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Trying to maintain momentum

Posted in 2008 Summer Public Service Program, Tabir by kashmircorps on June 30, 2010

A houseboat named Miss America, sits on the Dal Lake

I wanted to catch up on the events of the week. As far as tourist-y things I have done, I finally took that Shikara ride and we visited the Mughal Gardens. The view from Parimahal was breathtaking!

I also bought some jewelry and unfortunately got ripped off about 200 rupees. But I guess that is all part of the learning experience. We also visited a heritage museum in a nearby park. It has definitely been an eventful week for the group, but as far my project is concerned, the ongoing strikes have been taking a toll on the progression of my project.

There have only been two school days since my arrival and every other day there has been a strike. I am trying to keep busy and maneuver the course of the project in a way that will allow me to get something done everyday regardless if there is a school day or not. Though my project is off to a slow start, I was able to visit the HELP foundation with the other volunteers, an organization which Farheen is working with this summer.

HELP foundation is an amazing organization which has made great strides in community rehabilitation for communities debilitated by the conflict. Their initiatives range from establishing “special schools” for children who have lost their fathers from conflict related causes to providing sustenance allowance to women. Meeting Mrs. Nighat Shafi, chairperson of HELP, was an important opportunity for me to understand the obstacles present in non profit work in Kashmir and how much still needs to be accomplished. Also, yesterday afternoon, we were able to support Aya at a workshop she was heading at “Sunday Circle”, an intellectual society of young Kashmiri journalists who meet every Sunday to discuss and debate discourse in the field of journalism.

Also, INTACH, the organization Sarah will be working with this summer, focusing on the preservation of historic sites in Kashmir, was kind enough to host the KashmirCorps volunteers for dinner and a presentation on Kashmiri culture. The view from the Nageen club, where the presentation and dinner was held was probably one of the most beautiful sights I have seen thus far in Kashmir.

Despite the informative week, conditions in Kashmir seem to be worsening. It is hard to cope with the devastating headlines day after day, like “Kashmir Boils” and “Two more fall”. The number of children and young men being killed just seems to be increasing. The minute to minute change in conditions has resulted in a curfew for today and most probably tomorrow.

Aya and I are trying to keep busy by blogging and entertaining each other. I have never experienced “hotel/house arrest”. Every day I realize another luxury I take advantage of back home, and today its simply being able to leave my home whenever I please.

Before I post my blog entry on Asma Firdous, I will hopefully be meeting her once again, if all goes well and there are no strikes.

I’m trying to maintain momentum and not let the conditions outside influence my hope for this project.

Take Care!

Tabir received her bachelors degree in Philosophy and Religion from Brooklyn College in 2009 and has since been doing research at the United Nations on topics concerning women’s reproductive and sexual rights. She will be working with the Kashmir Education Initiative to aid in developing evaluation measures for the organization’s scholarship program.


Posted in 2008 Summer Public Service Program by kashmircorps on July 14, 2008

I write this blog post from the comfort of an air-conditioned American airport, and while I enjoy being able to drink from the water fountain and not having to carry trash around in my pocket all day waiting to see a trash can, I must admit that I miss the flies. Swatting two in one swing off of a soldier’s back while waiting to board my flight out is something I’ll be able to smile back on for awhile.

Being in Delhi for those couple of days after our Agra-Jaipur excursion and before our return to Kashmir allowed me to fully appreciate Kashmir in a way that I really was unable to do in my first stint. First off, I could not thank God enough for the weather here after a couple of sweat drenched nights in Delhi. More so though I am appreciative of the beauty and serenity of the landscape, a great contrast to the crowded, polluted streets of Delhi and the endless cacophony that accompanies them. I remember remarking to Kashif and Hiba about how much more peaceful Srinagar was than Delhi, nearly completely amnesiac of being unable to leave the guesthouse premises due to the danger of being stoned or shot at just a week ago. Such is the schizophrenic nature of what I have come to know as Kashmir, pristine yet polluted, calm yet with a hot temper (kind of like me ;). Most of all though, I appreciate the kindness and sincerity of the people, and being stared at in awe for my height rather than being sized up for how much money I could be taken for. I appreciate standing out like a sore thumb but feeling like I am accepted and at home in Kashmir rather than being a stranger in a strange land in Delhi. Seeing the Yaqub’s grandfather come by on his bike to greet us out on the street with his weathered smile was a great feeling, I really hope that I will someday see him and his family again.

