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From a rainy London day…to the floods of Pakistan

Masculinity

Poet Hussain Manawer writes about his visit to the flood-hit Pakistan where the struggling people illustrated the desperate help required - and also the stark effects of climate change.

Hussain Manawer, The Sunday Times Best Selling Author of Life Is Sad And Beautiful and Guinness World Record holder for the world’s largest mental health lesson, takes an emotionally fuelled impulsive decision to voyage to Pakistan, to understand what life is like for those on the frontline of climate change – just a few weeks before he’s set to support Bon Iver at Wembley Arena.

It’s a cold, wet, rainy night on the 7th September 2022 in East London. As I pulled my umbrella out of my car boot and headed towards my friend’s house on foot, something in me was feeling happy to be walking in the slight light rain. I used to remember these walks back from the train station after work and university. It allowed me to contemplate life, its thoughts and everything else that was needed for my internal self reflection. 

As my friend opened the door, we sat there and began watching videos on Youtube. Now our recommendation list has everything from life under the sea, to the fastest water slide, but it was an unexpected video that appeared that shattered my heart into a thousand pieces. 

A video highlighting the disastrous devastating effects of climate change and its injustice with what it has done and is doing to the people of Pakistan. I sat on the sofa on the edge of my seat with my two close friends in silence as we all watched families have their homes ripped from the ground, children lose their lives as they knew it, and people struggle to get to a safe haven. Considering this country had an incredible amount of people already living in extreme poverty prior to this, my brain could not begin to process or accept what was and is still happening. 

Back in 2011 I remember the same group of friends and I organised a charity dinner for a Mountain Climb to  Kilimanjaro I was set to undertake for the floods then in Pakistan. 

Little did I know back then why the floods happened.

Why was mother nature angry? 

Is this natural?

Does this happen to every country?

Literally, I had no idea. 

I’m ashamed to say 12 years later, I have learnt. Pakistan, a country that is contributing less than 1% to the world’s emissions and climate change is literally on the front line of this catastrophe. Sitting on that sofa, watching these videos, my mind automatically started cancelling meetings I had planned, events I was booked to perform at, literary festivals, the lot. 

I couldn’t focus on that, people were dying, our people are dying, they are now at the risk of waterborne diseases and illnesses and they are being unjustly displaced from their homes. I couldn’t do nothing, but again, thoughts began racing:

Do I have a saviour complex? 

Can I actually do anything to help?

Will I get branded an eco warrior? 

I had no time to answer these questions, no time whatsoever. 

I set up a GoFundMe the next morning; 19 days later were are at £31,500, and up boarding flights to Pakistan – the tickets we paid for ourselves.

Diary part 1: Early days in Pakistan

It’s now Thursday 22nd September, we’ve been in Pakistan for 36 hours and my friend tells me Pakistan have just won by 10 wickets vs England a victory that no doubt will install an element of hope on the land. 

We have met with the Alkhidmat foundation to discuss the distribution of the aid from the funds we have fundraised.

We’ve been informed by those on the ground that one of the most affected areas prior to the flooding, due to lack of economic resources and opportunity, is Dera Ismail Khan, which is located in Khyber Pakhtunwa, an estimated 7 hours away from where we are. Life post flooding is now even worse there. Extreme poverty is rife and help is little to come by.  

We stopped by at a friend’s family’s house for the evening after travelling to the Alkhidmat Foundation’s office in Peshawar from Islamabad. 

Tomorrow we prepare our convoy, our plan and our aid distribution and the following day we head out. 

The only thing we have is our hearts, our prayers and bags full of hope that we can create some form of awareness and help at least one person. 

The day begins at 3am, as a van pulls up to the home we were fortunate to stay in. Welcomed by a friend of mine’s family of the tribal roots of BARA Khyber Agency from the tribe of Kambar Khel, who have been so kind to welcome and accommodate us in their loving home. 

We pack our lunch consisting of apples, bananas, muffins whilst the aid we have fundraised has gone ahead the day before us. Assuming we would be able to sleep across this 7 hour journey. But little did we know what the road literally had in store for us. 

The Journey From Peshawar To Dera Ismāīl Khān

We begin our commute on the infamous Grand Truck Road also known as the GT road. This is one of the oldest roads in South Asia, connecting Afghanistan to Lahore, Delhi to Kolkata in West Bengal whilst also reaching Chittagong in Bangladesh and many other locations. 

This wonderment of a highway road was once described by Rudyard Kipling as ‘a river of life, as nowhere else exists in the world’, a sentiment that quickly begins ringing true. 

As the darkness from the night begins to fade and the morning sun teared through the clouds, we begin seeing a sole man go for an early morning jog, whilst garages and workshops open their stores. Families sleeping in tents, with 16 wheeler trucks tipped upside. Regular police stops didn’t slow us down as we were in a branded charity van, however the flow of majestic chaos from trucks, buses, vans, people and animals all combined made me think one thing ‘I’m glad I’m not driving’.

As we began heading closer to our destination none of us needed to ask ‘if we were there yet’ as the water piled from floods nearly 2 months ago, stood present in our eyesight not moving or budging, overpoweringly dominant in its presence, the stillness of it, had told us very clearly, we had arrived. 

