Pakistan on world map

Pakistan’s hospitality

July 12, 2010 - Pakistan

This is a post for my mother.  Everyone who hears that Real Medicine Foundation is working in Pakistan wonders about the security.  All we hear about Pakistan in the media is about the violence and War on Terror.  I have to admit, despite being a seasoned traveler, as a blonde American I was a little worried about my trip to Pakistan to visit RMF’s clinic in Balakot, KPK (formerly NWFP), especially when blast went off at a famous Sufi shrine in Lahore a day before my arrival.  After two weeks in Pakistan however, I have to say that I’ve been completely safe and have enjoyed a warm reception everywhere I’ve gone.

In Balakot, I was greeted with nothing but hospitality and gratitude.  While the kids stared and giggled, the mothers eagerly spoke to me about their problems and thanked me for RMF’s help.  No one asked about my nationality or politics – they only cared that I was there to help.  Dr. Martina Fuchs also had a similar experience visiting the Balakot clinic last year.  On her visit the local leaders organized an unprecedented community meeting, bringing together a variety of stakeholders (who often can’t be in the same room together) from the community to talk about the health care needs of Balakot and the roll of our clinic.  A few of the patients I met on my visit to Balakot remembered Martina and enthusiastically asked about her, her family, and sent their best wishes.

This kind of hospitality is not unique.  The people of Mansehra and Pakistan as a whole are known for their warmth and care for visitors.  It’s only in the past few years, with the encroachment of the Taliban into KPK that this area has gotten a dangerous reputation.

map: The limits of Tailban influence – not yet in Mansehra

Mansehra district where we’re working is not Taliban infiltrated according to local accounts.  Located a few hours away from the dangerous Swat valley, Mansehra is a pretty stable and peaceful area.  While some NGOs have moved their staff out of KPK for safety reasons, our staff is completely secure – the local community protects them.  Our doctor told me a touching story: Last year in the chaos that followed Benazir Bhutto’s assassination there was widespread rioting in the valley.  Buildings were being torched and raided and cars overturned.  At onset of violence, a group of men from the village nearby rushed over to the clinic to protect it from possible attack or looting.  These men took turns guarding their clinic for a week until the violence subsided.

It also helps that most of our staff is from Balakot.  The medical technician, pharmacist and maintenance staff are all locals and the doctor and Ladies Health Workers are practically locals since they’ve lived on-site in Balakot since 2005.

Pakistan may be a dangerous place caught in the war on terror, but as in any conflict around the world, while leaders gesture and bombs go off, it’s the local populations who suffer the most.  The people in Pakistan want the same thing that people all over the world want: to be able to raise a healthy, happy family.  They want education, healthcare, and livelihood, not all of this drama that has been thrust upon them.  I have never once felt threatened while here, thanks to the hospitality of our local staff and friends.

Real Medicine Foundation is dedicated to Pakistan and we see the overwhelming need for our work here.  As an organization, security for our staff is of course our number one priority, but we will continue to provide assistance to the people here as long as we can.

So don’t worry mom, I’m in good hands.

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