April 2011

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It is amazing how quickly time seems to pass and disasters fade into the background. We thought that a report Maureen Lines did on the food distribution programme and her project for future flood prevention and the building of a new High School would act both as a reminder of the incredible job of food distribution in the Kalash Valleys that she carried out last autumn and early winter and inform you of how she is looking to the future.

 BACKGROUND TO THE SITUATION FOLLOWING THE FLOODS

Although just about everyone in the Kalash Valleys was affected one way or another, by losing their standing crops such as corn, some their wheat, which was waiting for the thresher, fruit trees, walnut trees, their grape harvest (the last two are cash crops) and have had land washed away (in some cases people have lost their flour mills and irrigation channels), and should be helped now and in the long term, we have to be realistic and help those that are the most severely affected.

In the village of Balanguru in Rumbur, where the main bridge was broken, now mended, most of the flour mills have been destroyed as well as two hydro electric power plants. In some cases people have lost their houses or cattle houses and fields.  Two hours trek north of Balanguru, close to the Afghan border, is the Nuristani village of Shaikhonondai. It is here, houses have been washed away, as well as fruit and walnut trees. Their bridge has also been broken, their fields and crops washed away. The people are very poor and depend entirely on their livestock and agriculture for survival. They are far from any bazaar or medical facilities except for our dispensary.

Shaikhonodai village in the very north of Bumburet suffers in a similar fashion to their compatriots in Rumbur. Here several houses have been washed away. There are 27 families, refugees from the village of Kushtus, which was destroyed by the people of Kamdesh a few years back. These people have nothing at the best of times. They are desperate for help and may receive little if anything from the government. (So far only 35 houses in Rumbur, Bumburet and Birir are on the DCO’s list of affectees.) Here there are 130 houses. The Kalash village south of that, Krakaal, has also been badly affected with landslides as well as the river flooding. After the floods, we opened a new dispensary here and gave out a quantity of medicine, but we still need to find a more suitable dispenser. One of the local teachers has been helping in this capacity.

The whole of Birir has suffered loss of land, fruit and walnut trees and their grape harvest. Four houses have been washed away and some livestock. Some fields have been washed away and the corn and bean harvests are very poor due to torrential rains. The road, bad at the best of times, was washed away twice during the floods. Each time our organization motivated the people to help the road gang to reopen the road. Most of the people are poor without any means of livelihood except from their agriculture. Here there are 365 houses, which have all been affected. There are fifteen main villages, Guru, Grubinasa, Grubba Quoie, Bashalidada, Ooerie, Aspa, Bishal, Gris, Gas Guru, Jau Guru, Bio, Sandiki, Noshbu, Warridon and small hamlet of Seroo. There are also a couple of other small hamlets.

LOGISTICS

The area is mountainous, with some very narrow valleys where it is difficult for helicopters to land (the army had difficulty in landing a helicopter in Rumbur, because the valley is so narrow), and where the roads have been broken. Where they have been mended, they are very hazardous as they are very narrow above the ravines where the rivers run between huge boulders. The tracks are difficult for walking as well as for the jeeps because the path goes in and out of the river in some places. Villages are often far apart, and in regard to the Nuristani village of northern Rumbur, we had to deliver food on horseback. We had the same problem in Birir; we could only reach the upper villages by using donkeys.

The World Food Programme assisted us transporting their food (wheat flour and other commodities) by trucks from Peshawar, via Bajaur, over the Lowari Top to a place called Gahiret, which is on the main motorway, and is between Drosh and Chitral. There the consignment was received near the Scouts’ Checkpost; this is near to the Gahiret Bridge and just off the main road. Its position was perfect for our needs and a staging point as well as store for onward deliveries to the affected valleys. The army kindly guarded it.

From there we were able to transport by jeep to the middle of Birir where we had our main distribution site.  We were able to transport to Bumburet via Ayun to the village of Krakaal, where we had another distribution point. Food was then transported onwards by jeep or on horseback to the Nuristani Village of Shaikhonondai. Likewise in Rumbur, we shipped supplies to upper Rumbur from Gahiret via Ayun to the village of Balanguru, where we used a guesthouse facility as a distribution centre. From there we sent supplies on horseback to another Nuristani village also called Shaikonondai (village of the Sheiks – the converted ones) and easily distributed supplies to the village of Balanguru and other affected houses along the river of Rumbur.

DISTRIBUTION

For the most part, it went smoothly. We had the cooperation of both the local and border police, and the people themselves were helpful as well as patient and orderly. Some brought us chai, parratas, and biscuits, including one of the local mullahs.