KashmirCorps part two has been awesome for me. Arif (yes, I’m finally spelling your name right) and I were able to get a lot of work done, finishing our ground work at Lal Dad and also setting up possible projects at the Children’s Hospital as well. Compared to Lal Dad, the Children’s Hospital felt like the Mayo clinic. It was significantly cleaner, though still a far cry from anywhere near acceptable by modern standards, and was a lot less crowded, as far as the halls go. However, when it comes to patient load, the Children’s Hospital is right on par with Lal Dad, also forced to carry multiple patients in one bed. Dr. Kanjwal hooked us up with some very helpful doctors and administrators in the hospital, and we were basically able to gather similar data that had taken us weeks and several visits at Lal Dad in essentially two trips down to the Children’s Hospital. We toured the hospital, which I might not have been able to stomach had I not been exposed to the conditions of Lal Dad two weeks earlier. I was not able to see the neonatal ward at Lal Dad to compare, but the neonatal ward at the Children’s Hospital was a sight for sore eyes, I can only imagine that the condition of Lal Dad’s is worse. Tiny newborns were lined three and sometimes even four to an apparatus intended to be used on a single baby. In one room, three babies were laid on an office desk since no proper bed or crib was available. Normally neonatal wards have very restricted access; anyone entering would need to be sterilized and scrubbed to protect the immune systems of the infants, and family members would only be able to look on through a window. However, due to understaffing, the hospital only has 2 technicians to run equipment that normally requires a staff of ten people, so the family members are allowed, perhaps even required, to attend to provide attention and care to the babies and assist in anyway possible. Overall we made good contacts at both hospitals and will hopefully be able to acquire and send some much needed equipment, but it is clear that major systematic changes are needed across the board for the entire Kashmiri health system.

We left Kashmir on very different terms this time, our terms. I did not sleep much on the last night. I sat awake while the rain poured outside, thinking about my experience and slowly packing, reflecting over all of the stuff I had, how little I appreciated it, and how much more grateful the Kashmiris were for what they had. How hard they had worked for whatever they had, and how little I had done for what I have in comparison. Even the things that I had with me that I was fond of, I knew there were people here who would appreciate them more and deserved them more than myself. I ended up leaving almost all of the belongings other than clothes that I had brought with me to Kashmir. I finished packing as the call for Fajr prayer came, just barely beating a power outage. I decided to catch one last prayer in the small mosque down the road. The walk down to the mosque was an eerie one, the storm clouds had blocked out the moon and the only light I had came from the periodic lightning strikes. After I was nearly certain I had missed the mosque and over walked, I finally made out the loudspeakers outside the mosque door. I can only imagine what the old muezzin was thinking as I stepped into the dim candle light of the prayer room, my 6’6” frame draped in a yellow plastic poncho to escape the rain. I stayed in the mosque for awhile, praying that we would not forget that which we had seen over the past few weeks and for help in fulfilling our intent to continue our work when we returned home. When I emerged from the mosque, the thunderstorms had given way to a rainbow. As I walked back to the guesthouse, I was amazed that I had been able to make it to the mosque with dry shoes, somehow avoiding the huge puddles all over the road the dirt road. I got to my room and went to sleep, hoping that I would one day be able to return to Kashmir, the place that has given me a glimpse of both heaven and hell on earth.

Last few days…

Posted in 2008 Summer Public Service Program by kashmircorps on July 11, 2008

The past two weeks have been an absolute rollercoaster. As mentioned in the previous posts, the political situation became a bit unstable because of the issue of the land transfer, and the volunteers left for Delhi. It was so frustrating being at home for over a week, and not being able to go out and get any work done. It really made me realize how difficult doing development work here can be–especially because it is inevitably linked to the political situation.

I was a bit broken-hearted when everyone had to leave in such a rush, but was glad that they were able to see different parts of India–especially the Taj Mahal, which I myself haven’t been to. I was mostly upset that we had gotten such a good start on all of the projects and just when we were really getting a hang of things and moving forward, everything was disrupted.

After a few days, the strikes ended and the land transfer order was revoked. One day the streets were empty, schools were closed, businesses were shut down…and the next day, traffic was back to its original madness, kids who were looking forward to a longer “vacation” from school were back in classes, and I was in total shock that things could go back to “normal” just like that.

Near the end of last week I got the good news that four of the interns were returning to finish up their projects! (Well, everyone tried to hide from me that Hiba was back but the driver blew her cover). I’m really amazed by their bravery and their committment to their work. So, since then they’ve been back at work. Arif and Amin visited the maternity hospital again, in addition to the Children’s Hospital. They were able to interview a few of the doctors to get a better idea of the needs of the hospital. Throughout the year, we’re mainly planning on figuring out ways to send specific medical equipment donated from the states to these two hospitals. I’m glad that now we have some local contacts who can better guide us as we move forward.

