Hospitality’s ultimate test: In Pakistan, displaced seek shelter house by house

By: Matt Hackworth/CWS

MARDAN, Northwest Frontier Province, Pakistan — Awalkhan has four spare rooms in his modest house, now a temporary hostel to 30 people.

“Because I had spare rooms, I host them,” Awalkhan said, sitting on the edge of a traditional rattan charpoy bed. “They have no other way.”

The people in Awalkhan’s home are like most in Pakistan who are displaced by the fighting between national army and Taliban forces. They left in a hurry, with little more than the clothes on their backs, and fled to the home of a relative or close friend.

United Nations figures document 1.7 million have fled escalating violence in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. That number is likely far below the total number of people affected because so many have found refuge in the homes of others.

“It could be as high as 90 percent of people who fled are unaccounted for, simply because they’re staying with a host family,” CWS Pakistan/Afghanistan Director Marvin Parvez. (Parvez is also the Asia/Pacific Regional Director for Church World Service.) “These are families who didn’t have much to begin with, and now they have the added strain of caring for others. They need our help.”

Just as CWS has provided food packages and blankets in the nearby Sheik Yasin Camp, where 9,000 displaced persons live in tents, the agency has also provided food and supplies to families who have opened their homes to people in need.

A local partner in Mardan, Movement for Rural Development Organization, helped CWS identify homes where needs are particularly strong.

“The people of this community are very poor,” MRDO Chairman Sawar Khan said. “They are completely dependent upon NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and the public.”

Smaller villages ring the outskirts of Mardan, where locals in native colorful dress, called shalwar khamiz, seek shelter from the blistering heat inside homes made of thick mud plaster. Over a thick cup of local chai tea and pastries, village elder Mohammed Younas Khan describes how his community is handling such an influx of people.

“If someone has four rooms, they give two rooms to the people,” Khan said, stroking his white beard. “If they have one room, they share it. That’s how we’re handling it.

“But it’s our prayer to Allah that the people should be able to go home,” Khan said.

Pakistan’s army set a deadline of June 25 for its operations against the Taliban to conclude. The deadline passed and troops continue to fight.

One thing is clear in Mardan: Families remain just as scared of life under Taliban rule as they are of being caught in a military firefight. Women duck under headscarves at the sight of a still camera, for fear the Taliban might see their photo, in violation of the Islamic laws of Sharia.

So, families remain in Mardan, caught between harsh justice and military might, far from home. For Awalkhan, the uncertainty facing the 30 people in his home produces at least one bit of clarity.

“I will continue to host them because this is my duty,” he said.

How to help

Church World Service is helping to provide food, shelter and medical care for displaced children and families in Pakistan. Contributions to support Church World Service emergency response and recovery efforts may be made online, by phone (800.297.1516), or sent to Church World Service, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515.

Media Contact:

Lesley Crosson, 212-870-2676


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