Day 5, Hope in the mountains
We said farewell to Karachi early in the morning and boarded a flight to Islamabad. Our next destination was Muzaffrabad the political capital of Azad (free) Kashmir.
This was very close to the epicentre of the 2005 earthquake.
MDAUK was first set up in response to this earthquake and this is the location of the hospital project currently underway.
Muzaffrabad is set in a beautiful valley in disputed territory in the foothills of the himalayas. As we drove out of Islamabad the road turned twisty as the climb began, one hairpin after another higher and higher with the Jhelum River in the valley below. We noticed whole chunks of the road that had fallen into the valley during the earthquake.
There were visible marks on the rock face where the mountains had been torn apart; such was the power and magnitude of the quake. In fact we were told by the locals that recently, whilst repairing a fallen strip of road, a digger hit something metallic. Further excavation revealed a van buried deep below the road with the passengers still inside.
So it comes as no surprise that the doctors from MDAUK had performed over 100 operations on the injured on the first day of their arrival in 2005.
Our purpose here was to see the hospital site, the construction so far and to speak to some of the locals. We were also meeting some local government officials to gauge their support. We have been raising money for the Flood relief but here we were going to witness critical work that MDAUK have done and are doing long term for a devastated community.
Muzaffrabad sits well into the foothills (in Europe these would be mountains) and overlooks the Jhelum River. The town has an air of tranquillity about it that I hadn’t experienced so far on our trip and it felt very safe. We were told that it was one of the safest places in the region. Perhaps that is because it is not so easily accessible. Nevertheless the locals were friendly and extremely hospitable.
Shortly after our arrival we went to visit the hospital site, and what I expected to find was a patch of land designated for a hospital. What we actually found was much more. Muzaffrabad sits on a major fault line and sitting lower in the valley on a plateau just above the river was the solid reinforced concrete foundation for what will be a quake proof building (less than 5 buildings in the region are quake proof). We watched as the builders, engineers, joiners, and welders worked on building the steel and concrete superstructure. So far no less than 250 metric tonnes of steel have been used to strengthen the foundations.
We walked around the ground floor as the project manager pointed out the various areas, out patients, x-ray, wards, research labs, teaching area, etc, etc. This hospital will not only serve the locals but also provide teaching to them. There will be at least one UK consultant level doctor/ surgeon present every 2 weeks out of 4 here. The equipment will be of western standards, there will be a school of midwifery and all treatment will be free of charge.
Being there and speaking to the local politicians and people just brought into focus how much time effort and anguish the doctors had been through to get the project to this stage. What this hospital will mean to Muzaffrabad and to Pakistan cannot be overestimated. The level of professional medical treatment planned here will not be available anywhere else in Pakistan. Moreover, with the teaching element, this will become a self sustaining centre of excellence.
The doctors at MDAUK have been tireless in their efforts to help the underprivileged in this part of the world. Their selflessness and dedication is staggering. I feel humbled by the work they have done and are doing. Doctor Ifti, our main host, for example on his way back to Karachi was supposed to meet a friend for lunch. He cancelled at the last minute to carry out a 4 hour operation at a hospital in Islamabad free of charge; he just made it in time for his flight.
Having seen all the work on the ground, the food distribution and the longer term projects I can safely say that the money with MDAUK is reaching the people it was donated for. There is a lot of manoeuvring required to ensure it gets there and in this respect the network MDAUK has is adept at achieving this.
Returning home to the relative luxury of England it is easy to fall back into a normal routine. But before we left we made a quick stop at Mirpur close to the place of my birth and my parent’s village. But for a few kind twists of fate it could have been me carrying my children through the water.
If you’d like to help the flood victims with a donation, please do so on my just giving site.