Pakistan floods: returning home

Emergencies article written on the 29 Nov 2010

Ikhtiar, community health volunteer in Khaipur, Pakistan. Photo: Jane Beesley/Oxfam

Photos and story by Jane Beesley/Oxfam

Whilst many people remain in camps others, as the floodwater recedes, are going home. In a village in Khaipur a group of women reveal what helped them return home.

To get to the village of Goth Zawar Suleman you have to cross a small river on a brightly painted trailer and tractor. Ever conscious of providing guests with comfort a couple of beds with quilts and pillows are loaded on board for us to sit on.

On arrival we are soon offered and provided with sweet tea and biscuits…but what really makes the trip is, that although life is very hard, there is joy at being able to return home. ‘We returned 8 to 10 days ago and more are coming.’ Says Ikhtiar, one of the women in the village, adding ‘Of the 330 families living here 250 have returned.’ And the reason is, ‘People are coming back because you have been giving out shelter kits…a few people returned before but they had big trees they could shelter under. Most have come back because we have these shelter kits.’

For the first few families to arrive back seeing their village for the first time was a shock, as Shahnaz (right), who’s family were the first to return, describes, ‘When we first came back there was still floodwater up to our calves. It was very frightening for me and the entire village was empty.’ Not long after Ikhtiar’s family arrived ‘I was very happy to return but the children were very frightened they kept asking, ‘why are you bringing us here, there is no-one here.’ Every house had been washed away it didn’t seem like my village – it was very strange – I couldn’t identify what had been houses. Now more people are back and we have these shelters so it’s starting to look like a village again but before it was very frightening.’

The villagers are actively trying to re-establish their lives, ‘Now we are starting to prepare the land and start farming so we can start to help ourselves.’ Says Ikhtiar. She goes on to say, ‘In the camps we had facilities, like latrines, but here we have no facilities and the children are getting sick. Now that you are coming here we hope that this will change. You are the only organisation who has come here.’

Previously few people in the village had latrines as it depended on whether they could afford one or not, ‘Now everyone is going in the open or using bed sheets for privacy’ reports Ikhtiar, ‘but we don’t have enough bed sheets and quilts to sleep under and use for privacy…so we take them down at night so we can sleep under them.’

Almost as soon as people started arriving back Oxfam distributed hygiene kits, ‘We received the hygiene kits on 27 October. There was soap, towels, sanitary cloth… the soap was for clothes, utensils and for personal bathing… a jug, a cooler, a bucket.’ Although people thought soap was particularly useful, especially for getting children clean they are eager to point out, ‘…there was nothing that wasn’t useful!’ Ajeeba (is quick to comment, ‘We had nothing and you provided us with all these things that are very useful to us. We cannot say that any one of them is not useful. I want to tell you that this has been excellent and well done!’

Oxfam staff had recently visited the village to talk about hygiene promotion and had left the village with the task of selecting two groups of community health volunteers, one for women and one for men.

‘We have already selected the Community health volunteers’ says Moomal. Aybab, who is not one of the volunteers explains the process, ‘We had a meeting and selected the volunteers by voting… This is the first time we’ve been allowed to elect members.’ When asked what qualities they were looking for Aybab tells us, ‘We were looking for people we trusted.’ adding ‘We elected them two days ago straight after the meeting with Oxfam. It would be difficult to gather all the women together again so we thought we would do it then.’

Soon Oxfam will be returning to carry out training with the two groups but in the meantime they are clear about their responsibilities, ‘We represent the community.’ Says Shama ‘After the training from Oxfam…we’ll pass on the hygiene messages to the community’ and ‘if there are any problems that come from the community we will tell you.’

Although this training has yet to happen we ask them what difference they think these activities will make. ‘We definitely think there will be a change here.’ – is their first response. Pushed to be more specific, Ajeeba is the one to answer, ‘People here don’t really know how to take care of their children’s hygiene…children are not encouraged to wash their hands…and there is a lack of hygiene when cooking. So we think that once we are trained and can teach other women here in the village what we have learnt then there will be a big improvement in health.’

Oxfam has distributed over 7,600 emergency shelter kits in Upper Sindh and has reached 225,000 people through it’s water, sanitation and hygiene promotion activities, including the distribution of around 47,000 hygiene kits.