Written by Huzan Waqar, Communications Officer, Save the Children, Pakistan.
The day I reached the flood affected areas of North Sindh and Balochistan, the calendar on a wall showed that it was the year 2012.
Ten days later, it’s showing the same year. But I have an amazing feeling that I have travelled back in time, maybe centuries back.
Trust me it’s not the same feeling we watch in movies or read in books.
It’s nowhere close to excitement and intrigue but a confused mixture of emotions – hopelessness, anger, sadness and, surprisingly, sometimes a burst of hope and joy when I see little children smiling and playing despite the conditions.
It seems as if this part of the planet has stayed behind at least several decades.
Sleeping on the road
The differences between my normal world and the world I’m in these days are enormous.
In my normal world, children wake up in the morning, fresh and well-rested, have breakfast, get dressed in their clean, neatly ironed uniforms and leave for school.
Here, the children wake up at the crack of dawn because the makeshift shelters they’re living in don’t provide adequate protection against the blazing sunlight.
Their sleep is disturbed because of the heat, countless mosquitoes and other insects.
Their backs are sore because they’re sleeping on the roadsides without any mats. In some fortunate cases, they have ‘charpoys’ on which four to five people sleep, making it almost equally uncomfortable.
Playing in floodwater
In my ‘normal’ version of the world, children get a break during their school hours. They eat snacks, play with their friends and have some time off so they can pay attention to their studies.
In this other world, children don’t get time off, they don’t get time off to freshen up and eat their lunches. They simply don’t go to school.
Instead, they’re out on the streets playing in the stagnant floodwater, getting stomach aches, scabies and countless other skin and water-borne diseases.
This is why they’re not only involved in child labour but also carry the burden of running their households on their fragile shoulders or else busy with the never-ending lists of household chores, eg, getting drinking water from a hand pump which just might be kilometres from their homes, cooking, washing clothes, caring for livestock etc.
They’ve lost their schools and their houses repeatedly because of the floods.
Sadly, in most of the cases they have also lost their childhood and have aged beyond their years.
A glimmer of hope
When you see children playing with their precious marbles on the road side or when they manage to buy ‘ludo board’ (a local board game). The excitement and joy of these unfed, barefoot children is something to behold and goes straight to your heart.
One such example was the boys in district Jacobabad who managed to save their ludo board in the recent floods. There they were sitting on the roadside crowded together on a charpoy.
I had a severe headache because of the heat, dust and smell in the area. Yet, these children were so relaxed and comfortable as if they hadn’t a single care in the world.
These smiles are the reason I strive to do everything to help their progress and development.