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We Are All In the Hole Together: A Reflection on Volunteerism

7 September 2010 2 Comments

Rubina Feroze Bhatti

Rubina Feroze Bhatti
Pakistan

“Pakistan is now undergoing the greatest humanitarian crisis in its history. It will take years if not generations to repair the physical, economic and emotional damage.”

“I traveled in different districts of Punjab to help flood affected people, but I found the situation in Layyah the worst. Everything is very little over here – the food, the fodder, the water and the shelter. What is more is here – the wisdom, the courage and the hope. People are surrounded by water but they know how to make a boat. I have seen people putting a charpai [bed] on drums and making a boat to rescue their beloved ones.”

A passionate volunteer told me this with shining eyes. And then he paused. He had just returned from a few days spent in District Layyah. Sitting with volunteers is a daily routine in these days. We commit, plan and act to help the unreachable people of flooded areas. These volunteers are our energy, our motivation and our courage.

He broke his silence and said, “I am so moved by the guts of flood victims of District Layyah that I want to go back to them.”

“Why?” I asked.

“To tell them We are with you. Let’s make a boat.”

These words touched my heart and while sending daily updates about our flood response, I wrote his words along with a commitment to help flood affected people with all my heart and soul.  Surprisingly, I received many emails from that update. For Sher Zaman of Lahore it was a unique expression and excellent message, while Professor Scott Paul from the United States wrote, “It brought tears to my eyes to read the sentence ‘Let’s make a boat.’” He went on to share a story with us:

A man is walking down the street when he falls in a deep hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the man shouts up, ‘Hey you, can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

Then a lawyer comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘I’m down in this hole! Can you help me out?’ The lawyer writes out an opinion, throws it down in the hole and moves on.

The man in the hole recognizes a friend walking by and shouts out, ‘My old friend, can you help me out?’ The friend looks down and suddenly jumps in the hole. The man in the hole says, ‘Are you crazy? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yes, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.’

Dr. Angelika with TWO's volunteers

Empathy, courage, selflessness, commitment, fear, risk, and finally hope and humanity are all in this short story.

Pakistan is now undergoing the greatest humanitarian crisis in its history. It will take years if not generations to repair the physical, economic and emotional damage. As in the short story above, we are all in the hole together. Or, to put it another way, we must all rebuild together. I agree with Professor Scott that togetherness is the answer. And this togetherness is the spirit of Taangh Wasaib’s (TWO) volunteerism.

That’s why Dr. Angelika Koester-Lossack from Germany feels this way:

My heart goes out to the courageous volunteers of TWO and to the people who suffer so much in these catastrophic floods. With each day, my determination grows to help in a sustainable way. To give money is one thing, but I am convinced that after the floods subside and the survival of people is secured, the long-term work needs good preparation. I pledge to help personally as soon as circumstances allow me to come over. At this point, let me assure you that I think about your life-saving work every day.

Almost the same sentiments have been shared by Kaitlin Barker of San Diego: “Thank you so much for all of the updates on your volunteers’ work with the flood victims. Every day I read the news and my heart breaks. I wish I could come there and be of help.” Dorothy Skylor, whom I met in 2004 during the International Visitors Program (IVP) of the U.S. Department of State, wrote, “This tragedy is worse than all the others, as the need is so great and the reconstruction will go on for years. I would like our government to give the money for relief instead of for guns. My heart goes out to all those who are suffering. If I was there I would be helping you.” During the IVP I enjoyed hospitality in Dorothy’s home – and later that hospitality transformed into an everlasting friendship.

