“The water got so high that I carried my two-week-old grandson up the ladder to the roof,” says Marhaba Ahmad, a woman living in mountainous northern Pakistan. It was summer 2010, and floodwaters were about to engulf the house she’d lived in for over 30 years. As the rains poured down and the white water rose higher, the grandmother of eight started scrambling up the steep slopes of a 9,000-foot-high mountain.
“When we were climbing, many stones were falling,” she remembers. “The rocks hurt our hands. Our shoes got stuck in the mud and we lost them.” With hands, knees and feet shredded by needle-thorned plants and rough boulders, Marhaba and her large extended family scrabbled up while trees and rubble slid down.
“My baby and I climbed and fell, climbed and fell,” says Marhaba’s relative Samina. “The water made a huge rushing noise.”
Finally they reached higher ground; no one was lost. But for three cold, shivering days, the family waited for food and help. “My daughter had just given birth,” says Marhaba. “It was really hard for her.”
Eventually they made it to a relative’s house. But Marhaba’s family was made up of more than two dozen people, and there wasn’t enough room for everyone to sleep inside. The men slept in the open air.
Even when the floodwaters receded, the family had nowhere to go. The land on which their house stood, along with their corn and wheat fields, was entirely washed away. “I saw it and nearly collapsed,” Marhaba says, her eyes wet. “Another one of my grandsons, Bilal, was about two then. He was always crying, ‘I want to go to our home.’ But our house was gone.
Staying on with relatives, the family lacked basic necessities. “We’d all use a single dish and pass it around—27 people,” Marhaba remembers. “One child would eat the food while the next child waited.”
More quickly than she expected given the landslide-covered roads,
Marhaba and her family got help. Catholic Relief Services teams hiked over the rubble to reach remote areas of northern Pakistan, including her town.
The first priority was providing blankets, cookware, and items to
carry water. “When the dishes came, we were so glad to see them,” says Marhaba. “The bucket was really useful for storing water. Those supplies came quickly, just a few days after the flood.”
Marhaba’s husband, Muhammad Sultan, was grateful for the blankets. “They saved us from the cold winter—otherwise we would have suffered,” he says.
The next priority was shelter. Though their own land was gone, the family was able to rent a plot farther uphill. CRS engineers designed a sturdy, insulated one-room home and built several of them next to each other, since members of extended families typically live in such compounds.
“It took five days to build one,” recalls Muhammad. “We leveled the land, and also helped the builders as they built—hoisting the metal sheets up as they made the roof, for example.”
“We were a little surprised when we saw the foam for the insulation,” he continues. “It’s not common here. But it keeps us warm.”
The family moved into their new houses in autumn 2010. “If not for this house, we’d have had to go to the city and look for work,” says Muhammad. “It would have been very difficult to manage. We’ve lived here all our lives.”
Though the houses contain little more than the cookware and bedding provided by CRS and its Caritas partners, the family is starting to rebuild. A new grandson was born in one of the shelters, and though one little girl is still afraid of heavy rain, Marhaba’s other grandchildren are recovering from the trauma of the flood. “My grandson Bilal—now he’s happy and doesn’t think of our old house,” she says.
“This shelter was a great blessing for us,” says her husband. “And for everyone who lost their houses and had nothing.”
“You come and ask about us. We’re very grateful to you,” he continues. “We’re thankful to all people worldwide. Without them, we couldn’t have survived.”
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