Of all our activities, the Special Medical Cases project is the one that has always been closest to our Project Directors heart. When Maureen Lines first started working in the Kalash Valleys, she did not have the benefit of a charity or NGO behind her and funded medical help for the people of Birir herself. That was in the 1980s.
At that time, she lived in Princes Risborough in the U.K. during the winter months with her mother. She used to leave for Pakistan in the spring time and returned during the late autumn. The Kalash likened her to a migratory bird. She raised money for her air fare, living allowance and the cost of medicine by local activities – coffee mornings, slide shows, cake sales etc. It is thanks to those friends in Princes Risborough and the surrounding areas that she was able to continue to go to the valleys every year.
She spent her time travelling up and down the valley – eight, ten, twelve miles a day with a rucksack of medicine on her back, her dogs and often a small boy acting as porter. She got to know every path, irrigation channel and every house. People vied with one another to provide her and her dogs with sustenance. They used to call her the ‘postman’, as she brought news from the other villages.
With the formation of HKCA, Maureen was able to adopt a more realistic infrastructure and so began the second phase of her personal medical help to the inhabitatns, which proved to be of even greater benefit to the people. This was taking patients from Birir to Chitral and very serious patients from all three valleys down to Peshawar.
Much of this was paid for by fundraising events in Islamabad as well as funds from Friends of HKCA. Two years ago in 2007, westerners started leaving Islamabad. Now, no one will organise fundraising events so this source of income was lost to us.
With funding short Maureen was reluctantly forced to let go the medical assistant in Chitral in early 2008.
His job was very valuable as he was able to weed out those who really needed to go to Chitral to the army hospital and from there she was able to ascertain those who needed to go to Peshawar. Without an assistant either end, Maureen cannot deal with patients. She has a taxi driver who has filled the bill admirably in Peshawar, as he knows the hospitals and clinics. He also gets paid as he works rather than a salary.
What she should like to do is to revive this very necessary part of the programme.
Before temporarily closing down the project HKCA had successfully treated cancer cases (many were cancers in young children), heart disease patients, those with severe mental problems, skin diseases and many serious eye problems.
Now every so often, Maureen receives a phone call (usually on a Sunday) which starts something like: “Baba, I have problem, can I come and see you?” The problem is invariably a mother, sister, brother or baby who has a medical problem. She has to say “no” because she has no way of knowing over the phone how severe the problem may be. Sometimes a BIG problem can be nothing, but on the other hand, a minor problem can end up being a very costly opened ended venture.
HKCA would like to restart the project and revive our Chitral infrastructure by again employing a medical assistant. We have a pickup, currently used but not every day for our dispensary project so transport is not a problem. We need to raise funds for the salary of one man (£60 a month) and for the cost of extra fuel for the pickup (another £50 per month) but that is really very little outlay for what we can achieve humanitarily.
So for no more than £1500 per annum the structure is available for helping individual patients. Those able to be treated in Chitral in the Government Hospital can cost as little as £5. Other requiring transportation to Peshawar and inevitably food and accommodation can be a great deal more – Pakistan culture dictates that “family” provides support in hospital so it is not just the patient who has to be paid for when dealing with the poorest people. Costs therefore vary greatly.
Because every patients problem is different with some costing minimal amounts and others hundreds of pounds and sometimes ongoing, we feel the only way to go forward is to have a separate fund for special cases which can be topped up.
This fund will be called ‘The Nameer Gul Fund’ in memory of a very brave little girl who sadly died a year after her operation for a cancerous bone tumour. Once the fund reaches £3000 we will again start taking on special cases.