen to their needs. They wanted their leaders to stand beside them. Unfortunately, in many areas of Rojhan, this did not occur, perhaps because the concept of ‘giving back’ is absent from the vocabulary of these local leaders and government officials.
Mazari’s desire to help his community and truly listen to the needs of his people were inspired by his late father, he said, who embodied the tribal values of insaan dosti (shared humanity), khidmat (service), and wafa (loyalty). Those values now inspire the Relief4Pakistan team, and remind us to always keep listening. For example, when we first met Mazari (through Zeyba, one of our team members), we had grand ideas of social innovation and what we wanted to introduce to the Bangla Ichha community. While many of those ideas will be undertaken at later stages by our social enterprise partners (EcoEnergy Finance, for example, will be sending solar lanterns to the community and will potentially install a solar lighting system in the area), Mazari instead convened a meeting with members of his community, asking them about their immediate needs.
The answer was unanimous. The community, most of whom are poor farmers, needed wheat seeds and fertilizer in time for the planting season. They needed to restore their livelihoods. Our team was humbled and learned a big lesson – in order to ensure sustainability, the local community not only needs to be engaged, but they also need to be listened to. Through gifts in-kind, (via the Rohi Foundation/United Nations FAO and the Imran Khan Foundation), we quickly received enough wheat seeds to restore 3400 acres of crops, just one month into this second phase.
Our partnership with OperationUSA will continue to enforce our commitment to this model area, particularly since we are now working to help build dikes (to prevent future flooding) and fostering community investment to ensure long-term impact as well as cooperating with other partners who will help restore schools, train community health workers, and rebuild homes. Nimmi Gowrinathan, the director of OpUSA’s South Asia Programs, further emphasized,
OpUSA often is able to work in remote areas heavily affected by disasters, villages that have no other form of external support. This approach in Pakistan has ensured Operation USA’s aid has ‘filled in the gaps’ left by larger INGOs and UN agencies, and supported community-driven initiatives – increasing both the efficiency and sustainability of long-term development projects. Across all of our programs we have seen civilians regain control over their own lives with adapted housing and livelihood support. We have seen communities develop their own local NGOs to advocate for rights and services from the government. And we have seen decreased rates of maternal mortality with an intervention as simple as a vehicle adapted for use as an ambulance.
This is not a shameless self-promotion post. This is a story of how a group of like-minded citizens, an international relief agency, and a tribal leader with the moral integrity to help his people had the courage to be audacious and the humility to collaborate. This is also an appeal to join our movement, to give when it’s no longer trendy, and to remember the millions affected by the floods when no one else will. Support the group that speaks most to you, but, really, just continue supporting. Because as the cold weather encroaches on the 18.1 million Pakistanis still affected by the floods, they need us to continue to remember them.
To donate to Relief4Pakistan or to learn more about what we do: http://www.relief4pakistan.com