Reaching conflict-affected orphans in Swat Valley
Young Muzammil and his 10-year-old brother Anas who lost their father in a bomb blast last year before moving to Akhpal Kor orphanage in Swat, Pakistan.
By Alistair Ingi Gretarsson and Shandana Aurangzeb Durrani
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, 1 June 2009 – “Muzammil misses our mother and he wants to go back to our home in Mingora,” says Anas, age 10. He and his brother lost their father in a bomb blast last year and their mother could no longer afford to take care of them. Young Muzammil stays as close as he can to his big brother and refuses to participate in conversation.
Anas and Muzammil arrived at the Akhpal Kor Model School and Orphanage for boys in Swat shortly before conlfict in the region intensified and the population of the city was forced to flee. They are now among seventy five orphaned children living in this temporary shelter supported by UNICEF, at a government school in the city of Peshawar.
As of 27 May, over 2.5 million people have been registered in six affected districts. About 167,565 of them are living in established camps, while 2.3 million are in other accommodations. The remaining people are staying with increasingly overburdened friends and relatives, in rented accommodation and makeshift shelters in schools and other government buildings.
Imran Khan, 25, is a soft spoken man with a big heart. He is Anas and Muzammil’s teacher and the coordinator of the Akhpal Kor Orphanage. Akhpal Kor means ‘My Home’.
When the fighting intensified, many of the boys managed to escape, but 25 were trapped in the middle of the fighting. With a few basic provisions in their rucksacks, the boys and their teacher fled the orphanage.
“The government forces lifted the curfew for five hours and everyone fled,” Imran said. “But there were so many people we couldn’t get any transport. So we walked for forty kilometres. It was very difficult for the younger boys but we had no choice, there was no other way out.”
Separated from the group
After a long and harrowing journey, Imran and the boys finally reached the city of Peshawar. With the help of UNICEF and local partners they were given a place to stay and provided with food and other necessities.
However, as they had fled Mingora, one of the older boys, Obaid Ullah, 16, was separated from the group. When they were unable to find him they had no choice but to continue their journey.
“I was desperate to get these boys to a safe place as soon as possible,” says Imran.
When Obaid became separated from the group, with nowhere else to go, he decided to try to get back to the orphanage in Mingora. However, as soon as he entered the city he was apprehended and interrogated overnight. Eventually, he made his way back to the orphanage alone.
Obaid stayed in the orphanage for five days. Imran finally managed to get in touch with them and arrange for Obaid’s safe travel to join his brother and the rest of the boys in the shelter in Peshawar.
Obaid Ullah is happy that he, his friends and the staff of the orphanage are all safe but he misses his life in Swat.
“It’s very hot here and I miss my teachers. I want to go back,” he said.
A safe space
With UNICEF support, the children’s accommodation and schooling has been arranged in a local school where they have food, clothes, shoes, bedding and other basic supplies. They are also receiving essential medical care, including psychosocial support to help them deal with the shock of what they have experienced. UNICEF is also ensuring that their schooling continue, providing them with school bags, text books and other classroom supplies.
Since arriving in Peshawar, Imran has identified a number other children who were living with their extended families in camps for displaced people and has asked them to come to the shelter in Peshawar. At the moment, seventy five children are living at the shelted, but Imran is certain that this number will rise.