Sunday, December 18, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Embracing a sister village in need

Seattle Times staff reporter

How to help the Bugna Village Complex

The Pakistan Association of Greater Seattle hopes to raise $1 million by next September for its Sister Village Project, with all donations to its Earthquake Relief Fund to go toward the project. Founded in the early 1990s, the association is primarily a social and cultural organization for the Puget Sound area's Pakistani Americans. Estimates vary on the community's size, from 1,400 according to the 2000 census, to 4,000 according to the association.

Donations to the fund are accepted at any local U.S. Bank branch. The association is applying for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

More information:

Some other groups doing relief work in Pakistan:

Human Development Foundation
1350 Remington Road
Suite W
Schaumburg, IL 60173

Mercy Corps
Earthquake Relief Fund
Dept. NR
P.O. Box 2669
Portland, OR 97208

American Red Cross South Asia Earthquake Fund
P.O. Box 37243
Washington, DC 20013

World Vision
P.O. Box 70288
Tacoma, WA 98481

World Concern
19303 Fremont Ave. N.
Seattle, WA 98133

P.O. Box 1870
Merrifield, VA 22116-9646

Northwest Medical Teams
P.O. Box 10
Portland, OR 97207

Save the Children
54 Wilton Rd.
Westport, CT 06880

The toll of the Pakistan earthquake

Number dead in the Oct. 8 quake:

Official toll is about 73,000; other estimates range up to 86,000

Number injured: About 128,000

Number displaced: About 3.5 million

International aid: About $6 billion pledged, most in loans

U.S. aid: $510 million pledged.

How it compares: Other recent quakes in the region: Afghanistan 2002 1,000 people killed; India 2001 30,000 killed; Taiwan 1999 2,500 killed.

Sources: Pakistan government's Federal Relief Commission, U.S. State Department, The Associated Press

First of three parts

PUTHIAN, Pakistan — They meet atop a hill of rubble, this Seattle-area printing company owner who grew up privileged in Pakistan, and the Pakistani villager who lost her daughter and her house in the October earthquake.

Kamran Salahuddin has traveled more than 9,000 miles from his home in Redmond to this remote village in the foothills of the Himalayas, and to the doorstep of Hafeeza Zaheen.

Only there is no doorstep. Hafeeza's front door now rests atop the rubble that once was her family's small house.

Like most of the other buildings in this village of 1,000, it was destroyed. And among the estimated 80,000 killed in the quake were Hafeeza's 5-year-old daughter, Sultana, and six other village children who couldn't run fast enough from their schoolhouse before it collapsed.

"She's gone," Hafeeza says. Now "I only have two."

Kamran, himself a parent of two young children, has heard many such stories since he arrived here. Of the human losses he can do nothing. But of the losses of shelter, clothing and a normal way of life, he intends to do a great deal.

Kamran is director of the Pakistan Association of Greater Seattle, which has taken the first steps to adopt the entire village complex of Bugna, of which Puthian is a part. The goal is to get residents of greater Seattle involved as well, embracing the Bugna Village Complex as Seattle's sister village.

The association hopes its effort will spread nationwide, with Pakistani associations in other U.S. cities also adopting one of the thousands of mountain villages damaged by the quake.

So here Kamran was last month in the village of Puthian, with two other association members and a group of workers from a Northwest company that's donating sturdy fabric buildings shaped like Quonset huts to serve as temporary houses, schools and a hospital.

Their challenges, and those facing villagers, are immense.

The remote villages are scattered along steep terrain, some houses accessible by narrow, unpaved roads with hairpin curves; others only by foot. Even before the earthquake, villagers made do with only sporadic power and a water system that only sometimes worked. Extended families typically lived together in two- or three-room houses made of stone, mud and wood.

Now many are sleeping in small canvas or nylon tents that are inadequate for the snowy winter, when temperatures can drop as low as 10 degrees. With their clothes, shoes and food supplies buried in rubble along with whatever money, jewelry or other valuables they possessed, many are unsure what they will eat this winter, let alone how they can afford to rebuild.

Hafeeza worries whether her 9-year-old son, Basit, who has tuberculosis, will survive the bitter cold.

In seizing upon its "sister-village" idea, Seattle's Pakistan Association was looking for an area where it could make a tangible difference. It wanted to select a village or two, determine the needs, and get to know people like Hafeeza.

At 25, Hafeeza is thin, her face weathered by a harsh environment and a rugged life that have made her look far older than her years.

Yet she is striking, with big, dark eyes that shine warmly when she smiles, which is often when visitors come. You would not know her sorrows unless you asked.