Diary part 2: Distributing aid

Our first stop was at a makeshift kitchen, this was on the land of a local man named Mohammad Zahid. This kitchen consisted of around 15 giant pots (known as ‘diag’s in Pakistan) cooking on wood burning fire creating hot foods of rice and potato. At first I thought this is amazing and how great that so many people will be able to eat, but my Western eyes combined with my privileged mind then was put to quick demise when I realised we have only fundraised enough to provide hot meals for 4 days. We then helped with the cooking of onion, the stirring of the pots and thanked everyone working on this part of the project. Including a young boy named Bilal. As he was cutting the onions, I asked him if it was ok for me to join him, as I sat beside him I quickly realised he had no footwear and was carrying heavy bags beneath his eyes on his handsome face with his slick black hair. Another embarrassing moment for me as I wasn’t able to slice the onions the way he was, and as we began talking he told me his age, 14.

My eyes filled with water, I was shocked, stunned and saddened that not only his life had been stripped before him but also his childhood, as my eyes filled with water, I asked him if he would like my sandals I was wearing, he initially refused and I would made it clear I would like for him to have these and he nodded. And shortly after as we sat in silence he looked at me and said ‘it’s ok’ he was comforting me in this moment, I was moved beyond my senses. 

We headed back into our vehicles and now as we enter the most affected areas of the flood, very quickly children with no shoes began chasing our vehicle; the vast dust from the back tyres creating a smoke machine effect of sand didn’t stop them from running through it, the fumes from the exhaust stood no chance either. They were adamant about getting our attention and once they had it, their charm, their eyes and beautiful brave little faces beamed with some form of hope that we had something of happiness for them.

We began distributing the rice and made sure there was enough for everyone that was around us and as the rice finished it was clearly not enough. A meal, a basic essential meal is what we had provided, but again, the stripping of the childhoods of children, the brutal lack of medical aid for the elderly, the inhumane resources needed for those pregnant, left me stunned and shocked. Only then realising the entire village had been destroyed and a sole gate stood firm amongst a sea of demolished mud hut houses and tents that have now been donated.

With a sign graffitied on the wall saying ‘BLEED GREEN’.

To add to this horror, the water occupying the space is now homing water-borne diseases, and bringing with it poisonous snakes and mosquitos. These people, these children, families, these innocent lives are having to fight daily for their lives in absolutely every single aspect, unequipped and unprepared against the scorching sun and sleeping to the darkness of the night and its rain. 

At that moment, I stopped and kneeled down and opposite me was a tired, worn malnourished donkey with a visible rib cage. We both stared at each other and I could hear distant calls of my team informing me it’s time to leave and we must head to the food aid distribution location. 

As we headed to our vehicle, everyone followed, a sad, sombre moment. We opened the vehicle and gave all we had, apples, bananas, water bottles, muffins, spare jackets and clothes and within seconds it was gone. 

We closed the door of our van and my heart was struck with an emptiness and heaviness of privilege, entitlement and ‘why is the world not helping?’

Heading into the food aid distribution once again, I thought yes, we did well, 150 parcels to be distributed today with the rest distributed daily. A token system had been implemented to ensure that nobody gets a double package and once everyone’s had been designated I thought yet again we had done a good job. Until I walked back through the doors of the facility we were in to witness a sea of faces, once again hoping there was something left for them.

We had nothing to give them. 

I was and still am embarrassed.

I was and still am ashamed. 

We walked into our vehicle and headed off to the next location which was an orphanage amongst the midst of this all with around 100 young boys. A weird sensation hit me here as this place really felt like home. I didn’t know what to do here, but make the young children laugh with my British accent which they found relatively amusing and to pray alongside them. 

We didn’t get enough time to visit the location of the solar panelled water system but will be keeping a close eye on this over the next few weeks with our team members who will stay on the ground and work with the NGO. 

There is so much going on and nothing going on at the exact same time. 

This is the absolute front line of climate change and the strongest sense of faith, hope, love and community is carrying these people through.

Shaking hands with those we give aid to made me send a prayer to the sky to ask God to let these be the first to walk through the doors of heaven as this is no life for them here on earth.

We are still raising money to help

I hope something inside you triggers your mind to come up with a solution.

Because I for one am lost for ideas. 

But,

We will not give up,

We will not stop

They need us

And more importantly, 

We need them.

 

Donate to Hussain’s GoFundMe page for Pakistan here. Here is the aid he distributed on his trip:

Operation White Rose breakdown 

Phase One: Temporary Relief 

1. Distribution of food packages per family of 7

Contents (to last 4 weeks approx)

Daal, Kidney Beans, Rice, Oil, Sugar, Salt, Water, Mango juice, Flour, Jelly, Tea

Quantity: 450

Distribution of Mosquito Nets 

Quantity: 1,366

 

2. Creation Of Mobile Medical Camps 

Quantity: 5

Breakdown: 

Five day medical camps have been set up throughout Dera Ismail Khan, Charsadda and Nowshera. Each camp will see approx 500+ people, providing free medical assessment, medicine and aid.   

 

3. Cooking of hot food (Caldrons)

Quantity: 53

Breakdown: 

Each hot cooked foot pot will feed up to 100 people providing hot meals x2 times a day for up to four days.

Phase Two: Sustainable Solar Panelled Water Project 

Quantity: 1

Breakdown: 

With the constant outages of electricity it became apparent to us that whilst providing some form of temporary aid is good we must look towards the future and to create at least one form of a sustainable solution.With the remainder of money fundraised we have begun building a sustainable solar panelled water project. This well requires low maintenance and will be dug at 1000 feet into the ground and will be providing water for up to 1000-1200 people. 

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