( Houston Physician Dr Pavan Grover, pictured with the young victims of the massive earthquake that decimated Pakistani Kashmir )
Houston physician Pavan Grover, MD, a doctor practicing in Houston, recently traveled to quake-ravaged areas of Pakistan to lend a helping hand to the relief efforts. Grover, who works as a medical correspondent for an NBC affiliate, also was involved in the doctor volunteer effort at the Houston Astrodome for Katrina evacuees and reported on the situation for the national Fox News Network.
Over the years, he has worked with numerous media outlets including CNN and Larry King Live.
Recently, Grover was approached by local doctors from a non-profit charity clinic Ibn Sina Foundation, Dr. Dilawar Ajani and Nasruddin Rupani in Houston who were concerned with the possibility of another humanitarian disaster in the region and asked him to visit the earthquake ravaged sites in hopes of bringing awareness to the situation and collect information on current needs of earthquake evacuees and the services required to address their welfare.
Here is a first-person account of Dr Grover’s work in Pakistan in mid-November.
When I saw the pictures of horrible destruction and misery caused by the devastating earthquake in Pakistan in October, I decided to go there and do my bit to alleviate the suffering of the unfortunate victims.
But my local TV affiliate did not have the budget for such a trip and were not in a position to risk sending a crew to such an unstable region. In addition, I received a severe warning from the State Department, advising me not to go due to security issues, further compounded by my being an American citizen.
Surprisingly, the more obstacles that stood in my way, the more compulsion I felt to make the journey. In part, it was because of the sincere pleadings of Dr. Dilawar Ajani and Nasruddin Rupani of Ibn Sina Foundation. I could feel their heartfelt compassion. Secondly, I was heartbroken by the plight of the people there. I thought it was important, symbolically, that since I was born in India I should go to Pakistan to help the children there. And I feel passionately that we need to build goodwill between our two countries.
I closed my busy practice, bought my own ticket and went to Pakistan. There I hired a local TV crew to help me document the amazing journey, which basically took me to the worst sites of devastation into the Himalayan region. I went to areas that other journalists have not had access to and conducted interviews with all the key players, including the Vice President of Pakistan, UN officials, doctors in the field, US Marines mobile medical unit, the Pakistani Army and Generals, local and district leaders, local press, and the Chief Minister.
After a grueling 18-hour flight, I landed in Islamabad and jumped into long car ride, which took me 60 miles north to Balokot. Thousands of residents were living in tent shelters set up by relief organizations. Still world weary, and recovering from jet lag, my senses were jolted by the beauty of the landscape.
To tell the story of these people you have to begin with the beauty of their intimate relationship with the Himalayas. I’ve heard it called “heaven on earth”. Turquoise Himalayan snow capped peaks with seductive green valleys and running streams of crystal blue water. Juxtaposed with this gorgeous landscape is the utter destruction by the Oct. 8 earthquake, which affected northern Pakistan and Northern India.
Even if you have seen the images on your TV screen or seen the pictures in the newspapers, nothing prepares you for what you experience when you get there. In village after village, you are awestruck and mystified at the complete destruction of the entire infrastructure.
I met a father who gave me a first-hand account of the earthquake as we walked through the debris of what once his children’s school.. “When the quake struck, buildings flew into the air and came crashing down, I rushed to my children’s school and it was leveled into the dirt.” His eyes swelled with tears at the ferocity of his memory. He pointed to an area of concrete. “Here, I could hear the screams of the children. Screaming in pain, screaming for water.”
In Balokot, I met a young boy, whose classroom collapsed on top of him, he managed to dig himself out from under the rubble with a little hammer he had in his school bag; he then went back and dug out 10 of his classmates. However, he his own mother, brothers and sister died in the disaster. Senator Mohammed Azam Khan Swati had accompanied me that day. His district of Mansehra was the hardest hit. Sen. Swati runs a business in Port Arthur, Texas and travels frequently between Texas and Pakistan. He was so moved by the heroism of this little child that he is arranging for him to be a part of the orphanage he is running completely on his own dime. Currently, Sen. Swati is taking care of 250 orphans at the Mehr Children Welfare Foundation.
