Every Thursday, the University of Texas (UT) West Mall is filled with voices of the “Fighting the Flood” members asking for help for flood victims in Pakistan.
“Please donate for the flood victims!” said Hafeez Jamali, 35, a member of the group, while distributing brochures and explaining what happened in Pakistan and why victims need attention.
Jamali, a UT anthropology doctorate student, asks for help for the Pakistan flood victims at the UT West Mall. Jamali’s family lost their ancestral home and agricultural lands in Pakistan after the flood struck his village.
One afternoon at the end of August, Jamali was preparing for classes as usual. Meanwhile, his phone began to ring. It was a call from his family in Pakistan. His younger brother said, with a quivering voice, that a huge flood struck his village, hence his house and agricultural lands were totally submerged.
Jamali was speechless. It was his greatest shock ever.
“I was totally destroyed, and I felt helpless because it was so far away from my village,” he recalled.
Jamali spent summer days with his family in Pakistan before coming back to the U.S. to continue his studies this August. As the floodwaters flowed down the Indus River in Pakistan, his village in the Gandakha County also got damaged. Although the flood protection banks surrounding the village and rivers began to break, his extended family kept their last hope at that time that the floods would not sweep everything away in the village.
Jamali was anxious about it, but had to leave Pakistan because over 90 UT students were waiting for his lectures and he had to finish his doctorate programs.
Unfortunately, the last hope vanished only two days after he left his family.
Around 8 to 10 feet of water struck the village. Most villagers, including his family, could evacuate in advance, but some were helplessly marooned. Around 5,000 people in his county were stuck near a canal embankment. More than 10 people, who might be his distant relatives, died after the flood. His ancestral home and agricultural lands which had been passed for seven generations disappeared under the water. His family also lost their main income source, losing rice and wheat lands. His uncle and aunt, who were living in the village, lost all their personal belongings. It was a nightmare.
The only fortunate thing in this tragedy is that his family’s lives were spared from the flood because they were living in another place in the city of Karachi for his brothers’ education.
It greatly disappointed Jamali that he couldn’t go back to his family at that time.
“If I was in Pakistan, I was able to talk with all my relatives and share [in their] grief, things like that,” Jamali said. “But here … I had to get over the shock alone.”
During the interview, Jamali showed his submerged village’s pictures e-mailed by his younger brothers. The house and lands he talked about were not in the pictures. The gray sky, muddy water, the remains of houses and unsmiling people were all that remained.
No crops, including onions, can be grown in the village’s muddy land for a few years. And since the flood struck their agricultural land, his family lost a major source of income, scraping a living with Jamali’s money earned by some lectures at UT as a teaching assistant.
Jamali is sending $300 a month to his family. He knows well that this money is not enough to support his family. His eyes filled with tears, as he started to think about his family struggling for survival.
“It is not enough,” he said with a sigh. “We have six brothers. They have to pay for school. It is certainly not enough, but we have to survive.”
Jamali had to reduce his living costs in Austin as much as he could. He has no cell phone now. He is only contacting his family via email. He never eats out and always brings his packed food to school. His life in America became harder than before.
He is teaching four classes every week. Many conferences and publication work are scheduled every month. But his mind is constantly on his village.
A few Pakistani students including him created a group to inform students about the flood and fundraise for Pakistani victims. To Jamali, working for “Fighting the Flood” offered solace. He could share his grief with others.
As the finance committee member, Jamali is leading fundraising events and managing donated money. Also as a PR committee member, he is responsible for speaking to student organizations about the flood and asking for support.
Jamali was surprised at first that many UT students were not interested in the issue and didn’t even know the fact that huge floods devoured Pakistan. Giving a brochure to students, he found students were indifferent to the incident or didn’t believe it at all.
“People didn’t care at the beginning,” Jamali said. “‘What’s that? That’s not happening.’ That was an immediate response at first.”
Students’ indifference hurt Jamali. No one was interested in the tragedy that destroyed his life. To him, the U.S. media swept the devastation under the rug, and were more likely to focus on the war on terrorism in Pakistan, not humanism.
“When it happens in Pakistan, it is filtered with a lens of terrorism,” Jamali said.
However, as people learned through the group’s continuous efforts, the number of students interested in the issue increased, supported by over 50 student volunteers from the U.S., India, Iran and Turkey. The group has collected over $10,000. Although Jamali couldn’t directly give a helping hand to Pakistanis, he said he feels he is contributing by working for this group.
“I initially felt helpless, but now, I feel empowered,” Jamali said.
The group’s success has encouraged him. Although the difficulties aren’t gone yet in his life, he said he realized many things from this experience.
“I learned about the importance of family and friends,” said Jamali.
Along with that, he learned the value of others and the power of cooperation. His friends willingly loaned their money to him in case of emergency. The helpless feeling he used to suffer melted away, as he began sharing his difficulties with others and working for the group.
Jamali is now thinking about going back to Pakistan to help his family and villagers and plans to look for a faculty position in Pakistan after finishing his UT doctorate.