KARACHI: Close to the highway exit for Jamshoro lies a half-constructed, semi-abandoned cricket stadium, where the Mithri Sindh Relief Camp is located. It is not government funded nor is it funded by any major organisation; it is a camp that has been surviving on funds gathered by students collecting monetary donations by the traffic lights of Karachi.
Pakistan’s flood crisis has reached unprecedented numbers which continue to grow on a daily basis; a little over 20 million people have been directly affected, there have been 1,961 reported deaths, 2,995 reported injured, more than two million hectares of destroyed crops, over a million homes damaged, and a total of 78 inundated districts, all across the country, according to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).
Among many student groups in Karachi, the students from Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (better known as SZABIST) have been collecting donations and distributing goods non-stop for the flood affected.
Currently in Sindh alone; more than seven million people have been affected by the flood, an estimated one million homes were consumed, 17 out of 23 districts have been submerged, over a million hectares of crops were destroyed, and 393 is the reported death toll, according to the NDMA.
“These are our own people – not some other country faraway where they need help,” said Bemisal Iqbal, a Szabist student who has been organising many events related to the camp, while collecting donations a couple of months ago.
In the midst of the flood crisis, students from Szabist have adopted the Mithri Sindh Relief Camp as their responsibility. The Mithri Sindh Relief Camp shelters over 63 families, more than 400 women, children, and adults. The camp has been divided into different areas; a cooking area, water storage, a storage space for rations, space for herds and a television set for children to watch during the evening. The camp also hosted a musical night with local musicians on the third day of Eid.
The students also distribute rations to other camps as well as the surrounding affected areas in and around Thatta.
“Our camp has become a model camps for many NGOs and government officials who visit us before they start their own camps,” said Rehan Naushad Khan, a Szabist student who has been organising the logistics of the camp. “We are feeding everyone three times a day, we have a television to keep them busy, we bring in doctors for check-ups, we distribute rations every week, and on Sunday we come and play cricket with the kids. These people have a heart too.”
In Sindh, there are a total of 4,196 government relief camps and total of 1,196 government relief camps between Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan, Balochistan, and Azad Jammu Kashmir.
“I thought we were going to just get food – but these students really have gone above and beyond,” said Peer Ali Anwar, who founded the camp. “I mean they are students – they should be studying or something – I know adults who don’t do as much.”
Several days ago Anwar lost a three month old infant in the camp due to malnutrition during the pregnancy according to doctors, and is currently looking for different treatments for a 56-year old camp member with a debilitating liver.
“These people are getting sicker and I can use all the help I can get at this point,” said Anwar, who said that many of the medical expenses were personally covered by him and his family.
The Mithri Sindh Relief Camp is in dire need of an estimated 60 tents, has another month’s worth of rations left for the camp, and is looking for ways to educate the children in the camp while they wait to return to their homes.
“Unlike many government camps and trusted not-for-profit camps – we are completely on our own and lack many resources to make the camp as comfortable as possible for the people that are living here,” said Ahmed Shah, a Szabist student who has played a major role in the camp’s organization.
Most recently due to conflicts with Szabist’s academic administration, students involved in the relief efforts have joined Jaag Meray Taalib-e-Ilm, another independent student organisation that has also been helping with raising money for the Mithri Sindh Relief Camp.
In the meantime, the students have come up with more creative solutions for raising money such as having the women create ethnic stitch work so it can be sold in the markets and boutiques of Karachi. Some are planning a play, and others are contacting different not-for-profit organisations for assistance.
“It’s an ongoing effort, and we will continue,” said Bemisal Iqbal.