Pagosans plan for their sister village in Pakistan

We have just returned from Pakistan, where we tried to deliver gifts from Pagosans to our sister village, Gurais.

The journey to Gurais started by crossing 12 time zones to reach Muzaffarabad, Pakistan, the capital of the state of Azad and Jammu. In Muzaffarabad, we met with officials of the University of Azad Jammu Kashmir and the speaker of the state assembly, Mr. Shah Ghulam Qadir. All are very pleased with our sister village relationship and eager to help us maintain this linkage.

From Muzaffarabad, we traveled for over 13 hours with volunteers from Pakistan Relief along the Neelum River. The river was in flood stage due to melting snow in the mountains. Much of the road is carved into the mountain side, which descends directly to the river. Occasionally the narrow valley widens and one finds small villages. Difficult road conditions limited our average speed to 5-10 mph throughout the day. It was a little after sunset when we reached the small village of Kel, located about 20 miles away from the Gurais Valley. Here we learned that the road to Gurais was closed due to a recent landslide. We also learned that a bulldozer was still clearing winter snow from the road within the Gurais Valley. Disappointed that we would not be able to visit our sister village, we spent the night in Kel and returned to Muzaffarabad with our gifts. Pakistan Relief volunteers will deliver the gifts for us when they return to the valley in May.

In Muzaffarabad, state assembly speaker Mr. Qadir arranged for us to meet with leaders from the Gurais Valley who happened to be in Muzaffarabad. The accompanying photo shows Jean with some of the leaders as we discussed the most important needs of Gurais residents. Dr. Khawaja Ansar Yasin, a chemistry professor at the university translated for us. The other photo, taken the next day, shows Dr. Yasin describing the culture of the Gurais people as we eat tasty Kashmiri dishes prepared by his wife. With family roots in a village near Gurais, Dr. Yasin has been extremely helpful as we look for ways to strengthen our relationship with our sister village. As described by Greg Mortenson in his best seller, “Three Cups of Tea,” we will have a strong and fruitful relationship with our sister village only when we understand and accept their culture.

After much discussion with the leaders of the Gurais Valley, Assembly Speaker Qadir, Dr. Yasin and Pakistan Relief staff, we now have a plan through which Pagosans can show their interest and compassion for Gurais residents. This plan started with the specific request from Gurais leaders for better healthcare, especially better healthcare for pregnant women and newborns. There are no hospitals, clinics, doctors or nurses in the valley. Women who have had no professional training help neighbor women deliver their babies. Health care in the Gurais Valley is particularly difficult because the villages are snow bound six months every year. During this time, movement in or out of the valley, as well as movement among the villages, is nearly impossible. Although we often think of Pagosa Springs as an “isolated mountain village,” it is difficult to imagine the isolation of the Gurais Valley.

The goal of our plan for better healthcare in Gurais has three stages. The program will start in May when Pakistan Relief volunteers will provide general first aid training throughout the valley. These volunteers are recognized by the International Red Cross as certified first aid instructors. This phase will be followed by visits of women trained in midwifery to the valley to train women living in the valley. The final phase will occur in late summer when five to 10 women living in the Gurais Valley will receive professional training in midwifery in a hospital in a nearby city. Women will be recruited from different parts of the valley so they will not have to travel far in winter to help deliver babies. If funds are available, we will also establish more sewing skill centers, much as we did with donations last year. Gurais leaders said that the sewing center Pagosa funded last year is much appreciated, and that establishing centers in other parts of the valley will be very beneficial.

This program to provide better health care to the residents of the Gurais Valley will be possible only with financial support from Pagosans. Although Pakistan Relief staff volunteer their time, expenses for their travel to the Gurais Valley are substantial, as are expenses for training women in hospitals.

To meet this need, there will be a Pakistani Cultural Night this summer in Pagosa Springs. This event will include a Pakistani dinner and a presentation on the Gurais Valley. Donations to support our sister village in Pakistan can be made anytime to Cindi Galabota, Administrative Director for Habitat for Humanity of Archuleta County (264-6960).

Photo courtesy David Smith
Jean Smith meets with Gurais elders — leaders of Pagosa Springs’ sister village in Pakistan. There will be a Pakistani cultural night this summer in Pagosa Springs. The event will include a Pakistani dinner and a presentation on the Gurais Valley.