She offers tea to guests and insists they have bowls of noodles sweetened with sugar, though she's just finished telling you — because you asked — that she has only five days of food left. Her husband is often gone for weeks at a time, working as a hotel cook hundreds of miles away.

Reaching Hafeeza's home from Seattle requires a 30-hour plane trip to Islamabad, Pakistan's capital city. From Islamabad, it's a four-hour drive on a paved highway that leads to Muzaffarabad, the capital of the portion of Kashmir that's controlled by Pakistan and close to the epicenter of the quake.

About 21 miles before Muzaffarabad, a narrow, unpaved road to the right curls steeply up the mountainside for about seven miles to Bugna. It's the largest of about eight villages that make up the Bugna Village Complex, which lost more than 100 of its 8,000 residents. While the numbers were far higher in cities closer to the epicenter — some 33,000 died in and around Muzaffarabad — most surviving villagers lost their homes and belongings.

A base camp has been established in Bugna by a nonprofit organization called Human Development Foundation (HDF). Founded by Pakistani Americans, HDF is working with the Pakistan Association of Greater Seattle on the sister-village project.

Farther up the mountain is Puthian, a village of about 1,000, where 13 died. Like the other villages, it has no center, its far-flung houses connected by footpaths shared by villagers and goats. From any point you can see surrounding mountaintops already dusted with snow.

Hafeeza's house was right next to the school where her daughter died.

The villagers all remember the morning the earthquake struck:

"I see everything moving left and right, houses falling, people crying."

"I felt the house sink downward. My grandmother was running."

"I feel it is the last day of life.

I pray to God."

Hafeeza was cutting grass to feed her two buffaloes. "I ran to my children," she said. "I saw my son running toward me, crying: 'Mommy, mommy!' "

The schoolhouse, for children up to grade 5, had collapsed. Older students in one room made it out, but seven little ones in another room did not.

The mothers began wailing. Other villagers heard them and ran to help. They clawed through rocks, collapsed wooden beams, books and shoes, trying to find the children. Hafeeza ignored the pain in her injured leg. "I was digging for my daughter. I didn't even know I was hurt."

It took two hours to find Sultana's body.

After the earthquake, it rained. The ground trembled with aftershocks.

A few Pakistanis from other areas hiked in with water and biscuits, and the government cleared the roads several days later. A week after the quake, HDF arrived to set up medical care and distribute food.

Hafeeza passed the first days in a daze. One night, distracted by sorrow, she accidentally splashed herself with scalding tea, leaving a hand-sized scar on her chest.

Sultana and her brother, Basit, often walked to the store together and played house, serving family members "rice" and "tea" made of twigs and water on broken dishes.

Now Basit, wispy thin, with huge eyes and a matchstick neck, sometimes asks: "Where is my sister?"

Hafeeza tells him: "She went to God."

It was his own faith that brought Kamran from his Redmond home to what's left of Hafeeza's doorstep.

A founding member of Seattle's Downtown Muslim Association, Kamran believes in giving to those less fortunate, something he teaches his sons, ages 7 and 9.

Kamran, at 45, has black hair touched with silver and wears elegant suits that add to his distinguished air. His is a typical suburban life, he says. He owns DigiCopy 'n' Print across from Seattle Center, and his wife, Sania, is an assistant teacher in the Lake Washington School District. On weekends they attend their sons' basketball and soccer games.

He grew up the only son of a high-ranking government-official father and a mother whose family owns hundreds of acres of farmland in Punjab province, about 500 miles south of Islamabad. They had drivers, guards, cooks and personal attendants.

He was sent to English-speaking schools in Islamabad, where his friends were upper-class Pakistanis and the children of foreign diplomats. When his family became the first in the neighborhood to get a TV, he watched "Leave It to Beaver" and later became a fan of the Bee Gees and "Saturday Night Fever."

It wasn't until he arrived in the United States for graduate studies at Oregon State University in Corvallis and then City University in Seattle — and got involved in Pakistani student groups — that he began to learn more about his culture and faith.

In the early 1990s, Kamran and other local Pakistani-American professionals founded the Pakistan Association of Greater Seattle, which now has more than 1,000 families on its mailing list.

After the earthquake, association members were concerned that relatively little relief money was coming in for quake victims. In the two weeks following the earthquake, for instance, Portland-based Mercy Corps raised $2.3 million for quake relief compared with more than $8 million in two weeks after the Indian Ocean tsunami.

