Men on a mission


Shakirullah’s rickshaw is his livelihood. It is what keeps the lights on and puts food on the table for his family. But when there is an explosion in the city of Peshawar, he drops whatever he is doing, and whoever he is carrying and rushes straight towards the disaster zone.

When he is not carting passengers from one part of town to another in his rickshaw, Shakirullah is putting together the bodies of blast victims.

That’s because 27 year old Shakirullah is one of the many volunteers who are serving humanity with a passion — a glowing example of the increasing trend of ‘volunteering’ among the people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, who reconstruct bodies of bomb blast victims as well as of those who lose their lives in other accidents.

Associated with the Al-Khidmat Foundation, he leads a team of six volunteers who join the severed parts of bomb victims to make the bodies somewhat recognisable. “I don’t exactly remember the actual number but we must have reconstructed at least 2,000 bodies brought to Lady Reading Hospital (LRH),” he said.

The trauma hall of LRH is not a place for the faint-hearted. In the backdrop of widespread panic, the injured scream in pain and the relatives cry uncontrollably because of their own psychological injuries, or the sight of blood running down torn and tattered bodies reeking of bomb chemical mixed with the stench of urine. Even the victims’ relatives are hesitant to go close to the wounded but for Shakir, it is an opportunity to help people, for nothing else is on his mind.

He says that sometimes the hospital staff tries to stop them from sewing up the bodies in their haste to pack them in caskets, but they at least try to clean the faces of victims so that relatives can identify them easily. “Death of a loved one is shocking and having to look at mutilated bodies is traumatic, so we try to make the bodies as recognisable as possible,” Shakir says.

Perhaps due to the government’s lack of resources a fierce sense of volunteerism among the locals, particularly in those from low income groups. They shift the injured and the dead, collect random bits of human flesh and clean pools of blood with such diligence at sites where even trained police officers think twice before entering.

Loud noises, sirens, screams and scattered body parts don’t deter these volunteers. They run into pitch dark bomb blast sites, treading through debris and devastation without the fear of being maimed or killed.

Despite the chance of second blasts, they remain undaunted and rush to save the injured right after the first blast.

The rescue teams of Al-Khidmat Foundation, Edhi Foundation and Rescue Services 1122 try to reach the blast sites as early as possible. People associated with 1122 and Edhi Foundation do get paid but those of Al-Khidmat are unpaid volunteers.

“Our drivers and rescuers are paid low salaries — between Rs6,000 to Rs7,000 — but they work with a selfless commitment,” Mujahid Khan of Edhi Foundation said.

He said that they get injured or killed during rescue work, and have also received death threats.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Rescue Service 1122 was formally launched by the provincial government in July 2009 initially in Peshawar and later extended to Mardan district. Further expansion to other districts of the province is in the pipeline.

Bilal Faizi of 1122 said that the rescuers of his organisation were paid government employees and supposed to respond within 5-6 minutes. They had rescued people in 68 explosions/ bomb blasts in 2012 and 74 explosions in 2013.

“Our 220 volunteers in Peshawar reach within a few minutes of an emergency, but parking ambulances is a major issue for which we have to pay fees,” Ziauddin of Al-Khidmat claimed. He also stressed the need for allotment of a space for training volunteers in Peshawar. He said his volunteers were not paid but they were served a meal when done with their work.

Noor-ul-Wahid Jadoon, a spokesman of the foundation claimed that apart from rescue work, his organisation also transports bodies from hospitals to respective areas free of cost.

“We also provide caskets and coffins without charge. Our volunteers have transported many victims belonging to other provinces free of charge,” says Jadoon.


Sources by: Dawn News