I’m here until Wednesday, mainly trying to tie up some things. I think we have a lot of material now for how to develop this organization further and figure out specific ways in which we can be of more assistance as students from the states. It is going to be challenging, as the past six weeks have proven. Personally, being here this summer has strengthened my resolve to continue to work towards the betterment of the people. I was very lucky to have such a great team on the ground—they had to deal with quite a bit of stress so many times, but dealt with everything remarkably well. I hope they learned a lot from this experience and am looking forward to working with them throughout the year.

When darkness turns to light

Posted in 2008 Summer Public Service Program by kashmircorps on July 7, 2008

The temptress that is Kashmir has lured me back again. Nearly a week after we were evacuated from the guesthouse at 5 am, a truncated group of interns are back to hopefully finish the projects that we have been working on for many weeks. On the way to the airport last week, I kept thinking to myself that it may be years until I see this place again. I thought I may never again see Hzartabal’s green hue twinkling over Dal Lake at dusk, or see a lone shikara bobbing in the distance as we drove on the long winding road that hugs the lake. Sometimes it feels so good to be wrong! So here I sit once again in the gazebo at the Shadad guesthouse which we all have come to call home trying not to let the colors and scenery distract me from writing the report which I will present to the people at J&K Bank by week’s end. I would just like to take this opportunity for a moment of written silence to remember all of those people who tragically lost their lives during the protests and those who continue to live in fear in parts of the area….

That being said, I want to give a shout out to the interns who could not make it back and I know if it could have turned out differently, we would have all come back together. But those who have made it back to Srinagar, are trying to make the most of the limited time we have. As I write, Arif and Amin are out and about getting interviews with doctors and nurses and hospitals in the area. Hiba is under the weather but I know she is looking forward to getting back to the orphanage ASAP to continue working with the students and finally, I am doing what I usually do; listening to music, playing air drums, and trying to properly word the report that Atif and I spent many hours collecting research for.
The happenings of last week give outsiders an idea of what the Kashmiri people have been through in the past and paint a very telling picture of how things need to change if Kashmir is to overcome its demons from the past. And even though I really love this place, it took a lot of convincing myself to be comfortable enough to come back and finish out the project. It is really sad to see that a large majority of tourists have left the area and the flight back yesterday was nearly empty.
I am really looking forward to getting back to work and seeing the people that have made my job easier. Whether or not the proposals that Atif and I have put together are implemented is yet to be determined but if we had not finished this project, I know I would have regretted it for the rest of my life. Mainly because Atif and I made a promise to the vendors at the market that we would do our best to have their demands heard by the powers that be and being back has given us the opportunity to do so. Atif may not be here physically, but I know he is here mentally and will continue to contribute to the report as best he can.
Finally, I would like to give a huge Thank You from all of the interns to Ashai Uncle for everything he did for us on that fateful morning. I know that personally, I am deeply indebted to him and appreciate what he did for us and all of the thank yous in the world would be an understatement. So now I will get back to work on this report and hope that the small amount of time I have put into this project will result in something substantial and initiate an interest in Kashmir that snowballs into permanent change and a return to glory of the Kashmiri people.

I am back…

Posted in 2008 Summer Public Service Program by kashmircorps on July 4, 2008

Salaams All,

I am back to Srinagar, and I couldn’t be happier.  Once Amin wakes up and makes his flight this time, we are gonna finish this project.  Just wait and see.


Going Going, Back Back, to Kashmir Kashmir

Posted in 2008 Summer Public Service Program by kashmircorps on July 4, 2008

So needless to say, the turn of events in the last week have been crazy.  Really, really, really, crazy (word to Atif and Azam, lol).  We basically got evacuated from Srinagar, and now, five days later, we are headed back.  I know what you are thinking right now, these guys must be idiots (word to Atif and Azam).  And you might be right.  I am definitely glad to be going back though, and I hope that I will be able to get more work done than I was able to in my first stint.  In the end, the turn of events just further confirmed my belief that everything happens for a reason.  Traveling India for the last few days with the KC family was a blast, I saw things that I probably never would have come across in my life if things wouldnt have happened how they did.  I also had a little bit of time to reflect over the small amount of work that I did do in Srinagar, think what I would have done different, what I wish I had done, what more I could have done, and how I can make the most out of what I was able to witness in that one day, and wish that I had had more time.  So I guess you can say I am coming back with a renewed drive to leave kashmir with everything I need to be able to make the largest impact possible.  In these next few days I hope to see at least one more hospital with Aref and hopefully follow through with the contacts we made at Lal Dad.  More importantly, I want to build stronger relations with the administration at Lal Dad so that we can ensure that any equipment or improvements that we might be able get to the hospital will be implemented.  I’m a little disappointed that the whole crew can’t make it back, but I think we still got some fun times ahead of us, and I hope i havent seen the last of the losers who are staying in delhi


