October issue 2010

The rain may have stopped, but the pain and devastation continues. And they are likely to continue for a long time. This article is one of seven in Newsline‘s special coverage of the ongoing humanitarian crisis and how it is affecting the lives of Pakistan’s most vulnerable citizens, the country’s food supply, the fragile economy and the neglected environment, as well as what Pakistan’s politicians and bureaucrats are doing about it all. More articles will be published over the coming days.

When Syed Ali Khurram first entered the Karachi Relief Trust shelter in Thul, he was struck by the fact that men, women and children alike walked on the burnt soil, barefoot, their soles continually scorched by the unyielding earth.

Khurram had volunteered to help run the camp towards the end of Ramadan and during Eid, along with Dominic Martin, Muhammad Akram, Natwar Lal and Adil Shams. Their main responsibility was to purchase food and medical supplies for the 1,600 flood victims, but after observing the plight of people in the camps, they decided to provide them shoes as well. Muhammed Akram furtively noted the number of barefooted people and soon left with the group to buy food and shoes from the market for the coming two days of Eid.

Finding reasonably priced supplies is never an easy task, Khurram explained. Many shopkeepers increased — and some even doubled — their prices when he tried to buy food for the camps. The reason? They knew that he was part of an aid organisation and assumed he had a significant amount of money to spend.

While he was haggling with a shopkeeper, a man from the camp approached him. He had presumably extrapolated that some camp members were going to receive shoes on Eid and inquired if he could have his now. Khurram asked Adil to go with the man to pick shoes of his choice. Thrilled, the man went to a small shop and picked out a modest pair of shoes priced at Rs 50. Smiling, the man wore them and walked out while Adil handed Vicky, the shop owner, a 50-rupee note. To Adil’s surprise, Vicky returned 20 rupees. “I thought you said the shoes were for 50 rupees?”

Vicky replied, “They are. When you gave that man the shoes I realised that you are an aid worker, so I am giving you the shoes at cost price.”

Delighted, Adil went back to Khurram and narrated the story. Khurram told him to purchase the rest of the shoes from Vicky’s shop. Adil went back, but before he could buy the shoes, Vicky told him he would first like to meet the head of his group. When Khurram arrived, the man said, “Before we discuss the shoes, I would like to make a request.”

“What?” Khurram inquired.

He said, “I am a Hindu merchant and today is chand raat, so it’s hectic, but tomorrow the customer’s rush will slow down. Will you please allow me and my team of three workers to help you in your camp?”

“Of course, but what type of help? Are you willing to sweep the camp?” asked Khurram.

“I would be extremely grateful if you allow me to sweep the camp,” replied Vicky.

Slightly stunned by this proposal, Khurram then asked if it would be all right if instead of buying the shoes directly, he gave people from the camp slips to trade in for shoes and then pay Vicky according to how many slips he received.

“There’s no trust issue is there?” Khurram probed.

“None,” came the reply.

“If you could do me one more favour,” Vicky asked. “Instead of buying each shoe at Rs 30, please buy each at Rs 25.”

“Why?” asked Khurram.

“You’ve come here all the way from Karachi to make your contribution, so I should also contribute towards helping my own people. I will pay the extra five rupees.”