Photos and story by Khaula Jamil for MSF Pakistan
It was the year 2009 and young, carefree, Ikramullah, was playing football with his friends in Munda, Lower Dir, when he saw large trucks coming down the road. A leader amongst his friends and curious by nature, he walked up to where the trucks parked to find out what was going on.
“A man named Shahid introduced himself to me and said he was from Islamabad. I did not know what MSF was so he explained that they have arrived to provide relief goods to the internally displaced people in our area.”
A budding humanitarian himself, Ikramullah had been volunteering with a local organization ever since the conflict had displaced hundreds of people in his district.
“They (MSF people) did not have any place to stay and asked for my help so I introduced them to some people I knew and arranged accommodation. After I did that, Shahid asked me to join the MSF team and distribute goods. I said I would be happy to volunteer my time and did not want any money but he insisted on paying me – he said that is not how MSF did things. This was strange and new for me but I appreciated it and was given the role of supervising the distributions.”
It was not as simple as it seemed to Ikramullah at the time when he agreed to this role. Over the next few days, he learnt how MSF did things – the protocols and rules that needed to be followed.
“ I learnt they (MSF) had their own way of working and they assured us that everyone who is in need will get the relief goods once they have assessed the situation. I had never seen this kind of approach before but I really appreciated it.
Ikramullah observed how MSF carried out the assessment of which IDP families were needy and how the employees managed to win the local jirga’s trust – without which no one is allowed to work in the community. Quite used to seeing organizations come and go after a few days, he assumed that MSF would soon be on their way and hosted a lunch for them at his house to thank them for their work in his hometown.
“It was at the lunch that they told me they were going to stay for a few months.”
And so, his journey with MSF continued. The same year, Ikramullah went with MSF to visit a large IDP camp in Samarbagh, Lower Dir, where families did not have food, shelter or toilets. He helped gather over 160 laborers for MSF and started construction of the bathrooms the very next day. MSF also opened outpatient services (OPD) for the IDPs along with providing drinking water and shelter for over 600 families.
“To me, the most commendable part was that they MSF always followed their own rules and regulations instead of being influenced by anyone. After finishing emergency work in this camp, we took over another camp in the same Tehsil which was situated 6 kms away from Timergara in the mountains where I handled the emergency chlorination of water.”
“I remember, just when things had started to get better in Bajaur and Medan, MSF had taken over a camp in Mundir where over 1800 families had been living inside shops in the market. The local authorities had issues with the location of the camp and asked us to remove it within 24 hours.. Within a month we arranged for a new camp to be functional in another area of Lower Dir called ‘Walai’. We got as much labour and help as we could because children and families couldn’t bear the cold weather conditions for too long.”
In 2009, 52 people, including Ikramullah, were stationed at the DHQ, Timergara, including 3 people from the department of health. It was then that he was officially offered a contract which he accepted and was given the responsibility of supervising 30 watchmen and laborers at the hospital. At the time MSF only managed a part of the Emergency Department but eventually took it over entirely.
“Once we found out more about MSF and their mission, we spread the word about it in our local community. I have never seen an organization that believes in working this hard for the betterment of people. I am not praising MSF because I am an employee- I have nothing to gain from false praises. I say this because I have seen it from the inside for over 12 years and can vouch for the purity of their intentions.”
According to Ikramullah, 99% of the people in Timergara District as well as neighboring districts are satisfied and happy with treatment provided by MSF. He claims this level of satisfaction is achieved because MSF is works on their own terms and very fairly.
“I learnt many things at MSF, how to be fair is one of them and I will carry these learnings in whatever I do for the rest of my life.”
“Médecins Sans Frontières has provided an emergency medical assistance programme in Timergara District Headquarter Hospital since October 2010. This assistance includes support to the Maternal and Child Health (MCH) department,, in the form of human resources, provision of medical and logistical supplies, as well as rehabilitation of the emergency operating theatre, recovery room and acute post-operative wards and full support to sterilization, hygiene and waste management. The hospital is meant to cater to the inhabitants of Lower Dir (where Timergara is located), but patients also come from neighboring districts, with the majority coming from Lower Dir, followed by Upper Dir and others within KPK as well as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). All services are provided free of charge.