After flash floods wrecked havoc in Iran recently, many Samaritans got activated miles away in Iran-i-Sageer, called Kashmir. These youngsters raised funds for their faraway brethren, with whom they enjoy strong historical and cultural ties. In the times of US gag on humanitarian aid to Tehran, some of these Kashmiris also went to the flood-torn zone on a rescue mission.
Far away from the poll din and media glare, some Kashmiri volunteers recently ran a noiseless fundraising campaign for flood-affected Iranians. As the solidarity footfall grew, two veiled women walked up to their camp, and quietly donated their respective pieces of gold for their “distant and distressed cousins”. With prayers on their lips and their cupped hands towards Heavens, they soon disappeared from the spot.
Then two young women, of marriageable age, showed up with their gold. They repeated the silent act of solidarity and walked away.
After that, a handicapped student turned up, with Rs 10 as donation, for thousands of distraught Iranians — currently grappling with the humanitarian crisis triggered by the fierce flash floods in their backyard.
“The very act was much more than just 10 rupees,” Sheikh Mattoo recalls the specially-abled boy’s heartening gesture. “I see it as an attempt to restore faith in humanity in the terrible times we live today.”
As head of Mutahiri Sakafati Maraz, a group of clerics, Mattoo had set up a fundraising camp, where he witnessed an overwhelming response.
“It was because of that massive response that we’ve, so far, donated over Rs 10 lakh to the flood victims of Iran,” Mattoo says.
But more than money, the young altruist says, it was the concern for their faraway brethren that motivated the likes of him to spearhead the relief operations in the times of media apathy and US humanitarian aid blockade.
This fundraising started shortly after rain caused flooding over the course of two weeks, from mid-March to April, across Iran.
Soon as 26 out of 31 provinces in Iran, including Golestan, Fars, Khuzestan and Lorestan submerged in water, people like Mattoo swung into action.
But the flood crisis was huge. It eventually led to the death of around 70 people, besides damaging over 270 villages, 100,000 hectares of agricultural lands, and nearly 400,000 residents of the oil-rich province. The total repair bill was estimated at around $2.5 bn.
In order to act as a helping hand to mitigate the crisis, two other Kashmir-based welfare bodies—Ehsaas International and Anjuman-e-Sharie Shian—participated in the fundraising campaign for Iranians in Kashmir.
Jointly run by Shias and Sunnis, Ehsaas International NGO has already raised and donated lakhs of rupees to flood-affected Iran. Infact, one of their team leaders Sarbaz Ruhhullah is leading a rescue operation on the ground. His videos from flood-torn areas have already gone viral on social media.
“Last time, we did our bit when floods hit Chennai in 2015,” says Hakim Illyas, head of Ehsaas International. “Same is the case with Iran. As flood-affected ourselves, we felt their pain and took this initiative, almost on war-footing.”
The NGO primarily works on Educational Rehabilitation including providing scholarships to students. Some of their students are already studying at Tehran and Sheraz medical universities.
“In this moment of crisis,” Illyas says, “our students became our ground team in Iran. They gave us inputs about the damage and mapped the crisis for us.”
As part of its primary rehabilitation plan, the NGO has identified 55 damaged schools in Lorestan, which is a backward area in Iran and has suffered major damages in the floods.
“So far, around 4 schools have been rehabilitated,” Illyas says. “This week, hopefully, the kids will be able to go to school there. Also, we try to help needy people whose houses have been damaged.”
The NGO is also working to construct a bridge between two villages in Lorestan. It was earlier washed away by flash floods. “Its construction will help kids to go to school, and restore surface communication in the area,” Illyas says.
Keeping the same welfare initiatives in view, Anjuman-e-Sharie Shian also collected millions of rupees for the flood affected Iranians.
“While our modest aid can’t completely mitigate the massive crisis on the ground,” says Syed Abid Hussaini, a member of Anjuman-e-Sharie Shian, “but what matters the most, is that we’re there for them, like they were there for us, when we were in this situation.”
Back in the fall of 2014, when Kashmir faced floods of biblical proportion, some Samaritans from Iran had arrived in the valley on a rescue and relief mission. Many of them were seen rescuing flood-trapped citizenry on the city outskirts.
“We can never pay back their 2014 gesture,” Hussaini continues, “when they ventured into flood-hit areas with their bodies submerged in waters. I still remember how they prayed for our well-being.”
Keeping the same gesture in mind, in the times of media silence, people like Mattoo, Illyas, Hussaini and others took it on themselves to raise awareness via social media.
They all look content with the massive response.
“We’re so happy that we could do something about our brethren in their moment of distress,” Mattoo says, smiling. “We only tried to restore some faith in humanity.”
The author is a Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) 2019 fellow and a senior reporter at Free Press Kashmir.
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