‘Families were sleeping for a mile along the road’ - East London student on Pakistan floods
PUBLISHED: 15:00 16 September 2010
JUST days after arriving in flood-stricken Pakistan, young volunteer Halima Begum was confronted with the sight of a seven-month-old dying from water-borne disease.
The heartbreaking scene was to become the norm over the next two weeks as the medical student, based at Queen Mary Hospital in Mile End, tirelessly treated diseased youngsters, installed water purifiers and helped build temporary hospitals.
“The little baby boy had acute water diarrhoea,” Halima, 20, explained.
“The family had been accessing dirty water for two to three weeks and he was really skinny and dehydrated.
“I’ve never seen a patient die in front of my eyes before…it was really hard to deal with. The shocking thing was that most of our patients were children.”
Halima, from Victoria Avenue in East Ham, spoke to the Advertiser this week about her incredible experience volunteering in a country that has seen more than 18 million people affected by floods which first struck in late July.
After training with the charity MADE in Europe, Halima and around 10 other young volunteers headed to Sukkur in the north of the country with organisation Islamic Help.
“I remember flying-in and seeing families sleeping for a mile along the road,” Halima said.
“I was thinking ‘who is going to help all these people?’”
The group quickly got to work setting up an ‘inflatable hospital.’ “Sounds like a giant bouncy castle doesn’t it?” Halima admitted, adding: “It’s actually a huge tent, resistant to wind and water and with a generator and air-con. The main thing we do there is treat acute water diarrhoea (AWD).”
In temperatures hovering around 50C, Halima checked patients’ medication dosages and blood pressure.
The group also set up a water purification unit. But with so many desperate homeless families, they quickly had to install guards to control the crowds.
Halima said: “These people hadn’t seen clean water in weeks, so it was difficult to deal with them.
“There were mums who were pregnant pushing their way through to get clean water.
“It’s so hard when they’re looking at you as though you’re their only hope.”
After volunteering across the country, Halima headed back to East London with a newfound appreciation for her life here.
She said: “The children were so young and poor and skinny. And then I think about how I would look at my wardrobe and complain about how many clothes I have and I feel so humbled.”
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