Rubina with IVP volunteer Dorothy Skylor

Taangh Wasaib Organization was founded in 1998 with just 25 volunteers. Since its inception, TWO has established a vibrant volunteer network varying from traditional volunteers who stay for long spans of years to constantly new and short-term episodic volunteers. They are from all segments of society – of different ages, sex, ethnic and religious backgrounds. They dedicate their time, their energy, their creativity and their resources to building their communities. Shortly after my participation in the International Visitors Program on “Community Service and Volunteerism,” we revisited our method of volunteerism. The program examined how organizations rally volunteer resources to address problems in a rapidly changing society, and it provided me a unique opportunity to understand domestic and international volunteerism. My understanding grew further during my interaction with the volunteers of European Voluntary Service in Ireland. I concluded that TWO’s leadership was committed to keeping volunteers involved and motivated, but, like many other voluntary organizations, it was not treating volunteer management as a top priority. Since that day, TWO has been developing an effective volunteer management system to offer volunteers important, meaningful and satisfying work that matches their interests, skills, talents and time availability – as well as the opportunity to meet relevant community needs. To reward and recognize its volunteers, TWO has been holding Volunteer Conventions every year since 2006.

When I look back now after a period of more than one decade, I see hundreds of volunteers who have joined hands with us to share in our longing for the fullness of humanity. All of my achievements have only been possible because of these very special volunteers. I could never have been a Woman PeaceMaker or a nominee for the Noble Peace Prize without the appreciation, kindness and support of TWO volunteers.

Volunteers repairing a road to ensure a flood-affected village can receive food.

These floods were a litmus test and volunteers have proven that they polish the rough surfaces of society. They heal wounds. And they live for others. For example, the road to reach the flooded villages of district Bhakkar was totally destroyed. But the flood victims’ caught in those villages were in dire need of food. TWOs volunteers, along with local community repaired the road on self-help basis and distributed food to flood affected families.

One of the volunteers shared with me, “Our first step of repairing roads has motivated people to cope with the disaster, but initial support is a must. We have to organize medical camps for people, especially for pregnant mothers. During counseling sessions they told us with cries that everything has been lost – the clothes, the shoes, the animals and the books of their children.”

Another volunteer shared this quote:

“Flooded water has washed away not only their homes and belongings but also their aspirations and joys. I met a depressed child sitting on a muddy place. I tried to talk with him. He looked at me with a detached smile and stood up. Then he asked me to follow him. We walked silently for a while and then he stopped. He pointed his finger towards a broken house, showed me the traditional swing- two ropes with a wooden bar and said, “Look! My swing is there”. He cried, I cried too”.

On behalf of Taangh Wasaib Organization, I express my deep gratitude to our local and international volunteers who are with us during the worst time of our history. I salute you! You have been spending your days and nights with flood affected people in different districts of Punjab. My special thanks to our courageous female volunteers who have been away from their homes, walking through mud, stones and standing water to see the disaster through a gender lens and help women to the best of their abilities. The food and non-food items provided to flood victims are insufficient, but the care, respect and bond you have shared with them is beyond calculation.

Because You Are Special

We sometimes take for granted
In the rush of all we do.
And forget to say a special thanks
To volunteers like you!

So we send this note to tell you
How much all you do means.
Your gifts of time and of yourself
Are special ones indeed.

***

Read Rubina’s previous post on the devastating impact of the flood and TWO’s efforts to assist men, women, and children in Pakistan here.

***

To contribute much-needed flood relief to Pakistan, please refer to these organizations:


Taangh Wasaib Organization

Aurat Foundation’s Motherland Flood Relief Campaign

UNICEF

Relief International

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2 Comments to “We Are All In the Hole Together: A Reflection on Volunteerism”
  1. irit says:

    I am lost of words and full of admiration. My heart is thankful to the wonderful dear volunteers who are doing a holy work . My heart goes out to the poor Pakistanis people who are suffering so much.

    Be blessed.

  2. [...] Rubina Feroze Bhatti of Pakistan said in her article at Peace X Peace: “We Are All In the Hole Together: A Reflection on Volunteerism” “Pakistan is now undergoing the greatest humanitarian crisis in its history. It will take years if not generations to repair the physical, economic and emotional damage.” [...]

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