Pakistani-Americans bring medical relief to Haiti
- By Ethan Casey
- Published 09/6/2011
As you read this, I’m in Haiti. It’s mostly a personal trip, a chance to introduce my wife to a country that matters a great deal to me (yes, I plan Inshallah to take her to Pakistan too). It’s also a chance for me to revisit friends and stories from my two visits to Haiti last year, and to tie a bow on the book I’m on the verge of completing, Bearing the Bruise: A Lifetime in and around Haiti.
What does Haiti have to do with Pakistan? Well, I touched on that in a column in mid-June. But beyond what I said then, I want to use this timing – of my current Haiti trip, and just after Ramazan – to highlight and honor the way Pakistani friends of mine responded to the demands of our shared humanity after Haiti’s devastating earthquake in January 2010. I’ve been telling people that I’m writing a “book about Haiti,” but that’s just shorthand; to me it’s significant that, in a “book about Haiti,” a full chapter (plus passages in several other chapters) is devoted to Pakistanis.
“As Pakistani-Americans,” my friend Dr. Salman Naqvi told me, “we can empathise with what the Haitians are going through, because we have gone through it already, and this is their time of need, and we are there for them. We assembled a team, doctors and nurses from Orange County [California] and the Pasadena area. And we made it very clear to the volunteers that ‘You have to rough it over there. You may not have water, you may not have anything, and you should be willing to sweep the floors, even if you’re a surgeon.’”
I think it’s important to note that the team members were from a variety of American ethnic groups, but the initiators and leaders were Pakistani. (Salman and others have since formed an organisation called SHINE Humanity and asked me to join its board.)
“Within an hour of landing, they [Salman and Dr. Sara Khan] were at work at an orphanage, helping some kids,” said Todd Shea, who founded Comprehensive Disaster Response Services (CDRS) in the wake of the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan and whose heroic logistical efforts made it possible for the California team, and others volunteering through the Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA), to work in Haiti. “Sara was a breath of fresh air, too. From the beginning she was all into doing whatever it took. People like that, who put their comforts way, way behind in the priority list, are the ones that I get along with.”