Posted in 2008 Summer Public Service Program by kashmircorps on June 29, 2008

I am supposed to write a blog about the goings of Kashmir but all I can say is that this is the most disappointing moment of my life. I am truly in shock and words really cannot describe the pain I feel right now. Today is our last day in Kashmir, a place that can take your breath away one moment and rip your heart out the next. Adieu Kashmir and I wish that one day you will see better days. Today is a sad day.


Final Thoughts…

Posted in 2008 Summer Public Service Program by kashmircorps on June 28, 2008

Peace be Upon Everyone,

Over the last few weeks, I have grown very attached to Kashmir and especially Kashmiris. I have not met people with such a congenial way about themselves in my entire life. I want to stay here and help them as much as possible, but I have convinced myself that the best way to help them is by going home and finishing my medical degree. Then, I can return and effect some real change.

Last Sunday, I went to participate in a medical camp. It was quite an experience escorting kids to different physicians and watching them receive treatment. It was very inspiring to see this kind of help coming to the deserving children of the HELP Foundation Orphanage. I even planned to meet up with the organizers to discuss prevention in more detail. It was really exciting, and I felt that I was seeing very positive developments. That night, I worked really hard on making a curriculum about vitamins and minerals for the children at the orphanage to learn because I wanted to make those difficult topics easy for them to understand. I had pictures and even an experiment to show the kids for the lesson. On this past Monday and Tuesday when Anjum and I taught the lessons to the children, I realized something that I had not understood all along. What I realized is that those kids do not really need tutors, they are extremely smart. The 10th graders picked up everything that we taught them without us even showing them the pictures. I would quiz them after I taught them a particular topic, and I was amazed with how quickly they understood because I was speaking in my broken Urdu when I was teaching it to them. One of the topics was water-soluble vitamins and fat-soluble vitamins. I showed them in a glass how oil did not mix with water and compared it to a glass where salt was dissolved in water. Before I even showed them the experiment, they knew exactly what was going to happen, and they even gave me brief reasons why. I had difficulty understanding the concept of hydrophobic nature even two years ago when I was reviewing the topic in review for the MCATs. I was impressed to say the least when I came home Tuesday night.

By Wednesday, the political situation had gotten unstable in Kashmir, and the schools were closed. We have been in our house and only have been allowed to go places on foot. For an American, it is difficult to accept circumstances in which our movement is limited and our busy lifestyles come to a stop. But, since it has happened to me, I finally began to think about what is going on here from the perspective of the orphans and the other students in Kashmir. I began to think about the kids and how the political situation affects their learning. It would be very difficult for anyone to learn when the rhythm of life is constantly interrupted, no matter how talented. What it really made me think about was how I would fare if I were in their situation. How am I different from them? I am different mostly because I grew up in the United States with all the opportunities one can imagine. They, on the other hand, were born in Kashmir. They look like me, they are just as smart as me, they are just as talented as me, and they work harder than me. After coming to the conclusion that I could have just as easily been placed in their shoes, I have become ashamed of myself and all the times that I have passed up opportunities to learn or to do good. I have become ashamed because I know that they would have done better, and I am letting them down by not doing better. I am also happy to have had the chance to think about all of this before I left because I know that I would have gotten caught up in the flow of things back in America. The political situation resulting in us being restricted has been a benefit for me. Just because we move from place to place in America whenever we please does not mean that is how life always is. I really am appreciative of this time I have had here to reflect. I am leaving tomorrow in a rush knowing that if I lived in a situation such as the situation I have seen over the past few days here in Kashmir, I would have given up on education well before the end of high school. This is the main reason why I admire these kids and why I am honored to have worked with them. I definitely plan to return to give help because I could easily be in their shoes, and I know that I would want help. My experience here has truly humbled me, praise be to God, and I am going to go home more motivated than ever to take advantage of every opportunity I have because that is how I can truly honor these children.

Take Care Everyone,

Azam Qureshi

This is Anjum and I teaching the children about hydrophobicity.

This is Anjum and I presenting one of our slideshows.  Yes, yes, I can make a slideshow.

This is a full view of the tenth grade class.

Leavin’ on a Jet plane

Posted in 2008 Summer Public Service Program by kashmircorps on June 27, 2008

So I know I’ve had a pretty lame posting history ever since the expurgation of my initial post, but now I think it is important to talk about the situation at the moment.

