It was time to realize my dream, things were falling into place. I was invited to give a talk on Family Medicine in Canada as part of the faculty exchange program in the northern part of Pakistan. While planning the trip I decided to visit the hospital site that our organization has been fundraising for in Kashmir.
Kashmir is a land resplendent with natural beauty- dense forests, fast, flowing rivers, and winding freshwater streams. It is a land of staggering magnificence, awash in lyrical color and poetic detail. This is the place I had once visited in my youth, with hopes of coming back again one day and serving.
Life has a way of getting in between the most lofty aspirations and goals. My interest in Kashmir was pushed into the background, as my family and work in Canada consumed much of my time and attention. That is, until the ill fated day of October 8th 2005.
The news was ablaze with reports of 7.6 magnitude earthquake striking Northern Pakistan in the border area Kashmir, devastating an area of nearly 30, 000 km2. According to the official statistics, over 85,000 people were killed, and three million left homeless. Watching scene after scene of unspeakable tragedy on my television screen, I longed to go there myself, as many of my colleagues had done with emergency relief teams. Unfortunately with family demands and pressing concerns at home, I could not yet make this desire a reality. However when I found out a group of my colleagues taking the initiative to build an earthquake proof hospital in that region, I decided to join hands with them.
Following is a brief description of my visit:
I arrived at Islamabad airport on December 17th, and set out on a four hour long journey to Tandiani (a small town in Kashmir). My first time coming here, I was very young and remember being scared on the narrow windy paths. The feeling this time was special, since there was a meaningful purpose attached.
We stopped at a local hotel for breakfast. I was warned not to eat out, but I threw all caution to the winds, and thoroughly enjoyed the local breakfast.
It was chilly with no central heating, (winters in Northern Pakistan can be quite cold ) sitting in the sun made me feel warm. It made me appreciate the resilience of the people in the region.
The journey to the site of the hospital was a breathtaking, albeit exhausting one .The fresh mountain air, and glimpsing construction site in the flesh made the feeling of car sickness vanish, as I looked in awe at the magnanimity of the project. The details that went into the planning were amazing. I realized then the difference between seeing things in pictures, versus in person. The most practical point of construction seemed the doctors’ accommodation.The plan for a nurses’ hostel is also in the offing. The idea is for foreign trained physicians & nurses to work in the region and train local staff.
After spending 2 hours at site we set out for Abbottabad. Our trip was interrupted by frequent stops to hand out toothbrushes, clothes and toys. The most refreshing aspect of all this was the innocence and lack of suspicion with which these gifts were received.
On arrival I was warmly welcomed at the Frontier Medical College by staff and students. Their eagerness to learn was very obvious. I had good exchange of ideas with them, the younger generation was full of enthusiasm. The hospitality was touching.
I have returned to Canada with a solemn pledge to return. To continue to share knowledge and help improve health care facilities in that region.