A Children's Catastrophe: Youth Volunteers Assist
By Huma Khawar
It’s being called ‘the children’s catastrophe’ because so many thousands of the fatalities and the injured from the earthquake in northern Pakistan are children.
The capital city of Islamabad was affected – a huge apartment block falling, with 29 deaths and over a hundred people pulled out from the under the rubble.
Shortly afterwards, the city’s streets were full of colourful Urdu banners announcing collection centres for donated goods to be trucked up to the affected areas. In front gardens young people with their sleeves rolled up heave about bales of blankets and boxes of bottled water. This huge disaster in their country has affected them too – and they’re keen to get involved, help, participate in the relief effort. Huma Khawar describes the scene.
Three girls in blue and white school uniform see my UNICEF armband as I go into Islamabad’s Children’s Hospital. “The guard is not letting us in – he says there are enough volunteers; they don’t want any more. Please, we want to help the children,” they beg me. At the same time the nearby notice hastily scrawled requesting volunteers is being scanned by two young people – but obviously, it’s become redundant.
The scene inside the hospital is a touching one, with many boys and girls, Scouts, Girl Guides, young women in hejab and jeans and T-shirts, all wearing face masks and surgical gloves, moving with patients down the corridors to the operating theatre, pushing trolleys carrying juice and food handouts. Girls are doing the chores the overstretched attendants have no time for, and are sitting by children’s bedsides, giving frantic parents a break.
Mustaneer Gohar, a 21 year student at the National Institute of Psychiatry has been at the hospital since the second day after the quake, trying to console the traumatized children. “There are twelve of us here from one class, encouraging children to talk for trauma relief. They are in a state of shock and seem to have no sense of space and time, or where they are.”
Aytul Younus, is 15 and studies at Beacon House school, Islamabad. Placing a baby boy back in bed after getting him an intravenous drip he says, “We lost eight of our friends in the apartment block collapse – we decided to volunteer our help.”
Dr Anjum Javed, Children’s Hospital Director, says, ‘These volunteer young people are remarkable. With 704 child admissions so far treated, and 350 surgical operations done, we couldn’t have managed without them – and their energy. Our staff is exhausted, they work on a 24 hour shift basis; they’ve reached the stage they’re beyond caring about their own food needs. We are now registering the youngsters so they can be diverted to other hospitals where there’s very few staff - but where injured children are still pouring in from every where.’
Another doctor adds: "These youngsters are very motivated and charged. We need to utilize them, delegate responsibility and let them really get involved."
In the long haul of concerted relief effort that this disaster forebodes, participation by the youth of Pakistan is evidently going to play a vital part.