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Pakistanis rally to support war-affected populations
Mon Aug 24, 2009 8:21am EDT
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ICHRIAN, Pakistan (Reuters) - It was a chicken farm
until hundreds of Pakistanis fleeing a military offensive against the Taliban arrived in April looking for refuge.
Moved by their plight, the villagers in Ichrian cleaned out the sheds and converted the poultry farm into a camp for the displaced, providing everything from food and water to electricity.
The bereft families say they are lucky to have been met with such hospitality from a community where people eke out a meager living from the land.
Stories like this are mirrored across the north of the country where ordinary Pakistanis rallied to help in one of the biggest internal displacements in recent times.
Around 2.3 million people were forced to live in camps and with host communities -- dependent on the authorities and aid agencies for handouts -- as government forces continue their battle against Taliban fighters in North West Frontier Province.
While many of the displaced have returned home, hundreds of thousands remain, too fearful to go back.
Relief agencies and the government have been at the forefront in responding to this crisis, but aid workers say the contribution made by ordinary Pakistanis -- many of whom themselves earn modest incomes -- has been extraordinary.
The public's contribution should not be overlooked, said Muhammad Asar ul Haq, country program director for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). Even those who have nothing gave generously.
"TOMATOES AND TRANSFORMERS"
In Ichrian, about 120 km (75 miles) northwest of Islamabad, thousands of villagers came forward to donate whatever they could during the past three months.
Some supplied tomatoes, others gave onions while others tried to provide some manual labor to displaced men so they could have a little cash.
"When people started coming, I saw how bad their situation was so I decided to provide my farm as a shelter," said Ahmed Yar Khan, owner of the poultry farm and now the camp manager.
"We cleaned out the poultry sheds, separated the areas with plastic sheeting to give each family some privacy, and we even bought transformers and established electricity for them."
Stories of how people donated their jewelry and other personal items abound. Khan estimates up to 10,000 people in the area provided something to support the displaced.
Villagers in Ichrian have also tried to bring a sense of normality by starting a school, building a small mosque and even holding a cricket tournament. Continued...
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