The fatal landslide of January 4 displaced thousands of people from Attabad and the surrounding villages in Hunza Valley. Over 140 families of Attabad and Sarat were shifted to relief camps established at the nearby Altit village. Hundreds of families were also displaced from the upstream villages of Ayeenabad, Shishkat and Gulmit due to damming of the Hunza River.
Scores of non-governmental organizations rushed to the valley to provide relief and support the affected people. Central Asia Institute (CAI) – an American initiative led by Dr.Greg Mortenson, was one of the NGOs that decided to provide relief to the affected people. CAI was already functional in the region, with a focus on the border Chipursan Valley, Gojal, where it is running a school for girls.
CAI took responsibility of providing free education to several of the girls displaced by the landslide and lake disaster. Most of the girls, belonging to Attabad, Sarat, Ayeenabad, Shishkat and Gulmit, were shifted to Rawalpindi where they are staying at hostels operated under CAI.
There were some reports about health problems being faced by the IDP girls who had been shifted to the hostels in Rawalpindi – 8 girls had, reportedly, went through surgeries for appendicitis.
At least one blogger blamed the CAI of possibly being part of a kidney-selling Mafia.
Keeping serious nature of the allegations in view, Pamir Times sent an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to gain information about the incidents of appendicitis surgery. In response to the email a telephonic conversation took place with Col (r) Ilyas, CAI’s Director for Operations in Pakistan. In accordance with the directions of Dr. Greg he promised to cooperate for providing information and facilitating a visit to the hostel.
Later on, a meeting was also held with Mr. Saeedullah Baig, senior staff member of CAI, to discuss the situation and get the official words. Mr. Saeed denied the allegations and expressed his shock over the ‘baseless accusations’. He termed the allegations as defamatory and ill intentioned. He also said that ‘CAI is an organization of high-repute working globally to facilitate girls in their education’.
Two of the five students who were operated upon for appendicitis were also present during the meeting. “The remaining three have moved back to their homes because their parents did not want them to stay at the hostel anymore”, said Saeedullah Baig of CAI.
It transpired during the discussions that five (5), not eight (8), of the boarders had went through appendicitis surgeries. In almost all cases, according to the students and CAI staff, parents or relatives of the students were present during the surgeries, three of which took place at Ahmed Medical Complex – Rawalpindi and two at Holy Family Hospital.
The two boarders, ‘B’ and ‘S’ (names hidden for ensuring privacy), who had went through the surgery and were present during the meeting, had also been checked at the Aga Khan Family Health Center – Rawalpindi, copies of the reports of which were shared with this scribe. ‘B’ and ‘S’ (12-15 year old) said that they were operated for appendicitis in the months of May and June, 2010. They did not report any health related issue, or weakness, after the surgery.
The students expressed satisfaction over the facilities provided by the hostel administration.
“After the incidents of appendicitis we hired a full-time doctor”, said CAI Program Director, Advocate Fozia Naseer – herself an alumni of the CAI scholarship system, who was also present during the meeting.
She said that CAI is working extensively in different parts of Ghizar and Baltistan also and their organization is committed to development of the region. She termed the accusations to be baseless and ridiculous. She also said that all measures will be taken to ensure healthy and safe living for the boarders.
The reasons for higher appendicitis rate, however, has to be ascertained and the issue needs to be addressed very seriously because during the discussion with students it came out that all five girls who went through surgery were living at one of the three hostels operated by CAI in Rawalpindi. The quality of water and food available at the hostels needs to be scientifically checked to ensure good health of the students.
The boarders have to walk for around 20 minutes every day to reach their colleges and schools. The CAI staff said that they were aware of the situation and steps were being taken to provide transportation to the students. The twin-cities based GB community, as well as relatives and parents of some of the students contacted by Pamir Times, have expressed hope that CAI would provide the promised transportation facility to the boarders and scholars on emergency basis.
Some parents and relatives of the boarders have also expressed reservation against the security arrangement at the hostels. In view of the the city’s descend into crimes of various sorts, the fears of parents and relatives seem to be justified.
There is also a dearth of professionals at the hostels, with relevant experience. Relatives of some of the students have demanded of CAI to ensure that full-time, professional and experienced, female hostel managers are hired to serve the students in a better way.
There is also some pressure on the students, as observed during the discussions. The rules seems to be ‘perform-better-or-pack-your-bags-and-leave’, an approach that results in higher tension levels among the students and may lead to anxiety or depression. Expecting exceptional performance from girls who have been picked from remote villages, without following any proper IQ-testing process, seems to be unrealistic.
CAI has earned global fame for taking eduction to remotest places around the Pamir Mountains, as well as in parts of Baltistan and Khyber – Pukhtunkhawa Province. However, building upon and retaining the social capital seems to be a challenge which CAI needs to tackle.