In the face of ongoing insecurity in Pakistan, a 13-year-old boy plays an active role in a camp for displaced persons
By Karina Coates
Jalozai Camp, Pakistan, December 5 2012 – In his spare time, 13-year-old Irfan Ullah practises spin bowling, copying his favourite Pakistani cricketer, Shahid Afridi. Handy with a bat, Irfan hopes to represent Pakistan’s national team one day.
“I like Shahid Afridi because he bats, bowls and fields well. He’s a great all-rounder,” says Irfan.
The same can be said for the articulate boy from Bajaur Agency, who has been living in Jalozai camp in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for more than three years. Since insecurity near Irfan’s home forced his family to move to safety, he has devoted his energy to learning and planning for the future – and to teaching, encouraging and advocating for other children.
From escape to advocacy
More than three years ago, fighting that had begun in July 2008 between government forces and non-State actors reached Irfan’s village in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of northwestern Pakistan.
Irfan’s family fled to Jalozai camp. “We only had the clothes that we were wearing and a little bit of food,” he says. “When we arrived, we found tents, food, schools and places to play.”
Since then, Irfan has kept himself busy in the camp, acting as a role model and advocate for his six brothers and sisters, as well as for other children. “Each morning, I get up early, wash my face and go to school, where I’m the head of the student union,” Irfan says. “I provide health and hygiene information – and, if children have problems, I let the service providers in the camp know.”
“I also encourage children who aren’t going to school to enrol,” he adds, explaining that education contributes to keeping people safe and the environment clean. “I invited my friends who didn’t go to school to come with me, and I introduced them to the teachers.”
Towards peace of mind
After school, Irfan attends one of Jalozai’s 21 UNICEF-supported Protective Learning and Community Emergency Services (PLaCES), where children and women enjoy a safe, protective space to discuss their problems, receive referrals to other services and learn skills. Children can play with other children. As well as integrating health, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene services, each facility includes a dedicated space for women and adolescent girls to encourage their participation.
PLaCES also help children and women to recover from trauma and hardship caused by their experiences.
Irfan has learned to draw and now teaches other children. He also enjoys playing sports. He says that, when he arrived in the camp, these activities helped ease his distress. “Hearing the gunshots in our village had a stressful impact on us. The activities here gave us other things to focus on. And gradually our frame of mind changed,” he says.
Encouraging good health
Irfan shares his health and hygiene knowledge with other children at PLaCES. At home, he mentors his siblings, taking them to UNICEF-supplied tap stands and toilets to teach them how to wash their hands with soap.
“I’m afraid they’ll get sick. They’re kids – they play with whatever’s in the house,” he says. “When we don’t wash our hands, germs can go onto our food. Then our stomach gets upset.”
Irfan is also aware of the dangers of polio. “If someone doesn’t receive polio drops, they could become disabled,” he says, a message his hero Shahid Afridi, as Pakistan’s Celebrity Polio Champion, is also sharing to help eradicate polio in the country.
Plans to benefit his community
Irfan says he is particularly keen to share what he has learned at school and PLaCES with children and families when he returns to his home community, as they have not had the same learning opportunities. “I miss my home,” he says. “May God make my land prosperous and be re-established, so we could return.”
Chief of UNICEF’s field office in Peshawar Wafaa Saeed says Irfan is an inspiration. “Irfan Ullah’s experience demonstrates how UNICEF and partners’ support can empower a child and his or her family, and help them to recover from the impact of emergencies,” she says. “Irfan is a role model for his family and for others in the Jalozai camp community because he is motivated to change his and others’ circumstances and work for his dreams.”
Because of ongoing insecurity, about 774,600 people are currently estimated to be living away from their homes, 64,983 of whom are accommodated in Jalozai camp. There are two other camps, but the majority are residing within host communities.
To date, more than 153,400 families have returned home to safe areas, where they have needed assistance to re-establish their livelihoods, re-enrol their children in school and access other essential services.
UNICEF and partners are continuing to support families who are living in camps and in host communities and those returning to their homes. However, emergency funding for critical life-saving responses, including water and sanitation, will be exhausted by the end of 2012, putting children and their families at risk of outbreaks of diseases, malnutrition, school dropout and exploitation.
UNICEF and partners require additional funding of US$18.2 million to continue life-saving support to people affected by this emergency, half of whom are children.