COMP Students Contribute to the Rehabilitation of Kashmir After Devastating Earthquake
Pomona, Calif. - 09/21/2006 -- In October of 2005, an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale in magnitude, struck Central Asia, extending into regions of Pakistan, India, Kashmir, as well as Afghanistan. The death toll was staggering: approximately 100,000 people were killed and more than 40 villages were completely destroyed, leaving 3.3 million people displaced. As of today, many still remain without adequate shelter, food and medical care, and continue to suffer from this destructive earthquake.
In an attempt to help with relief efforts, seven Western University medical students, traveled this summer to the epicenter of the earthquake in Kashmir. There, they worked as part of the non- governmental organization, Islamic Medical Association of North America, serving two of the most devastated areas of Kashmir in the cities of Muzaffarabad and Rawalakot. Although the acute emergency phase of the earthquake recovery process had been over for months, the WesternU students were still able to contribute to the reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts that are still ongoing.
The following are personal accounts of those students:
My trip to Kashmir was a beautiful experience. I enjoyed aspects of the culture and the people more so than my medical experience, but it is probably the medical experience that is more important to whom ever is reading my paragraph regarding my trip. I was very lucky to see so many rare diseases that we only read about in books like Leshmaniasis, Tetrology of Fallot, Measles and mumps, Hepatitis A, a few Thallasemias, a Down's neonate with all the common morbidities involved in one, even so many cases of Turberculosis until I felt like I got it myself! And I still saw much more than that. I was allowed to perform procedures like a lumbar puncture that would take years to get that kind of chance here in the US. That clearly shows the desperate need of help that not only Kashmir, but all third world countries are in need of our assistance; even first year medical students, with the limited knowledge we have, can help a tremendous amount. The sanitary conditions were eye opening, but then again, we all need to be reminded of how fortunate we are - whether we drive a Mercedes or not.
She lay there motionless on the bed, her body frail and weak: tired. I thought she was asleep, and so as not to wake her, I tried to be gentle. As I re-capped the IV catheter after administering her medication, I found her grappling for my hand. I pulled away slightly, not understanding her mumbled whispers. I thought she was motioning me away for causing her pain. She gestured for me to give her my hand and cupping it in both of hers she brought it to her lips. Only then did I comprehend; from those very lips, crinkled with creases of weariness and old age, escaped murmured blessings shrouding a feeble kiss. My eyes welled with tears and my heart fell in my chest as I held my hand in hers; humbled by her gratitude. They were simple actions- on both of our parts, yet they filled us with overwhelming emotions of humanity. An anonymous author once wrote, "simple words [and actions] can reach boundless depths in meaning when expressed with devotion and sincerity. It is this power of amazing simplicity that is within easy reach for all of us." This is the memory by which I recall my experience of the six weeks in I spent in Kashmir; an experience that has highlighted for me these very depths of simplicity and sincerity.
I still remember when the devastating earthquake struck Kashmir: I was breaking a day long fast during the month of Ramadan, however I found myself unable to eat. This event sent me into deep reflection and contemplation and the conclusion of my reflection was that I had to come to the aid of my fellow brothers and sisters. I would soon learn that I was the one who was in need of aid. After seeing what true devastation was and how fragile life can be I realized the arrogance of our individualistic consumer driven society and the lack of humility present in our lives. Standing at the base of an enormous mountain, at the origin of the Himalayas, makes you realize your weakness as you look at a mountain covered in landslides. Just being able to connect with the people of Kashmir and seeing their perseverance and courage in the face of such tragedy allows your soul to feel how long it has been neglected by materialistic purists. Despite thousands of miles, cultural, political, and economic barriers, being around the people of Kashmir and connecting with my fellow human beings allowed me to reach new levels of spirituality. I went to Pakistan to provide earthquake relief, yet I was the one uplifted and inspired.
It was a real privilege to have the opportunity to work along side the doctors and nurses in Kashmir, in an effort to help out those who have suffered from the earthquake. I was taken aback by the destruction that the earthquake had caused. Areas of land where people once called home were now considered uninhabitable. Yet despite the tragedy they have gone through, and all they have lost, the people of Kashmir were extremely friendly and were very grateful for any help we could provide them. Their positive outlook on life, and ability to focus on what they still had, instead of what they had lost, was a true inspiration.
Stepping off the plane in Islamabad, I was filled with excitement and anxiousness. I had no idea of what to expect or what I would see during my month long stay in Kashmir. As we drove from the airport in Pakistan and into Kashmir the one thing that became exceptionally apparent was that Kashmir was one of the most people beautiful places I have ever seen. Kashmir's beauty didn't just end with the landscape, for the people where just as beautiful. The greatest impact this trip has had on me has been the one on one interaction with the patients, doctors, nurses, and locals. Although I was a stranger, it didn't take long for them to open up whether it was with a smile, a handshake, or a gesture to come and sit with them. My initial intentions for traveling to Kashmir, after the October 8th earthquake, was to help and give of myself in any way possible and yet it feels as if during my stay I received more than I was ever able to give. I left Kashmir wondering how the people in the poorest conditions are also the ones who are able to give the most freely.