Tom and Jodie posted a photo:
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Visit with the Pakistan Rugby Union - http://www.pakistanrugby.com/
Lahore Rugby Club
|Fawzi Khawaja - Ex International Player & President of Pakistan Rugby|
|Khuram Haroon - Ex International Player|
Upon arriving in Lahore, we immediately scanned the terminal for our contact Khuram. He was to be wearing a green Pakistan Rugby Union shirt in order that we recognise him, a thoughtful consideration, but possibly one of the most unnecessary acts of the 21st Century. Weighing in at over 170kg, the former Pakistan International prop was not an embodiment of stealth, and I’m sure we could have picked him if Pakistan’s 175 million population had been waiting in green Pakistan Rugby Union shirts. In hindsight, he should have described himself as the Pakistani Jason Leonard, this would have sufficed, and then he could have worn something more fitting for the sweaty 40 degree climate outside. Oddly, the similarities with our lovable “fun bus” don’t stop at physique. With a father in marine engineering, his family were constantly on the move and resultantly Khuram was born in Barking, Essex, the same as Jason and around the same time too. Jason’s birthday falls on 14th August, which is Pakistan Independence day, and now the date of an annual Pakistan national rugby tournament. I could go on, if only I had more tenuous links to throw at you with absolutely no relevance.
So where should I begin with our Pakistan rugby chapter? Firstly, I think it makes sense to discuss the reasons why we arrived by wings than by wheels. Most will know of the devastation caused by recent floods affecting over 85% of the country. In the Sindh and GB regions, it is estimated that over 60% of the area has been completely destroyed, leaving many millions of people without food, shelter and any capital with which to regenerate their lives. Donations have flowed from all corners of the globe in response to the tragedy, but on the ground, mobilisation of aid has been fraught with difficulties. Empathy is present throughout Pakistan for those families in the areas worst hit, and from the relative safety of Lahore, a band of rugby bravehearts are risking their own safety in a bid to get help to those in dire need. We have journeyed directly to Lahore to find out more about their relief projects and lend two pairs of “Fairy” soft hands where required.
Khuram and brother Jay have joined forces with a team of students at Lahore University, where Jay lectures on English Literature. With the protection of some rugby muscle and army support, they have run operations to transport supplies to areas worst hit, whilst simultaneously they have laboured over plans to regenerate the villages with a view that the areas can emerge stronger. They make no secret that these floods, however devastating, may be a blessing in disguise, directing attention and support to rural Pakistan which has been a forgotten anomaly for many generations. The devastation has been so total that the young architects and masterminds in the group are working with a blank canvas on with which to build. We were truly amazed by how they had approached and tackled the complex issues at hand, from cultural sensitivity, to the legacy of the regeneration. The project will source, distribute, and even build small machines that can produce bricks sourced from local materials such as mud and straw, with a small amount of cement to bind the earthy compound together. Bamboo construction technologies quietly compliment the new multifaceted bricks resulting in a house that is both elegant, easy to maintain and safe from the elements. Labour is already present in the 10,000s of individuals left stranded, and the simple but functional town and house plans are already on paper and waiting for approval from the town councils. Whilst the results of their labours are clearly priceless, the Mastercard won’t be travelling on this journey. The cost of labour, resources, and planning: effectively zero.
Our arrival in Pakistan was timed well to continue our exploration of rugby. Not only was the 15s season kicking off, but the IRB development officer for Asia was in town, and running IRB level 1 and 2 coaching courses. Ismial Kadir, known just as “Izzy” is a former Singaporean national player and coach, having represented his country for 14 years before conceding to a knee injury. On meeting Izzy, I wouldn’t have thought him old enough to play adult rugby, let alone represent his country for such a period of time. He brought with him a Singaporean sense of fun and was great company, not to mention an excellent coach. I didn’t expect to come to Pakistan and get Singapore onto our scroll, nor did I expect to take my own IRB Level 2 coaching certificate, but we have, and I did, and hopefully we can catch up with “Izzy here Izzy there” on his own patch in March.
Pakistan rugby numbers have been on the rise since the formal introduction of the sport in 2000 when the Pakistan Rugby Union (PRU) was formed, but until now, there have been few opportunities for trained coaches to nurture this potential. Izzy’s visit has laid the foundations for a new generation of coaches across the country, producing 60 Level 1 and 20 Level 2 coaches across 18 regions. In addition, the PRU have coordinated 6 professional sectors to receive training and now rugby can be developed across the Navy, Army, Wapda, Railway, Police and HEC (Higher Education Committee) with immediate effect. Currently, this is the only opportunity to generate a pool of “professional” rugby players, and therefore an important step in raising the standards at a national level.
