15 April 2020

Back Report from Pakistan – A showcase of togetherness

Coronavirus is affecting people all over the world. To support the most vulnerable in their community in Pakistan, graduates Sikander Bizenjo and Banari Mengal set up the Balochistan Youth Against Corona group to distribute food and support the poorest in their region. This crisis is very real, writes Sikander. But it’s also a fantastic showcase for community spirit.

Food in car boot

I met Banari while I was doing my Master’s in Development Economics at UEA. It turned out that we are not just from the same country but from neighbouring villages in Balochistan – Naal and Wadh – and that our families knew each other. It was the beginning of a life-long friendship; we never lost touch after that.  

Fast forward to the dramatic outbreak of COVID-19, which shocked the entire world to its core. Pakistan was no exception and, within Pakistan, the epicentre of the crisis was Balochistan.  

Banari and I got to discussing how we could help those less fortunate and in need, because we knew that our provincial governments are ill-equipped to help everyone in such conditions. So we took it upon ourselves, without realising how big it could get.  

What started as messages between us quickly became a reality. People who knew us or heard what we were doing started supporting us. In less than two weeks we raised almost £5,000 and our 20 volunteers have already served more than 200 households – families in Quetta, Naal, Nushki and Panjpai – with monthly ration bags. These bags provide a family of four with a month’s supply of food and, in our first phase, we aim to support 5,000 families. 

Many areas in our native Balochistan are some of the most inaccessible areas of Pakistan due to challenging terrain and the insufficient infrastructure. But the fact that we two and all our friends and volunteers are natives of this land means that we’ve managed to reach these areas.  

As well as organising ration drives in the areas with the most need, we aim to provide more than 500 healthcare workers with protective gear and face shields. 

Keeping everyone involved safe is important and our team and volunteers follow strict protocols. Wearing gloves and masks is mandatory and we do not hand over ration bags to anyone but keep them at a distance for them to pick it up. We also maintain a strict physical distance to ensure that all volunteers and those coming into contact with us are safe.   

The COVID-19 pandemic is a truly global crisis, but volunteers can make a huge difference to local communities. The poorest in society are often those who are hit hardest by self-isolating, and I would encourage all those who can to reach out to their neighbours and local citizens. The pandemic may be an awful event, but it can also be a fantastic showcase of the very best of humanity and togetherness.  

The UEA community is a family. We can all inspire each other with how we are responding to this crisis. 

Do you have a story to share? Please email communications@uea.ac.uk