At precisely 9.00 a.m. On October 8th 2005, a massive earthquake struck the north west frontier region of Pakistan, in a mountainous and largely inaccessible but heavily populated area. Tens of thousands died and hundreds of thousands were left homeless. Some of the statistics: 6,000 schools destroyed, official figures closed at around 100,000 people dead, a generation of children in the north of the country lost…
The Salesian first response
By 11th Ocotber 2005, just three days after the earthquake, a team of Salesians and young men from Quetta and Lahore, the two Salesian schools in the area, had swung into action. Fr Miguel, writing from Islamabad at the time said: "robbing, pillaging... is now happening everywhere. Beyond Islamabad the military are not permitting any help unless escorted by military personnel, due again to bandits. We are moving tomorrow to the city of Sialkot with the bus, the pick-up and 2 trucks. We will not be allowed even to go as far as the city of Murray. Again, the access to the affected areas is cut off from any help except through the military or with their permission. Now there is a Distribution Center there with an official NGO moving into the affected areas with their own people only. At least, since the distribution is being monitored by the Sisters, we are sure our goods will reach those most in need within hours. We are asked to send powdered milk, local oil (called lagi), socks and blankets. There is cold rain coming according to the forecast...". Fr Miguel explained that he asked for volunteers from amongst the boys, to help with the rescue work, and received 100 immediate responses. The Military commander gave permission for an advance group, with Fr Miguel in charge, to move ahead with 2 welding instructors, to prepare the logistics for the rescue party. The army's resposne to their request was: “100 boys trained in D.Bosco can do a lot of good over here”.
The Salesian long-lasting response
9:00am October 6th 2006. Almost a year after the terrible earthquake the small Salesian community in Pakistan (at that time, just three men) handed over 68 large homes to 68 large households (of about 15 people each) to continue helping in the efforts of reconstruction. Looking back they remembered the same people who joyfully danced around us that day when one year ago they were in shock from having lost everything (whatever little) they had. Always helped by the young men from the two DB settings in Pakistan, the three Salesians, two from Quetta (Fr Peter Zago, Fr Julio Palmieri), one from Lahore (Fr Miguel Ruiz), assisted a community of more than 2,000 people in the mountains above 7,000 feet, to survive winter with food, clothes, kitchen utensils, medicines and even a simple school. Now they also have homes with a toilet, a kitchen, a verandah and 2 large rooms, each with a chimney. The houses have thick mud and stone walls, according to local custom, and double ceiling to act as insulator in winter. The Project has been so successful (in fact one of the few ones in the whole devastated area) that they began planning another 132 houses to complete housing for around 3,000 people for next winter plus the construction of a large school in the area.