Muhammad: Behind the scenes with an IRC aid worker (Part l)
July 7, 2011 by Ned Colt
|IRC staffers crossing a river in a cage on their way to bring aid to flood victims following 2010's record floods in Pakistan The IRC|
If you’re ever feeling cynical about human nature, I’d like you to meet Muhammad*. He’s an International Rescue Committee (IRC) colleague who has performed humanitarian work for more than a decade. However, unless you’re a Pakistani living near the Afghan border, you’ll have a hard time finding him! I ‘m fortunate, Muhammad is a colleague of mine, and was in the capital Islamabad recently.
I’d initially heard about Muhammad from another IRC colleague. “He’s amazing,” she said. “At the height of last year’s flooding, when everyone else was fleeing to safety, Muhammad went in the opposite direction.”
Muhammad is a doting husband and father in his mid-thirties. After finishing his graduate studies in rural development and agriculture, he worked with drug-addicted children confined to prison; then he spent a year on an HIV/AIDS awareness project. He came to the IRC three years ago. In conversation he comes across as thoughtful, directed and passionate, all essential qualities for an aid worker.
At the IRC, Muhammad ensures that thousands of IDPs (internally displaced persons, NGO-speak for people forced to leave their home communities) have access to basic necessities for survival. Among those he serves are the half-million Pakistanis who fled fierce fighting between the Taliban and the Pakistan Army starting in 2008. Last year, with an apparent end to the fighting, many IDPs were finally returning home. Muhammad and his colleagues spent the early part of 2010 setting up a clean water program, overseeing the installation of culverts carrying water to fields and orchards, and providing returnees with housing materials, cooking utensils and bedding. Just months later, much of their work was undone.
During summer last year, Muhammad was visiting an IRC field office in the Swat Valley in northern Pakistan. It was the start of the monsoon season, typically two months of heavy rains that swell streams and rivers. In mid-July, however, a three-day deluge triggered catastrophic flash flooding in the upper reaches of the Swat Valley. By the end of the first day of downpours, Muhammad and his staff were already marooned at the field office. A nearby stream, normally used by villagers to bathe and wash clothes, had transformed into a raging slurry of mud and trees. Muhammad watched boulders the size of small SUVs tumble downstream.
“It was rising every minute,” he recalls. “People had always considered the stream a friend, and now we were shocked by how quickly it became a raging river.”
Muhammad and his colleagues hastily moved IRC equipment and emergency food supplies to a drier spot. But they couldn’t travel far—Muhammad learned via mobile phone that roads downstream had been washed away. He and his colleagues called their families to check on their safety; then turned their attention to those in need close by, and there were many.
tomorrow here to read more about Muhammad’s work in the wake of last year’s floods.
*Due to IRC security protocols, Muhammad’s name has been changed.