Given Pakistan's overwhelming needs, local association members felt compelled to help. But "we didn't want to just collect money" for other relief agencies, Kamran said. They wanted to be able to go back "time after time, in three months, six months and report: This is what we've done, this is how we've helped the village." And they wanted to involve the broader Seattle community.

Thus the "sister-village" idea was born, for which the association has so far raised $90,000. It will use the money to provide heaters, school clothes, medical care and to meet other needs.

Members also contacted HDF, which reported that no other aid agencies were working in the Bugna Village Complex, an area small enough for HDF and the Pakistan Association's limited funds to make a difference.

Another piece fell into place when Anchorage-based Alaska Structures offered to donate more than 100 fabric buildings. The structures, used as military buildings and disaster-relief facilities, are designed to withstand extreme climates. The company asked Kamran to accompany its workers to Puthian and Bugna.

A few days later, Kamran, two other Pakistan Association members and about 25 Alaska Structures employees arrived in the Himalayan foothills and began putting up the fabric shelters. At first, villagers stood at a distance, but soon they pitched in to help. Schoolchildren crowded around wherever they went.

"I saw how little they had," Kamran said. "But every single home we went to, they offered us tea."

When pressed, some spoke of their losses. Kamran would translate, having to pause at times because he was overcome by their stories.

"They don't know what the future holds or how to plan for it. So they are going day by day."

When someone dies in these villages, neighbors and friends usually help the bereaved family dig the grave and bury the dead.

But after the earthquake, "everybody had their own dead," said Yousaf Kiani of Bugna, a 50-year-old laborer who lost his mother and two children. Among the few possessions he salvaged was his mother's gold velveteen dress. He shows it to visitors, holding it to his cheek.

There is no central village graveyard. Rather, the dead are buried in small patches of land — three graves here, six there. Yousaf buried his mother and children up the hill from his home.

Hafeeza's family buried Sultana next to a cousin in the field across from her house. Hafeeza wants to put a marker on the grave but cannot afford it.

She visits the grave twice a day, remembering how Sultana would sleep beside her in bed. Now and again, she finds items in the rubble that belonged to her daughter — a sandal that now sits on a high ledge in the family's makeshift stable; a barrette with an orange flower that she spots in the mud while talking with visitors. "Sultana's," she says, wiping mud from the flower before tucking it away.

But she cannot spend the day grieving.

Like many village women, she wakes around 5 a.m. to start a fire. She make tea and roti — a flat bread made of flour and water — for her family's breakfast and prepares her 7-year-old daughter, Muqatas, for school. Though educating their children is important to villagers, Hafeeza's son, Basit, has not gone to school since the earthquake because the nearest one is now more than a mile away, and he's too frail to walk that far each day.

She will also cut grass to feed the family's two buffaloes and two goats, gather firewood, cook and wash the dishes. And, sometimes several times a day, she and other women walk to a village well or a stream far down the mountain, returning with water carried atop their heads in silver urns.

Two years ago, each household contributed about $4 for a system to pipe water closer to their homes. But that, too, was damaged.

Some of the village men work in cities such as Rawalpindi, Muzaffarabad and Lahore. As a hotel cook in Lahore, Hafeeza's husband makes about 2,500 rupees a month (about $42). Because round-trip bus fare between Puthian and these cities can cost close to a day's wage, they usually stay in the cities for weeks or months at a time.

Other men stay in the village and do construction work. A few are retired government servants. Some are unemployed.

These days, though, most are staying at home to clear the rubble and prepare for winter. "God help me," said Yousaf Kiani, the villager who lost his mother and two children. "Snow is coming. I have no money."

Few villagers complain, said Dr. Aneeta Afzal, a Pakistani-American psychiatrist from Louisiana who was volunteering at the base-camp hospital in Bugna. "There's not a single word for depression in our culture," she said. "But there's definitely depression here."

The villagers usually come for physical ailments or bring their children, saying the young ones have a burden on their heart. Only after Dr. Aneeta questions them about their losses does their grief come out.

Some talk of the earthquake as being a test from God. Others say it was God's punishment — for thieves in neighboring villages, or not praying devoutly enough.

"Something is wrong with me and the people here," Yousaf says. "God knows better what is wrong."

Most villagers are sleeping in the shelters provided by Alaska Structures or in small tents they got from HDF, the Pakistan Army or elsewhere.

The few stone-and-mud structures that have been built since the quake are mostly for sheltering precious livestock — buffaloes and goats that provide milk, and chickens that give eggs and meat.

Humans can stay in tents, the villagers say, but where would animals find shelter in winter if they didn't build them one?

