Rachel Cruz, an Australian social worker, was on a spiritual journey in India when the floods hit Pakistan in 2010. She was told that the situation was much worse than depicted in the media. When Cruz made her way across the border to have a look, the sight before her changed her life. She adopted Islam and started an organisation called ‘SOS Pakistan - Feed the Children’.
Cruz described her experience in the country as an extremely surprising one. “The duality of life is unfathomable. There is so much stratification in society – many people lack basic necessities. And then there were others who are rich, even by international standards,” she said. “But all the people have one thing in common – they are very hospitable and caring.” Cruz added that it would be a real challenge to find philanthropists more altruistic than the ones in Pakistan. She added that the haunting beauty as well as spirituality of the country continues to mesmerise her. “When I first came here, I just knew I had to live here and be a Muslim,” she recalled.
This laid the foundation for her organisation, SOS Pakistan, which is based in Sydney. It currently comprises of eight Australians who feel connected to Pakistan.
When the floods hit, the organisation arranged two containers full of necessities from Sydney for the victims. With slow progress and increasing support, the organisation shifted its focus to bigger issues such as providing clean drinking water to rural areas. The Yooralla project, which aims to provide filtered water to people living on the edge of the Thar Desert in Sindh, is one such initiative. At the moment, people are forced to drink unsafe water and this leads to water borne diseases. A local NGO, Association for Water, Applied Education and Renewable Energy, found that over 80 per cent of groundwater in the district was unfit for humans. SOS Pakistan aims to set up four filter plants, each of which can give 5,000 people access to clean water.
Other projects include the Sun Flower project, which is a programme to train teachers to implement a policy of non-violence in the classroom, the Yasameen project, which involves the construction of a medical facility for women and children and the Rose project, which aims to establish the organisation’s first school.
In the first stage of the Rose project, a building will be rented and up to 20 students will be enrolled. This initiative will be combined with a research project on the impact of education in the community, said Cruz. The organisation is also supporting 150 children in Gujranwala.
These projects did not materialise overnight and many people deserve praise, said Cruz. In the past two years, she has visited Pakistan seven times and mobilised an army of supporters for the organisation’s projects. SOS Pakistan has also signed a memorandum of understanding with The Imran Khan Foundation. The organisation’s supporters include Andie Domanko of the SureAqua Corporation, Toby Smith of Toby’s Estate Coffee, Sundari Austin, Gerry Graham, Meera Belle, Stephen Marshall, Irene Payne, Andre Moreitz, Corien Loots and Reverend Bill Crews.
Zahid Majeed, an employee of National Foods, which has collaborated with SOS Pakistan on this project, has been touched by the foreigners’ dedication. He said that perhaps Pakistan is alluring to them because of its diversity and the adventures that lie within its borders.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2012.