Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Matt Gulland

I am Matt Gulland, I am 36, I am married with a 1 year old son. I am a management consultant, and have volunteered to work with VSO in Peshawar, Pakistan for 2 years. My wife Rowena and John and myself live in University Town, I am working as a business advisor to the DOST Foundation, a local NGO who work with drug addicts, street children and women in conflict with the law. I went to Balakot and Shogran on 22nd October.

Matt’s story

However well deserving my clients are, the needs of people North of here are far more. I know you have seen all this on TV, but I thought you might want to read a first hand account.

I had been meaning to write and say about the earthquake. A rather weird experience for us in Peshawar, our concrete floor turning to rubber for several minutes, but there was almost no damage in Peshawar and absolutely no sign of damage here. Anyway R and J are in Hong Kong for 2 weeks so I decided to go on an adventure.

On Saturday I rather selfishly decided not to give all the money I could to the relief fund, but rather to go and see for myself the effect of the earth quake to Balakot and the Khagan valley. I bought as many blankets as I could afford and as many bananas and biscuits as I could carry. The road to Balakot was very good and clear, with only a short wait 5km before the town where a small land slide had reduced the road to one lane. Although I had passed many destroyed buildings in the towns on the way up, nothing could prepare me for Balakot. Like everyone else I had seen pictures on TV of the devastation, but seeing it in real was horrible and very different.

Every single house, shop and building had been totally destroyed. There was really absolute NOTHING there. I spend a few minutes walking around and met Ali outside a pile of rubble. This was his shop, he then showed me his house where 6 of his family had been killed. It had taken 36 hours before the first helicopter had arrived. Exactly 2 weeks on, aid was now arriving, (relief stations had opened and were giving out food and blankets, helicopters were coming and going)

There was nothing I could do there, Ali told me about the villages further north, I gave him a couple of blankets and some money and moved on. By some miracle the bridge had survived so drove on.

I picked up a couple hitch hikers, Mumtaz and Ur Rabzeb, who were headed for Shogran. Mumtaz's father had been killed, his mother injured. On the third day the only helicopter arrived and had taken them to hospital in Islamabad. Ur Rabzeb, a relation, was taking him back to the village. About 15km out of Balakot the road ended and so we walked for 4 hours up to their village. We carried all the blankets and food we could carry. The road was so land slid out we could not even walk along it, even the path higher up was difficult to walk along. All the way we were walking past and in places over destroyed houses. Nothing was standing. Everyone we met had the same story, 3-6 of the family killed, everything lost, and absolutely no help had arrived.

I saw no signs of injured or dead; everyone by now burried or left. Loads of new graves around the place. Some girls were tending a grave. Families desperately trying to dig what ever positions they had from the rubble

I spend 20 minutes with these people just trying to dig out a plastic floor mat, with no success. As the soil was disturbed, the awful smell came though.

Eventually we came to the next town on the road. The road was completely destroyed

It is not a case of clearing it; rather it has to be re-built. The town of Kawai had a population of 5000, an estimated 2000 were killed. Again nothing standing, but here no aid had arrived, nothing.

Amazingly the people seemed so happy, greeting each other, smiling treating everything so matter of fact. The attitude of Gods Will seemed to pervade when talking about how many of their family had been killed. Even in 2 weeks with no outside help people had managed to re-build something.

4 families here all their houses had collapsed, they were now sheltering in a shack they had put together.

The story in Shogran was the same, school destroyed, but luckily the kids and teachers had managed to escape. It must be around 10000 feet up they were desperate for tents, one helicopter had come on day 3 but nothing else, except for a helicopter two days previously with nothing, asking what they wanted! I spent a night in my tent in a sleeping bad and blanket and froze.

These are the people I left my tent and blankets to who desperately tried to feed me with their meager supplies.

This was just 10km and two villages up a road that continues over 80km more. Ironically it is the most beautiful place, spectacular views of snow clad mountains and lovely forests. I had been thought the area twice before on holiday.

Aid is slowly coming though. Balakot will clearly need to be abandoned and a large tent city is being built just south of it. I am convinced that only large centralized relief will work, and it is being done efficiently considering the situation. Everyone there is in need, and I saw no real sign of waste. Large amounts of money are needed for a long time.

I know you can read the same stuff as this on the web and see better taken pictures of similar sights, but I do hope that me sending this note might persuade some of you to give, and justify my rather self indulgent trip.

[pictures to follow]


At 10:36 AM, Blogger Zak said...

nice to meet someone in pesh on the blogosphere. Dost is a good organisation..I have seen its work up close..a shame groups like that don't have more more recognition.

Stay safe in your trips to the earthquake zone..there have been some stories of the Army effectively taking over all work and others of Afghans stealing relief goods.

At 11:28 PM, Blogger Umm Zaynab said...

thanks for your story matt.

At 10:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Matt,
Sounds like you are having a challenging time -
Please could you ask Rowena to get in touch - use the contact page on www.hotfrog.info
I hope you all have a very Happy Christmas

At 1:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done, Matt!
Good to know that you are helping people, instead of earning loads of money with some oil company. Today I decided to google your name, since I was curious to know what became of you.
I am doing well myself. Going to get married this summer and working hard to finish my PhD by the end of this year.

Wishing you and your family all the best,


At 5:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Matt,

Same as Gerdien I decided to google your name to see how you are doing. I am glad to see that you are doing good work. And happy to hear that you have a family of your own aswell. I have been married for 10 years now and have 2 daughters. And yes I have never stopped working and I am working at your former employee Shell 3 days a week. Wish you all the best!

At 5:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


As this posting seems to be the only marker of my exisitance in cyber world I thought at least I should give my e-mail address to old friends who might like to contact me:
Please do drop me a line. I would love to hear from you.
Matt Gulland


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