Ten Days in the Life of an Aid Worker
by Major Ray Brown
Major Ray Brown, head of The Salvation Army’s emergency relief team in Pakistan, shares with All the World some of the realities of life on the front line
Saturday 13 MayThe main event today was the trip to Abbottabad to visit our partners and continue to work on the details of the new school for 350 children to replace the temporary tented school at Mang. As ever, our hosts insisted on providing us with refreshments and a 10-minute invitation took most of the evening.
On the way home we marvelled at the ingenuity of local transport arrangements. Just how did all those men fit into that small pick-up together with that huge cow? How did they get the cow up there? It was agreed that the two men hanging on at the back were in the greatest danger on two counts – one, the danger of falling out and, two, they were pretty close to the cow’s rear end!
Sunday 14Setting off early we visited Mang. I watched lines of children march silently, but happily enough, in single file to the newly pitched tents for their lessons – the oldest children had their lessons out in the open.
It was sad to listen to the running commentary of Mr Shah, a retired civil servant, who had worked for years in the now-destroyed town of Balakot. Mr Shah pointed out to me the site of a former school, former hospital, former shops, as well as his former offices. In fact only one substantial building in the town centre had withstood the effects of the earthquake.
Monday 15 - Tuesday 16Being on deployment with The Salvation Army’s International Emergency Services isn’t all action in terms of trips and visits. There is quite a lot of administration to contend with in order to spend money to the greatest advantage and to be transparent. All this takes time and involves staff locally, in London and sometimes in donor countries. So there are times when we are tied to the computer. It’s so frustrating when the power goes off unexpectedly (a daily occurrence) and the broadband fails (countless times).
Wednesday 17We were visited today by Major Peter Scadden, a New Zealander who is The Salvation Army’s Property Secretary in Pakistan, based in Lahore. Later in the afternoon we had a visit from the contractor of the school we are building in Mang. He spoke no English and our Urdu is somewhat limited but, with the assistance of a translator, we felt we were making some headway towards the all-important starting date.
Thursday 18Today was made up of a number of meetings with potential project partners.
Friday 19Gordon Lewis’s last full day in Pakistan. Gordon has been invaluable to the progress made in Pakistan in his three-week stay. He is very experienced in relief work and spent his last hours here trying to tie up as many loose ends as possible.
Saturday 20 - Sunday 21Changeover weekend. In order to ensure that Gordon was on time for his flight and that we could be there to meet [UK Salvation Army officer] Major Wendy Goodman, who was arriving at 0550, Gordon and I spent Saturday night in the somewhat optimistically titled Heavenly Inn near the airport.
With our translator left behind in Mansehra we had to fend for ourselves in terms of ordering food. Chicken Boti seemed a well-tried and safe bet. Twenty minutes after placing our order the waiter returned to ask if we wanted ‘Chicken Boti Pakistani’ or ‘Chicken Boti Continental’. Not having the faintest idea what would arrive on our plate we again went for what we thought would be the safe answer, ‘Chicken Boti Pakistani please.’ We couldn’t believe it when the waiter, having waited patiently for our answer, politely told us there was in fact no Chicken Boti Pakistani available!
Monday 22Today we concluded the negotiations and signed the contract for the Mang school. This was a cause for celebration. Unfortunately, any jubilation was short-lived as we were hit by yet another power cut!
The planned five double classrooms and vocational centre being built at Mang – using a semi-permanent building pattern to safeguard against future earthquakes – will serve the double purpose of being a place of sanctuary against severe weather conditions.
Teachers are being recruited locally, including trainees – some as young as 15. These trainee teachers are given on-the-job training as they look after the youngest of the children. The trainees are also benefiting from intensive short-term courses in nearby Abbottabad. All this has the added bonus that the local economy is being boosted because more people are receiving a regular income.
No children are turned away as long as their parents or guardians show an interest by bringing them to school.