Haroon Rashid from Bolton travelled to Kashmir to help distribute the money and aid that was collected from the UK. Here, he gives his personal account.
We returned exhausted from our mission of transporting aid to the earthquake stricken region of Kashmir on behalf of the people of Bolton. Mentally and physically drained from the reality of our experience, nothing could have prepared us for what we witnessed.
Absolute devastation, very few building left standing, people bewildered, lost and confused. Orphaned children seeking their families, sick and injured walking miles to get to makeshift hospitals. Decaying bodies lying under what were once large buildings.
The three of us, Tariq Mahmood, Hassan Jiva and myself left Manchester not knowing what to expect, but fearing the worst. On arriving in Lahore we made our way to Islamabad where we collected 9 trucks loaded with emergency aid containing tents, medication, warm clothing and food. A friend working with Muslim Hands had already prepared these.
Together with Muslim Hands, accompanied by a team of 16 doctors and under army escort we headed for Bagh, south east of Muzzafarabad, an area which was very badly affected. The journey took a gruelling 14 hours along the winding Kashmiri roads. Upon arriving in Bagh we quickly discovered that aid was now reaching Bagh City and that the survivors were safe. A full day was lost to heavy rain.
The next morning we discovered that bulldozers had opened a road heading out of Bagh, blocked by landslides after the earthquake. We selected a few trucks of food and clothing from our 9, aware of problems with looting and headed for the mountains beyond Bagh. Two to three hours later we came to an area called Lasdana. No one had reached these people.
They were sat at the road side for a week hoping someone would come. They were overcome by emotion as were we. Three military officers with us organised the distribution which was received in an orderly fashion. After emptying the trucks we returned to base.
The next morning we ventured further up the mountain to the top. There came a time when we were at about 10,000ft above sea level, driving on the mountain top with cliffs on both sides. We eventually reached a village of people is desperate need. We distributed all our aid and even emptied our personal belongings and money.
These were the most needy people we had come-across. Many had buried several family members, had lost their homes and were living outside, too scared to even contemplate returning indoors because of after shocks. What was heartbreaking was the fact that it was cold during the day and temperatures fell below freezing at night. We were told many children had died of hypothermia.
After distributing personal money, from friends and family, in hospitals in Muzaffarabaad, we returned home knowing that winter was beginning to set in but that thousands of men, women and children were sat outside in freezing conditions.
We thank the efforts of the people of Bolton for their generosity in managing to raise £140,000 in a few days but emphasise that this is not a time to be content with our efforts.
A lot of work is needed immediately and in the medium and long term to ensure that the survivors of this catastrophic natural disaster are able to rebuild their lives and those of their children. Housing, schools and hospitals are the main priorities but are only possible if you remember those who are suffering everyday and donate generously.
We, living in the safe, secure West find it very difficult to empathise with our fellow brothers and sisters who are suffering as a result of the Earthquake.
Sadly, we think that if we have given a tenner we can pat ourselves on the back and feel we have done our bit. However, the victims in Pakistan who have had their lives turned upside down and have lost loved ones are still suffering.
The Muslim Ummah is described as being like a body. When one part of the body hurts, the rest of the body feels the pain. If we don’t feel any pain, mercy or compassion towards those who are suffering then this highlights how black and hard our hearts have become.
This Earthquake is a test for the victims in Pakistan, but is an even bigger test for us sitting here in luxury, as to what we are doing to help our brothers and sisters to rebuild their lives from scratch. If we don’t show mercy to those in need, Allah (swt) will not show mercy to us. Our dua’s, thoughts and generous charity should continuously be with them. May Allah (swt) give us the ability to do so.
Ask yourself what you have done and what you are doing now for the people of Kashmir?