Air strikes, artillery bombardment and rocket attacks have rained down on Mingora, the main city in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, for the past month. This is a place of great natural beauty – green meadows, high mountains, clear lakes – known as the ‘Switzerland of Pakistan’. It now lies in tatters. When Pakistan’s government launched a military offensive to regain control of the region from the Taliban, 300,000 people fled Mingora. As the army claims the fighting is drawing to a close, some people are returning, but around 40,000 individuals are still stranded. The Red Cross says there is no running water, no electricity and a scant supply of food in the area. The displaced people have nowhere to go and are struggling to survive.
At the Pakistan Sports & Recreation Club in Oud Metha, a team of people is assembling supplies – food, clothes, medicine – to ship to the affected areas. This is a relief camp set up by the Pakistan Association in Dubai (PAD), and it’s filled with volunteers working around the clock to organise the piles of donated goods that are flooding in. The first shipment went out a couple of weeks ago, and, as Kabul Wazir Mir tells Time Out, around 40 to 50 volunteers turned up to help to pack up the supplies. ‘To be honest I was surprised about the amount of volunteers that arrived,’ he says. Mir had posted a message on Facebook requesting help and that was the response. ‘People have been contacting me [through Facebook] with respect to what’s going on,’ he adds.
Mir, originally from Bolton in northern England, has been doing a lot of voluntary work around Dubai since he became a casualty of the credit crunch and was made redundant a few months back. He says his savings are dwindling but he wouldn’t want to be doing anything else right now. Mir approached PAD a couple of weeks ago about how he might be able to contribute and came up with the idea of starting a Facebook group. Since then donations and awareness of the cause have significantly increased.
We’ve got over 250 people in the group now,’ Mir says. ‘It’s been terrific. I post bulletins every single day after we’re done working at the camp.’ Donations, whether material or monetary, have come from all corners of Dubai – the Pakistani community, the Palestinian community, the Egyptian community – ‘the expat community at large,’ Mir says, adding: ‘I’m surprised about how much we’ve achieved in such a short period of time.’ And the relief camp itself has become an overwhelmingly positive place. ‘Every minute it’s amazing,’ enthuses Mir. ‘It’s the epitome of the human spirit where everyone’s able to bond. There’s so much enthusiasm for the cause, it’s just channelling all that energy into doing something positive.’ He says the camp has become like a second home, as he works there 12 hours a day.
Mir points out that, even in the aftermath of the fighting, the people of Mingora will need our help. He says PAD’s relief effort will continue, and encourages you to keep updated via Facebook and offer to lend a hand where you can. ‘I’m just a Bolton boy trying to make a difference in life!’ he laughs. ‘But every little helps.’
Visit the Facebook group by typing Pakistan relief – swat donations into the search box. More info on PAD at www.pakassociationdubai.com.