After the bloodshed: How Lahore responded to tragedy

Lahore’s people and their spirit have proved more potent than the intentions of the attackers.
Published March 29, 2016

Lahore has beauty. Lahore has life.

On Sunday, around 72 people were killed and another 300 were injured as a suicide blast ripped through Gulshan-i-Iqbal park. The heart of Lahore and its children were under assault.

The park was crowded with families—mostly women and children— when the bomb went off. For many, it was a replay of the horrific Army Public School, Peshawar attack.

But Lahore has not reacted with fear. Instead, it chose compassion. Despite the warnings by the militant Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar behind the attack, Lahore’s people and their spirit have overshadowed the intentions of the attackers.

When the whole city comes to help

At Jinnah Hospital—where close to 150 survivors are receiving treatment—the blood banks are running out of space. People are thronging the hospital in numbers greater than it has seen before. Adil, who manages a counter at the blood bank, says the bank is currently only taking contact information and sending people back.

Sher Khan and Usman, for instance, came on Monday to donate blood. They had come the day before too, but were turned away after waiting for three hours.

The two friends are not alone. Volunteers say that hospitals are overflowing with gifts and donations: flowers, juice boxes, lunch, clothes, bedsheets. Although Lahore is on high alert, the goal for many is to reach the hospital and help in any way they can.

Medical student Urooj rushed to the hospital as news of the blast broke and has spent the last two days finding out what survivors' immediate needs are. She has helped to coordinate supplies coming in and tending to what is needed next.

She has had to turn many people away, since there is enough stock of food and water, but she reminds them to keep in touch, since more help will be needed once things subside.

She is particularly concerned with what the survivors might need a few days from now, when they are discharged, and is taking note of all they might have to gather: wheelchairs, crutches, money for medicines.

An engineer by profession, Adil Rabbani has joined his group of friends who were already at the hospitals. He has made multiple rounds of all the hospitals helping out with the supplies. His friends too, have joined in, helping out in whatever way can.

Focusing on the bigger picture

Dr Amna Afzal was in surgical emergency at Jinnah Hospital when the blast happened. As victims began pouring in, she stayed on her feet and worked for 36 hours straight.

There's a lot of rushing around: shifting one patient from here to there, passing a tube to another, checking up on a third. "It's not a one-man job," Afzal says. "It happens only when a lot of people work together."

She remembers how the staff on-duty began going through the patients as soon as they came in. As the patients began to grow in number, off-duty staff was also called back— from nurses and sisters to professors and head of departments, everyone returned as they heard the news.

“The corridors were filled with dead bodies and patients,” she says. “It felt like the world was ending.”

Doctors worked tirelessly to ensure that as many victims as possible could be saved. At the end of the day, Dr Afzal says they knew they had to withstand the blast’s emotional trauma to focus on the bigger picture: saving lives.

People from all over the city have been sending food, water, juice boxes and flowers for the survivors. —Photo by the author
People from all over the city have been sending food, water, juice boxes and flowers for the survivors. —Photo by the author

She says they were lucky, because every doctor from every department was lending a helping hand. Even the people who were there but did not have medical expertise, such as relatives and attendants, helped out where they could.

“I’m happy that our people still have the spirit to help," she said.

Among all, a survivor

Mariam Khalid was waiting for a ride at the park and standing very close to the suicide bomber when the blast went off.

The impact left her with several injuries and discomfort, but treatment has been fast. Her spine and leg were treated as soon as she was brought into the hospital; she says the nurses and doctors were handling the situation extremely well. Only her lip remains to be stitched.

“They preferred to focus on people in critical conditions,” she says, “But they made sure to check each and every one of us first.”

The support she received on Sunday has not wavered: since she isn't sure when she will be discharged, Mariam is still receiving care. The doctors continue to check up on her, as do the countless of volunteers rushing about the hospital halls.

Careem and Uber step up

Popular private car-hire services Careem and Uber responded to the attack by doing their own part for blast victims: offering free rides for people wanting to donate blood at hospitals. The announcement came from their Twitter and Facebook feeds respectively. All customers had to do, they explained, was type in 'DONATE' (Careem) or 'SaveLhr' (Uber) in place of the promo code.

Making the injured smile

Sayyed Zaman Haider is from Skardu Gilgit Baltistan, but has spent most of his life in Lahore. He has been putting out his own calls for help on social media and is on a mission to help injured children smile.

A Pakistani nun holds a candle during a vigil for the victims of the Lahore blast. —AP/File
A Pakistani nun holds a candle during a vigil for the victims of the Lahore blast. —AP/File

Zaman and his team, Umair Shah, Abdul Basit, Moosa Raza, Zarsha Zainab ,Kinza, Haram and Komal have parked themselves at various hospitals right after the blast occurred.

Zaman says that his involvement is the story of the passion that a common Pakistani has. When the blast happened it shook him to his core. “It was a black Easter,” he says. He thought of ways he could possibly help the victims—he thought of necessities, and reached out to activist Jibran Nasir to help him engage people further.

The plan was to provide lunch boxes to the victims. “I started from 100 boxes,” Zaman says. “And then we arranged 1,000 boxes, with a 1,000 water bottles.” Zaman and his friends took the boxes to Jinnah Hospital and Sheikh Zayed Hospital, where they spent the entire day.

Despite roadblocks, volunteers go strong

The efforts of those trying to help are at times complicated by the arrival of leaders who want to keep a check on the survivors.

“We have had to face pressure because of VVIP persons and their protocols,” Zaman says. “But we continued our work.” Zaman has tried not to lose focus of the bigger goal: doing everything they could for the people. He believes that when the youth of Pakistan gets involved, big things can happen. “We can change the world through small activities,” he says.

Many of the victims have a small sign on their bed that reads 'blast victim'. —Photo by the author
Many of the victims have a small sign on their bed that reads 'blast victim'. —Photo by the author

As for the threats, Zaman doesn’t think they can dampen their spirit. “We can make people smile, we can win an Oscar, we can make our country proud.”