Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Salahuddin Khawaja (US)

Date: Dec 12, 2005 11:26 PM
Subject: My experience in Kashmir

I just got back from Muzzafarabad (the capital of Kashmir and one of three cities severely affected by the earthquake) two days ago. I know many of you asked me to send an update on my activities and I finally got the chance to sit down and write it up. The other reason I am sending this e-mail is an ulterior motive: fundraising (so those of you that didn't ask, now you know why are getting this e-mail!).
Here goes -
When I first saw the effects of the earthquake, I realized that everything that I had read in the news, saw on TV or heard from friends was true - but I only truly appreciated the magnitude of the destruction when I saw it with my own eyes. Key issues include: health, shelter, sanitation, education and nutrition. And to compound matters, the cold is fast approaching. And (not to be hyperbolic) it is worse that you can imagine. The government, various countries and NGOs are doing their level best to help ... but between limited resources, coordination issues and the locals' stubbornness to leave their ancestral land, it is a foregone conclusion that people (both the very old and very young) are going to die.
One of things I learned to accept (very quickly) that we can't help everyone … the NGO I work for is in the process of building 2000+ shelters for over 20,000 people. Given that building shelters is not the core competency of this organization, its amazing the scope of the work that they are undertaking. I am responsible for overseeing the construction of 1000 shelters on a mountain strip 25 km south-east of Muzzafarabad. Being thousands of miles from NY and my job, "Project Management" has a way of finding me. I guess I just can't run away from it :)
As personal experiences go, this is one of the best one for so many different reasons. To list a few 1) the various friends I have made from all different walks of life 2) simply helping others and giving them the assistance they need to survive the harsh winter 3) the stories that people have shared (both earthquake and non-earthquake related stories). All in all it has been an amazing experience so far. And I am hoping to spend the rest of my leave here, before coming back to NY.
I could fill this e-mail with stories, and as it is this message is getting pretty long. But I'd like to share one story. One of the locals who is both a guide and a driver for us was mentioning how a European crises group was charged with evacuating kids in a school building that had crumbled. After cleaning the rubble, once they had reached the inside - they grabbed the first kid and he said "Don't take me, my friend is more seriously injured … take him first". Stories such as this show, despite how cynical this world is, the human spirit does indeed have a sense of kindness and generosity.
Before I move on - I thought I'd share some pictures, which represent another dimension to my experience that these words are unable to illustrate. The attached document has a set of pictures that are the most telling (other than one with me at a cricket match :) And one of these days I will upload other pictures and send you a link.
Getting to the second reason you are receiving this message: fundraising. The shelter we are building costs approximately $330. So a $1000 donation can buy 3 shelters and can help upto 30 people endure the harsh winter. You can find specifics on how to donate at:
I would also appreciate it if you could forward this e-mail to your circle of friends, to both raise awareness and funds.
If you have any questions the best way to get a hold of me is via mobile at: +92 301 4709974
Since mobile coverage in Kashmir is shoddy, send me a txt/sms and I will call you back.
Warm regards, Salahuddin


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