There are a lot of frustrated people rioting on the streets of Srinagar against the giving away of land by the government of India, including a group of women that were rallying outside the guest house being lead by a lady who – incidentally – works at the guest house. Tourists are fleeing Srinagar in masses, and there is a buzz about this being the biggest protest since the early 1990s.

But in the midst of all this, Kate, my former coworker at the UNA as well as Amin, have made it to Srinagar. They have unfortunately been spending their time leisurely and haven’t seen half of the sights due to the riots but I believe that this is a great opportunity to understand the realities of the situation and as frustrating as it is, it helps us understand why the development situation in Kashmir has been so drawn out, and the fundamental problems with the system.

A comment that a fellow intern made about the Kashmir Corps program needing to develop a contingency plan for these type of ‘harthaal’ or strike situations, made me realize that for education, the field that I’m focusing this internship in, has no contingency plan – the kids who stay at home look to play outside, except their play consists of burning tires and throwing rocks at the passing cars.

We also took part in a medical camp last Sunday at the HELP Foundation school, but it was cut short due to violence that broke out in the surrounding neighborhood. The sensitive condition that exists on the ground has a direct relationship with the development situation, and until the political situation is resolved the education, health, and financial expansion of the region will be gradual.

Theres so much more to say, but I think we should leave that for our discussion questions.



Last post?

Posted in 2008 Summer Public Service Program by kashmircorps on June 27, 2008

Greetings all,

Well, it’s been a while since I last posted.  I actually would not even count that as a post because all I did was reference Google.  I haven’t really posted much, when I was supposed to post once a week.  Hopefully I can make for that.

For now a synopsis.  Project-wise for the first 2 weeks it was slow goings.  At the hospital level things were not really organized and it was basically up to me to figure out a structure of work there.  At the same time I was thinking about the project and after talking with Hafsa we decided to change up the project to include more interviews with physicians in order to gain as much useful information as possible.  BTW, the project is basically to survey hospitals here, get statistics, figure out what their needs are.

So that got done basically.  I took a 2 day trip to Aligarh (for a wedding of course), which made me appreciate Kashmir all the more because the weather in UP is hell.  It’s not the heat as much as it is the mosquitos, they don’t allow one to sleep at night.  But it was worth it, I got to meet my family (they were in attendance from the US) and my extended family whom I don’t get to meet much.

Arriving back from Aligarh I met my newly disembarked partner, Amin.  Things were looking up, I figured with things set methodology wise and with double the man power we could crank out this survey.  We we back to LD hospital (Amin described it earlier) and we had a good day there, shadowing and interviewing.  We ended up interviewing a family of doctors, father, mother, and son, and they had a lot of interesting things to say.

But this is not really what I want to talk about in this blog post.  It has been 2 days since we have actually gone out on project work, and most you must know it is because of the protests that have been going on.  Initially we thought it would die down quickly but as time goes on I am hearing that it is only supposed to get worse.  It’s been a bit frustrating, but I have been trying to make the best of not being able to get work done by sleeping (and now blogging).  Hafsa had suggested us making up some discussion questions and discussing… that did not really pan out, I hope she was just kidding.  Really, I am just fascinated with the situation here as it develops.  I feel lucky to be able to be here on the ground while things are going on around me.  You gain an understanding of what the actual situation here in Kashmir.  A true sense of normalcy is not possible (imho) when  sparks can ignite the whole state.

Today was jummah, we attended (although Hafsa was a bit worried about us), and soon after we arrived back to the guest house 3 different mobs passed the house shouting slogans.  The first one Kashif and I took a look at peering under the gate, most of the crowd we men our age.  The second crowd was a woman’s crowd, which surprised us.  We did not even bother to check out the 3rd one as we had gotten used to it.

I did not mean to be so pessimistic in this post, but this is the reality.  Some of us have been discussing the potential situation where we leave early from the program.  I, personally, am not in favor of it, and I will try to stick around as long as possible.  Seeing what has been happening in the past few days, and reading about it in international news sources and kashmiri news sources, makes me appreciate all the more what Kashmir Corps is endeavoring to do.  Our prescence here, doing our work, interacting with people, is necessary.  Because truthfully the actual situation here does not get very well adressed  internationally and it is up to us to take a personal stake in trying to make a difference, even the smallest one.  Amin and I have been discussing this and we really believe that our hospital survey, elucidating things that most people who know only have a vague sense of, can go a long way to making actual strides towards improvement.

Since we are on down time from you projects, I suggest all of you reading these blogs to check out some news websites.  I have been reading BBC South Asia and Greater Kashmir.