Helping the children of Swat

Published: October 4, 2011
The writer is an analyst and a former ambassador to Yemen, Nigeria and Italy

The writer is an analyst and a former ambassador to Yemen, Nigeria and Italy

Nobody has heard of Qadir Nawaz Khan and that’s not surprising. He never stood out. That is not to say that he was a waster. He is an England-trained financial accountant who spent much of his life plying his craft for a fat salary. In three decades, he had made enough not to need a nine to five job and, if that was not quite enough to actually chill out for the rest of his life then, at least, to take it easy.

Because he was good at spotting profitable opportunities he made some more money in his second incarnation as a free-wheeling businessman. Travelling around Pakistan, which his job required, enabled him to visit all four corners of the country. He visited more villages and busties in Pakistan than a postman would in several lifetimes. And although what he accumulated was, by any yardstick, a great return on his investment, he got fed up with that too.

We had kept in touch after being introduced by a common friend. And I was interested to discover how long this dedicated socialite used to a relaxing bath, home cooked/expensive restaurant food and the kind of luxuries some take for granted, like a couple of foreign holidays annually, a chauffeured car, cook, et al, would be able to stomach a job which often meant weeks in the dusty, now water logged, villages of Sindh and the wilds of Balochistan, living with those who truly fitted Camus’s description “as the wretched of this earth”. When, therefore, he said that he had had enough, I sensed that the rigours of the job had finally got to him. I was wrong.

Qadir Nawaz Khan had actually decided that he was ready for yet another incarnation and an even more challenging one. Sometime, somewhere, on the banks of the Indus, while ruminating, his new calling had beckoned. It was to spend not some but all of what remained of his life helping the disadvantaged and the poor. We talked a while longer and I discovered he was troubled when he compared his existence to that of the poor. And, unlike so many of us who shut out such feelings and carry on, he decided he could not.

A few weeks later he called to say he had found his ‘cause’ which was to help children who suffered from thalassaemia in Swat. This blood disorder develops soon after birth and becomes apparent within the first two years. If untreated, it can cause early death but if detected quickly and treated, a life expectancy of 50 years or thereabouts is possible. It’s caused by generations of inter marriage within families that have the dormant defective gene and is most prevalent in Swat.

His goal, Qadir continued, was to provide treatment to children suffering from the disease free of cost and to ensure they live a relatively pain free life. He said there were 7,000 ill with the disease in Malakand division and his aim was to eradicate the disease in the whole of Malakand by 2020.

I asked him how far his own money would take him. “To my goal, Inshallah”, he said, “because you have no idea how generous people will be. In any case”, he said, “I read somewhere that charity has no excess.”

I recall muttering something about the need to first arrange requisite finances considering the long-term nature of the project; and to give it a second thought in view of his inexperience; the difficult conditions he would encounter in an area of which he was clueless and in which he knew not a soul. “You do not even speak Pashto”, I pointed out. But Qadir had switched off; failure for him was not an option, hence, he was not listening anymore.

“OK, get started, I said, and send me photos and I will do my bit to spread the word,” I promised.

I was astounded to learn how quickly his plans had advanced. In a matter of two weeks he had hired a house, converted the rooms into small wards, put up buntings for the children, arranged for toys and got the necessary nursing staff, including a blood specialist, to help. He was ready to launch and soon enough, the project was off and running in a matter of another week.

Qadir spoke glowingly of the Swat district coordination officer, Kamran Rahman. The latter when told the week’s delay in giving transfusions (till Qadir’s own facility was ready) would cause 25 children to die for lack of timely transfusions, immediately ordered all the available space in the government hospital in Saidu Sharif to be placed at his disposal.

And within days, I received the most moving photos of a dozen children getting transfusions. Parents, Qadir said, were coming to the clinic in a steady stream. He is already treating 300 children and hoped to take the figure up to 800 eventually. We talked, and he said his reward was not so much in prolonging life, or the happiness of the parents, but the joy and the glow of hope he saw reflected in the in the eyes of the child. “It’s a high like no other and worth everything,” he whispered.

For someone to walk away from the good life, stake all he had, to live where he has seldom been, alone, with nothing but his dream of helping children to live without pain demonstrates a selflessness which though not unique is nevertheless amazing. It’s the kind of decision that makes some of us, the not so brave, feel like cowards; actually the proper word is inferior. There may be many explanations why we cannot do what Qadir Nawaz Khan has done but there is only one reason, we are simply not made of the stuff that he is. This riles me, and will continue to, if only because there is nothing as vexatious as one’s own thoughts.

This is not an appeal for help; nor has Qadir asked for it. Nevertheless it is to convey the message that if we want to keep the lamp which Qadir Nawaz Khan holds burning we have to put oil in it.

Qadir Nawaz Khan’s email, in case some want to see and learn more of the progress he is making, is [email protected]

Published in The Express Tribune, October 5th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (2)

  • meekal ahmed
    Oct 5, 2011 - 1:38AM


    There are many such lamps in Pakistan that keep the country from imploding. This is not to take away from the accomplishments of this great man. It is a call to ask others to light another candle.


  • Karim
    Oct 5, 2011 - 1:25PM

    Another good article from you sir.


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