He is passionate about the plight of the children in Pakistan and the humanitarian work he does is extraordinary. This orphanage is a huge undertaking, with maintenance costs running into the millions which Sen. Swati has completely underwritten. Without any fanfare or press, he continues his admirable work.
As we ventured north to the mountain villages of Jabori I came across an isolated island among the rubble. A small tent city housing 288 victims. It all begins with the story of a young man, Salem who came across a destitute family traumatized and left homeless by the quake. Not a rich man, he begged and borrowed to arrange meager shelters.
His resources were now pushed to the limit; he could no longer provide the meager rations for food. Drinking water was running out and there was an urgent need for a female doctor to address the sick and dying. Basic sanitation was also a problem along with stoves for cooking and boiling water.
The first thing that strikes you is how beautiful the children are. And the innocence painted on their faces. However, behind their eyes, you can see fear. I was anxious to talk to them, to find out what they felt, what they worried about. What I heard over and over again was heartbreaking questions about what sins they had committed for God to do this to them.
Despite my clinical experience as an American medical doctor, the plight of these children shocked me. So many young children with severed arms and legs. But the spirits of these kids were still intact. As I went from village to village, hordes of kids followed me. I don’t know if it was just a brief, momentary distraction from their overwhelming grief or curiosity about me or what I was doing there. Their faces lighted up and they smiled and laughed. We played together and they sang songs. It was in these faces that the breadth and tragedy of the humanitarian crisis hits you over the head. No political, religious, culturally or social barriers exist in the innocence of these children whose world has been literally turned upside down..
Among the men, there was a resilience I had never seen before. They just needed the tools to rebuild their life. From my experience with the work I did volunteering at the Houston Astrodome during the Katrina crisis, I knew that after a certain point, people who have undergone tremendous loss reach a point that they cannot cry anymore.
The strength and fortitude of these people was not broken and the famous Pakistani hospitality shone through in every village I visited. I’ve never had so much tea in my life, but everywhere I was greeted with such warmth and love that after a while, I did not find it odd that I was having a cup of tea with a family I had never met before, sitting amongst the rubble and broken rock.
Weeks after my return to America, I still find it difficult to relate my experiences. I’m still amazed by the hospitality that was extended to me in such deprived conditions. My life has changed, I can feel it. What was once important, no longer is.
As a burst of steely winter gripped Houston last week, my mind raced to the children I had met and how they were probably huddled inside the tent, shivering with the brutal Himalayan winter.
Among the other immediate needs of food and shelter for the families; many have lost their limbs and are unable to walk. Ibn Sina Foundation will assist local communities to mobilize handicap children, men and women on their own footing, so that they can sustain their education and family earning.
The foundation is now working with the Jaipur Foot, a low-cost artificial limb maker that prepares human limbs according to age, gender, height and weight of the individuals. This Indian company estimates a cost of approximately $100 per limb.
Ibn Sina Foundation had planned to establish community based Rehabilitation Center by bringing expertise from Indian and orthopedic surgeons from Pakistan to help provide artificial limbs according to the needs of earthquake evacuees.
Ibn Sina will aggressively mobilize its resources to immediately help support earthquake victims towards this noble cause. This specific activity of transplanting artificial limbs to combat humanitarian crisis will continue through Ibn Sina Community Rehabilitation Center in Pakistan.
The Ibn Sina Foundation was established in Houston in 2001 to bridge the growing gap between the health care needs of uninsured, underinsured, underserved, and indigent communities. Founded with a gift from local businessman Nasruddin Rupani, President of World’s Gold & Diamonds, Inc. in Houston, the clinic was Rupani’s way of giving back to the local community. The Foundation’s mission is to ensure the health of the community by providing integrated preventive and primary care in a clinic setting through the dissemination and application of health related knowledge, thereby enhancing the quality of life for future generations.
Since inception, Ibn Sina’s Community Medical Clinics have provided medical and dental care to over 20,000 patients. In addition, over 3,000 individuals have participated in Ibn Sina’s outreach program throughout the State of Texas – San Antonio, Bryan/College Station, and Austin.
The outreach program provides various screenings, nutrition and healthy lifestyle counseling. Current projections indicate that the Ibn Sina Clinics (combined) will provide services for another 10,000 patients by December 2005.