“Better than Nestle's!” - Clean water brings health to Pakistan community

By Jon Hargreaves

“You have lost me my business,” health clinic owner,  Zahid jokingly tells HCR Pakistan director Hazeen Latif.   He was speaking at the opening of the new drinking well in his village, provided by HCR, funded by an Australian church.  “Since this well opened three weeks ago,” Zahid says, “I am selling less Flagyl because fewer people are having stomach problems.”  With a smile on his face he says, “this water is even better than Nestlé's.”  The well project was a result of a consultation facilitated by HCR which identified some of the main needs facing the community. 

Schoolboy tries the clean drinking water from the new well in his village, KPK province, Pakistan

Schoolboy tries the clean drinking water from the new well in his village, KPK province, Pakistan

HCR has been working in this village in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province since 2013, helping the community understand and tackle their health and social development challenges.  “It has been such a privilege to walk alongside this community for the last three years and feel like I’m part of them,” says Hazeen.  “During that time we’ve seen some great things happen, like the medical camp that HCR sponsored with a local partner. We also sponsored a community cricket match and have done a micro-enterprise project, "he added,"but perhaps the most difficult time was when a nearby school was attacked by terrorists and I experienced the grief the community was going through."

HCR has been working in Pakistan in development and disaster response since 2013, with a vision of seeing whole of life transformation in some of the most challenging places in the country.

Well-digging in KPK, Pakistan is very manual (Video)

Well-digging in KPK, Pakistan is very manual (Video)

A vision better than sight guides Wahid.


Our story begins in October 2005, when a magnitude 7.6 earthquake changed Pakistan-administered Azad Jammu Kashmir forever. The quake shook a mountainous region around Muzaffarabad, a city 100 kilometres northeast of Islamabad, at the foothills of the Himalaya mountains. At least 86,000 people were killed, more than 69,000 injured.

Not far from the epicentre of the earthquake is the village of Chalabandi, which was virtually swept away by a massive landslide. The only way out for any survivors in Chalabandi and nearby villages  was across the mud and rubble of the landslide. A road of sorts led to a landing pad for helicopters. Volunteers brought in food, medicine, blankets and tents for survivors but many aid workers refused to go to Chalabandi for fear of looters.

Wahid lived in Chalabandi with his mum, dad and two younger siblings, a sister and brother. As with many school children, both siblings did not survive when their school building crumbled and collapsed, such was the violence of the earthquake. Wahid’s terror was shaped by something affecting no other; the 10 year old had become blind in his first year of birth through a medical condition that could not be treated because of a lack of medical services.

It’s now 2016. The last 11 years have been difficult, Wahid admits. Rebuilding their lives has been slow. An uncle has helped them to restore their demolished house. Wajid’s father has found poorly-paid work as a security guard in a nearby school. The noise, confusion and uncertainty of the earthquake is not a distant memory for Wahid has a daily reminder: his mother continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, so great was the impact of the earthquake on her.

But Wahid has a vision. With education as a priority, he studies humanities and arts subjects at an institute that specialises in educating people who live with disabilities. Dedication and commitment is necessary: the institute is about four hours travel from Chalabandi on local transport. Each week, for the past few years, he has made the journey to attend classes and tutorials.

Wahid has had to learn to deal with the torments of unsympathetic people. “People,” he said, “injured my feelings by laughing at me. They did not help me, but just made me a source of their humour.“

One day he heard Syban (Shelter) a community development radio program broadcast on a local radio station by an HCR partner. A guest was talking about the rights of people living with disabilities (PWDs) and how they can lead a productive life like anyone without disabilities. Inspired, Wahid contacted the radio program with an offer to tell his story of pursuing an education despite being blind. All he wanted was for people to change their attitude toward PWDs: to accept them, to support them. His words were passionate and, unusually for someone speaking on the radio in Pakistan, very direct in his appeal. “Although I have a disability I have the vision and the courage to live like normal people. I want to be a part of changing our community. All of you listeners could have a child or family member, just like me, who becomes disabled through no fault of their own. I am a member of this community so please consider me, and those like me, human beings!’’

The story doesn’t end there.

Syban is dedicated to empowering people to tell their stories and contribute to discussion and social learning. Wahid’s appearance led him to being asked to join an advisory group for a local disability NGO and to counsel other PWDs. Not only that, the NGO now provides Wahid dedicated transport for his journey from Chalabandi to his college in the distant town.

Syban has received praise from the community for its efforts to support people with disabilities.

Syban has received praise from the community for its efforts to support people with disabilities.

More importantly, Wahid has become a part of the Syban radio program. He has attended workshops to learn radio programming skills, and there are plans for him to become a Syban reporter on disability issues.

Wahid may be blind, but he has a vision. Syban is using HCR’s community-centred strategies to empower Wahid, and others like him, to contribute to the transformation of their community.

Amplifying Voices in Sierra Leone

It is nearly 3 months since their country was declared Ebola-free and Sierra Leoneans are yearning for a return to normality.  But for many, life still remains far from normal, as communities emerge from trauma, where many still face social stigma, persistent health problems and don't trust the health system.  Added to this, an estimated 4 million people in the country are at risk of starvation and over 19,000 children have been affected by the Ebola virus through the loss of parents or loved ones.

In collaboration with partners, Feba UK and Affirm, HCR UK are working with three communities, a hospital, churches and a radio station to help local communities recover after the trauma of Ebola.  Following a workshop to introduce a powerful community engagement process, known as "SALT”, the project will link local communities, health providers, people of faith and radio, using the strengths of each to promote dialogue, reconciliation and healing in Sierra Leone."