The plan to further develop the sport is quite extensive, and although it may take some time for higher level coaching to appear, there should soon be an explosion in player numbers, particularly in schools and youth sides. The new pool of coaches will return to all corners of Pakistan and look to initiate their own rugby projects or to build on existing ones.
Throughout the world, rugby has played a diverse social role, bringing a richness to many lives that would be missing in its absence. It has been recognised for its team building facets, its principles, values, and furthermore, for its social importance in strengthening communities. From Lahore, members of the rugby community have been coordinating with the disaster response unit of the army in distributing aid to areas devastated by the recent floods. Now involved in further regeneration work, they are also looking to bring rugby into a further 18 towns and villages by levelling fields and providing qualified coaches. This will have a huge impact to the lives of many 1000s of men, women and children across rural Pakistan. With a very limited rugby infrastructure, the relative success of Pakistan at a national level suggests that the Pakistan spirit holds well with the sport. Despite last season’s disappointment, losing to Iran in the Asia 3 final, the future looks bright for Pakistan Rugby.
Our involvement in the BNU flood relief work had been filled with exceptions, privilege and bitter disappointment. We had opted out of 1,500km cycling and set foot on a plane from Dubai. It may have been feasible to cycle from Karachi, but this wouldn’t have presented us opportunity to see the work first hand. To reach Sandeela, the BNU chosen village in the flood zone, we endured a 9 hour bus ride from Lahore whilst chain smokers in the team of students puffed endlessly away on various tobacco blends. The ride was choking and uncomfortable, and was an entire world away from the freedom and choice that we love about cycling. Our base camp however was a primary school situated an hour from the flood areas, very safe, and a comfortable place to rest for a few hours before our final launch. We arrived around 4am and slept in separate rooms before our 7am launch, which in over 5 months, was the first time that Jodie had been out of my sight for more than a bathroom break. Finally, we arrived at the field, and set up 2 camps, around 2km apart. The first was an entertainment camp, where games were setup as a method of distributing toys, clothes and books to the children and families, the second, a medical camp in collaboration with the military.
Pods of architects assessed construction needs whilst psychiatrists conducted interviews with queuing patients. By chance, the team included a young qualified doctor who had been visiting family in Pakistan prior to the floods. He worked relentlessly through the remaining daylight hours to treat patients, assisted by two novice pharmaceutical assistants, who not only required the name of the drugs required, but the colour of the box they were contained within. Despite the two English amateurs, the camp provided much needed medical attention to a segment of rural Pakistan that has long since been forgotten. Many afflictions were not caused by the flood, but conditions that locals had been living with for much of their lives, some cases tragic and now beyond cure. The young Dr Omer Khokhar conducted diabetes screening on all patients, identifying several cases of severe type 1. It was an important task in identifying and recognising the underlying causes of other illness. We felt extremely privileged to have been in his company and would have helped for days given the chance.
As drugs were prescribed to the sick, children down the road screamed with excitement as our toy distributors ran rugby and ball games in a circus-like marquee. Most queued orderly, at least until they discovered ways of creeping under the canvas, and by the end of the day the volunteers were defeated by the innovative ways these children infiltrated the toy distribution. It was a fantastic afternoon and made a huge short term impact on many lives, not to mention our own. As the day concluded and the military retreated to base, the BNU unit rejoined in preparation for the following day. Toys, clothes and drugs were locked down in a local secure house, and we returned to the school with a morning departure set for 7am. Awaiting a 5am wakeup call we bed down on the floor and looked ahead to a full day in the field. There had been many patients turned away at sunset, and many more with serious conditions that required further examination.
Morning came, and as I awoke I sensed that it was already later than 5am. As I stepped outside to light the stove, one of the students broke the devastating news to me. In the night, there had been a high level security threat, the military had not only informed all relief projects to leave the area, but were evacuating themselves too. I didn’t want to believe the news, the previous day had been inspiring, and in just a few hours we had sensed what could be achieved in an entire day. Now, there was to be no opportunity and we would have to withdraw with immediate effect. In just a moment the whole project had been put on ice, and we had no choice but to reboard the bus for a 12 hour return.
Today’s international news focuses on terrorism and controversy, and so part of our mission had been to feed back more inspiring stories, of courage and sacrifice in adversity. Ironically, our trip had served to further highlight the problems. So much effort and coordination had gone into getting aid to the many suffering, and although the experience hadn’t been overshadowed, it had certainly been tarnished. We hope that the BNU team are able to get back to the field soon and continue with their invaluable mission.
If you would like to find out more about the BNU flood relief project visit:
In collaboration with “Resettling the Indus”
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