By Jessica Howell, Programme and Advocacy Officer, Catholic Relief Services
Dulshan Bajkani looks to be about 23 years old, but she says she doesn’t know for sure. Regardless of her age, she’s endured more in the last six months than any woman in her twenties should have to bear.
Her nightmare began in early August, when record rainfalls throughout Pakistan caused the nearby Indus River to overflow its banks. She remembers hearing about the floods on the news; some people the village left right away but many others thought the warnings were exaggerated and stayed. But the water did come – in the middle of the night – and Dulshan, her husband, and her three daughters fled quickly. Most people left everything behind in the panic that ensued, running away without shoes or scarves and having time only to grab frightened children.
The horror for the family was only beginning. Dulshan’s two oldest daughters died – one from a fever that wouldn’t go away and the other from drinking contaminated flood water. “It was a very sad time,” she said.
A month later, Dulshan, her husband and her youngest daughter returned to find their village. “We were the first family back,” she said. “There was a bad smell everywhere.” About two feet of standing water remained, with crops, livestock, and bodies floating in the water.
Part of Dulshan’s house still stood, but they didn’t want to go anywhere near it. “We were afraid of snakes in our rooms,” she recalls. So the family slept outside like the rest of the village, constructing make-shift shelters from branches, palm leaves, and shawls.
Responding to the destruction caused by the floods, Catholic Relief Services (CRS is a Caritas member operational in Pakistan supported by the wider confederation) helped Dulshan and her family build a transitional shelter. CRS also sent hygiene teams into the village to educate community members about water contamination, ways to cook and clean safely, and other techniques to help families and their children stay healthy.
Dulshan is grateful for the guidance – and is eager to teach her surviving daughter these safe eating, drinking, and cleaning practices. “She’s only two, so now is a good time to teach her,” she says. She’s also very thankful for the shelter and smiles broadly when she talks about her new home. “I’m slowly purchasing materials and I hope to decorate it more.” She’s thinking about shades of blue, which is her favorite colour. She also hopes to get a bed soon, as she’s seven months pregnant right now and finds it hard to sleep on the ground.
Although Dulshan smiles easily while talking, there’s no mistaking the grief that lingers on her face. The past six months have been difficult, and the pain of losing two children is still very real. “I think about them a lot,” she says. But she also thinks about her youngest daughter. “I want to send her to school. I want her to have a different future.” She says she has many plans for her daughter – and hopes that maybe someday she will be a doctor. But, of course, that is a long way off. “Now I just want her to go to school and be healthy.”