Only twice, did I have to stop distribution. Once, towards the end, when our commodities were running low, the crowd was so big that I felt we were in danger of being swamped by the people, and, again, when a few days near the end of the program, during our third cycle in Birir, the usual troublemakers in Birir (the timber boys) wanted to make a problem. The police came to our aid; as did the people, and the following day we continued distribution without any problem. The final outcome was that in all three valleys, the people overall were very happy indeed with the programme. I know for a fact, that if we had not had the help of WFP, many people would have gone very hungry this winter. A number of people said to us, that but for this programme, the people would have starved this winter as they had no money to buy supplies.

Note: Since writing this, Maureen reports: “The food distribution has made a major contribution to helping the Kalash through the winter. The people there are truly grateful and the measure of our success is that my ‘friends’ among the corrupt so-called leaders in Birir have been trying ever since to dislodge me!!!  One of the ironies from that programme is that the high vitamin biscuits which, everyone (including me) disdained are now much sought after. We had many cartons over which we kept for the opening of the schools this month. Afzal who was storing them in our dispensary has now given them out. The people keep saying they are just like medicine! Exactly… Everyone to whom we gave them benefited enormously. Also WWF has stated that they will assist us by giving trees for a plantation this spring. For this we need to pay people to plant and transport them.”

JUSTIFICATION FOR REHABILITATION IN THE KALASH VALLEYS – RETAINING WALLS FOR THE KALASH VALLEY OF BIRIR

The valley of Birir has been subjected to extreme forest destruction with the result that much agricultural land has been lost and ancient Kalash sites, as well as villages, are threatened.

We have built some essential walls over the years, starting in 1995, with building a series of walls to protect Guru Village and also planting some trees on the riverbank.  The year before last, we mended a couple of the walls which had received a little damage, but now there is a threat to the nearby mosque and to the village itself by the soil erosion, and mud slides in the nullah alongside the village on its NE side.

We are experienced in this field. Many years ago, I had a German River Control engineer stay with me in Birir and at the end of the last decade, I had the benefit of another water engineer to help me build irrigation channels and to advise on more retaining walls. We do not use cement except a little mixed in with stones and rocks in the foundations below ground (we always dig four foot trenches), as above water cement walls always crack. We use no. 8 J-wire and dipped. Generally, we have it shipped from Peshawar to ensure we do get the best.

For some years the inhabitants of the valley have been asking for the preservation of the Kalash graveyard and security of the Kalash community school in Grubinasar. The path, which leads from Grubba Quioe, Kata Ker and Grubba Chet to the school has been so eroded that the path is now very dangerous and if there is no protection, will completely disappear. If the gol floods more fields will be washed away and the school building threatened. At the top end of the valley, houses are threatened in the village of Jau Guru from landslides, and the main suspension bridge, which already has had one of its pillars damaged by flood waters, is in danger of being destroyed.

Last year I had over twenty applications for retaining walls. Now the situation, after the last summer floods, the valleys are desperately in need of rehabilitation. Bridges need to be rebuilt, pathways remade, irrigation channels re dug, and, most of all, retaining walls built to prevent more damage from successive floods.

Note: Maureen has submitted a major project for building new retaining walls to DFID. This is now residing in the DFID Offices at The British High Commission in Islamabad with to-date, no reaction – not even an acknowledgement.

HIGH SCHOOL

For a number of years both the Kalash and Muslim communities in Birir have requested that they should have their own High School in Birir. The only high school in the valleys is in Bumburet; Fathers of daughters do not like their girls going to stay in the other valley, especially if they have no relatives there. Plus there is the cost of travel as well as cost of hostel, if the students do not stay with relatives.

The school would be built just above the village of Grubinasa in central Birir. (This is the village where I live, so it will be easy for me to constantly monitor construction and the teaching afterwards.) The idea is not to have a pukka shining cement structure, but a natural (a la Kalash) building similar to the community school, which is situated in the same site designated for the school. The land belongs to one of the three brothers of my Kalash family. The idea is to have pukka education and to equip the school according to the dictates of the government and HKCA.

Phase One – First Year 

To build the first class room, start on the garden and construct the chowkidar’s house/cook house.

 

Phase Two – Second Year

The building of the second class room, washrooms and finishing the garden.

Phase Three – Third year

Equipping the school and opening for the first 25 students.  I am figuring on 50 students maximum. If you want quality education, you cannot have too many in a class, besides which the school would be cramped. The idea, also, is to have pleasant surroundings, so it would be good to have natural type gardens, with roses and other valley flowers. The school will back on to the house where I shall be taking up residence in the spring. The school also backs onto an orchard and fields.