Hafeeza's family members hastily built such a stable. They gather there by day to cook and eat over a fire, letting the animals in at night while they retreat to their tents.

The government had encouraged survivors to stay in tent cities that have gone up at lower elevations. But even at relief camps, there are problems: flimsy tents, crowded conditions and disease.

Few have gone from Puthian or Bugna. "All my life, I lived here," Hafeeza says. "I will not leave alone my mother and other relatives. Everybody here will stay here in winter."

The challenge is making sure that everyone who stays survives.

As of earlier this month, some 50 families in Puthian had yet to receive any kind of shelter. And those who had still had to contend with the cold.

The fabric shelters erected by Alaska Structures keep out the wind, rain and snow but they are still cold, and villagers cannot build fires inside for warmth, for cooking or to gather around as they did in their houses before the quake.

Richard Hotes, president and CEO of Alaska Structures, says the structures are designed to keep heat in — as long as there is a heat source. The company didn't bring along bulky heaters because "we were moving so fast," trying to get the shelters up before the snow hit and hoping to find the right heaters in Pakistan.

Hotes and the Pakistan Association plan to get heaters to the villagers by the end of the month — gas heaters if they're safe to use inside, or perhaps wood stoves with exhaust systems. One Bugna village leader hopes the village can soon build metal-roof structures with stone walls in which people can build fires. The problem — and it's a huge one — is that no one has the money.

The Pakistani government has announced it is compensating quake victims the equivalent of about $400 for a damaged house, and about $2,000 to build a one-room shelter. Each family is also supposed to get about $1,600 per death. Government representatives have visited, but no one in Puthian or Bugna has received compensation yet.

And building traditional houses here is laborious. Village men must cut chunks of stone from the mountains and haul them on their backs, carry mud up steep trails and cut down trees for beams and doors.

Hotes plans to send 300 more fabric shelters by the end of next month, along with heaters, shoes and warm school uniforms, and to return to the villages himself in January. He wants other corporate leaders in the United States to "adopt a mountain" as well — to travel to Pakistan, assess the needs and get their people involved.

Other supplies are also needed.

Although HDF is distributing cooking oil, flour and sugar about every 15 days, some families are missed, and there is never enough. And the hospital it set up at the base camp can use more drip stands, oxygen tanks and drugs for everything from scabies to pneumonia and — in Basit's case — tuberculosis.

After rising earlier than usual one recent morning to complete her chores, Hafeeza focused on getting her son to a hospital in Muzaffarabad for a blood test.

Basit was diagnosed last spring when she took him in for a fever and a cough. "Sick, febrile, emaciated," the doctor wrote on his medical chart.

Instead of playing cricket with the other village boys, Basit remains at her side, straying only short distances to explore or toss a Frisbee.

Because the bus ride to Muzaffarabad costs about 60 cents, Hafeeza and Basit hoped to catch a ride in an HDF ambulance that was to transport a 90-year-old woman with a broken leg to Muzaffarabad.

Others from Puthian were hoping to do the same, including a man accompanying his wife, whose arm was broken, and his son who, since the earthquake, couldn't remember his way home from the store. They all squeezed into the ambulance that day.

Beyond that, though, the future is less certain. Basit's TB has progressed, and the drugs he likely will need cost more per day than his father earns. A base-camp doctor said he would look at what medics in Muzaffarabad recommend, and try to take care of Basit. But he can't make any promises.

Now, two months after the quake, camp doctors are seeing more routine cases than traumatic ones — sinus infections instead of broken legs. Village schools have resumed, and the men are talking about returning to jobs in the cities. Still, it's hard for villagers to make long-term plans when they must first survive the winter.

Back in Seattle now, Kamran is on the phone constantly, trying to get hundreds more extreme-weather shelters to the area within the next few weeks. He has identified villagers he talks with regularly. They tell him how families are faring and what they need most.

He's worried that hundreds still don't have sturdy shelters. And he's concerned that quake-relief aid is still lagging — the U.S. government, for example, has promised about $510 million, half what it has pledged for tsunami relief.

The association has a goal of raising $1 million for the sister-village project by next September. It is advising another Pakistani-American association in California that wants to establish its own sister village.

Kamran is humbler now, he says, grateful for everything he once took for granted. Seeing how rural Pakistanis live "was quite an eye-opener."

Kamran plans to return to the villages this spring, driven by images that linger in his mind: collapsed roofs everywhere, school books buried in rubble, and Hafeeza's smile as she offered him tea.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272


Thomas James Hurst: 206-464-3894


Staff researchers David Turim and Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

Copyright 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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