The design will be done by myself, my number one engineer/ builder, who is also the brother who owns the land, and in concert with the Chitral education dept. My Chitral driver’s relative is the head of education in Chitral.

The school will be co-ed. If the students are to be taught in their mother tongue, or as close to that as possible, that will mean we shall need Pakistani teachers teaching in Urdu. For English, maybe we could possibly gain the services of a gap year student from the UK. As it is notoriously difficult to get any qualified personal to stay in the valleys, it might be that we shall need to pick two or three likely candidates and send them to advanced teacher training courses, which costs relatively little.

I put the cost of construction of the school (excluding the retaining wall) at no more than £6500. But please note that I shall get you a proper cost estimate and ground plan BEFORE I return to Birir at the end of April. It is important that I am there in person, to have a realistic cost estimate. Thankfully, the retaining wall, which we need, will be paid for by our Government protection wall project. Our preferred date of starting the work will be end of April 2011.

Note: The retaining walls project is far too large for HKCA to attempt on its own without major Pakistan Government or DFID support. However, this High School project is very much within our capabilities within the planned timescale – £2000 towards it has already been raised.

 

OBITUARY

Carla Grissmann, a supporter of HKCA from its start and a longtime friend of Maureen Lines, sadly died on 15 February 2011. Carla was born in the United States. She lived for many years in Morocco, spent time in Anatolia in Turkey, which resulted in a beautiful book ‘Dinner of Herbe’ published by Arcadia Books. Later, she worked variously in France, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, where she worked on behalf of the Kabul Museum. Recently, her great passion, on which she spent so many devoted hours, the Bactrian Gold, is on display at the British Museum. Any friend of Carla will hope that one day she will receive the recognition she so royally deserves for all her work with Kabul Museum. Recently a celebration of her life was held to which 50 people came, including eight Afghans who were over here for the Exhibition at the British Museum. Sadly she never got to see it.

SOME IDEAS TO HELP HKCA

In the past few months we have had some rather special and unusual donations. One from the daughter (Margaret Jennings) of an HKCA support Mr Bill Jennings which arose from a collection made at his funeral. We gather that he had derived much pleasure and interest from our newsletters. Another great idea came from Miss Steward who sent a cheque for £75 being the contents of her piggy bank into which she puts loose change. It made me start one myself and I am amazed at how it mounts up and is a very painless way of collecting funds for a charity.

Finally on the wavelength of painless ways of helping a charity like ours is through your will. Many HKCA supporters will remember the delightful painting donated by Mrs Chapman and done by her husband. Mrs Chapman very kindly left a donation of £1000 to HKCA in her will.

Legacies can provide an enormous boost to small charities like ours. An extraordinary statistic is that over 60% of the UK population has not written a will, which frequently causes problems for their families. A very good friend David Malaperiman has offered to advise anyone who rings him on 01264 730363 completely free of charge. He would only charge if he has to make a visit.

CHAIRMAN’S MESSAGE

The first year of a new Chairman’s work is one in which past achievements are reviewed and new ones planned. The past achievements under Keith Howman as Chairman of the Trustees, and Maureen Lines as Field Director in Pakistan, have been truly outstanding, and have extended over many years. So it is a great pleasure for me to record that Maureen Lines is still with us as Field Director, and that Keith is now President of HKCA and also retains a hands-on role as a trustee. All of this is really excellent, and bodes well for the future. However there are several issues that have made the whole future of charities more testing, and we have to address these.

Firstly, money is short, and there are projects that the trustees would like to see developing that cannot go ahead because we do not have the funds. Secondly, and at least as important, the Charity Commissioners in the United Kingdom are become more prescriptive about the way UK charities should act. We are a UK charity. So this means very careful accounting and following due process in all the activities that we as a charity undertake both in the UK and in Pakistan. The fittest charities will survive and be successful, but some will go to the wall. With the other Trustees I aim to keep HKCA as one of the successful survivors.

We will have HKCA fully fit for purpose and maintain HKCA at the front of the pack. This will assist us in the longer term to find significantly larger funding which is vital to our objectives. Clearly humanitarian concern about the world’s poor focusing on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) is the underlying rationale for any charity concerned with the alleviation of global poverty. We should look at the MDG’s before outlining HKCA’s specific objectives. The comparison will show that we are punching well above our weight – to coin a phrase.

Peter Meadows SQA

CHAIRMAN

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