Marius and Marianne (Studinger) Boelsma
OUR SCI SERVICE IN PAKISTAN
Marianne & Marius Boelsma-Studinger
My (Marianne’s) first service, in Pakistan, was at Lalukhet satellite town of Karachi. Coming from Switzerland this was a new and exciting world. The international group built houses for refugees from India. There was also a needle work class for girls. Here we were helped by some Pakistani ladies, especially Mrs. Razvi and her daughter. We lived in tents in a desert area. The new houses for the people went up around us. We had many friends and many onlookers, mainly children who were interested in these queer people. We represented some five nationalities and were particularly lucky to have Mehdi Razvi with us as a long-term volunteer. His translations were of immense value as none of the others understood or spoke Urdu in the beginning.
Our next service (Marius had meanwhile joined the team) was held at another, prospective, satellite town, Latifabad near Hyderabad-Sind. Again refugees were to be resettled here, but contrary to the situation at Lalukhet no refugee had as yet moved into this hot, dusty and bare area. The group itself lived in a number of the model pacca (substantial) houses built by the government. In these we were exposed to temperatures rising over 110 degrees Fahrenheit, without any fans but with plenty of desert sand being blown into rooms and kitchen with open door and window-holes. Water for drinking and washing had to be fetched from the building-ditches! Here we lived for a great many months in practical isolation, because very few refugees could be persuaded to come and build their own houses with us. When eventually we had to leave not one refugee had been resettled, nor had any house been completed. It was an extremely difficult project, and we were saved from utter frustration only by an excellent team spirit. We shall never forget the sing-song evenings around the Tilly lamp with the thousands of mosquitoes and other beastly insects joining in the choir!
The third service was at the twin village Babarloi-Dhuan in Khairpur State. Our team now consisted of one American, four Europeans and four Asians, of whom one, Mehdi Razvi, from Pakistan and one, Sathyanarayan, from India. We lived in tents under date palms. It was somehow an experiment for SCI, because here we made an attempt at community development, now a fashionable term, then a new approach to development work. This started a discussion within SCI whether the movement should intentionally embark upon such projects in emerging countries. The Baharloi service proved that an SCI team could be of great value to the local community if it integrates itself by living among the people and heed their ‘felt needs’.
Our group got the confidence from the authorities as well as from the different factions in the village. So we were able to lessen frictions between these groups and got the government more interested in the villagers and their concerns. Our dear friend, Hassan Habib, active and interested from the beginning of SCI in Pakistan, was a great help in this project. We shall never forget our attempts to hatch chickens with an incubator, the skepticism of the villagers and the failure of the enterprise because the thermometer was wrong. We got sick of eating eggs that would not hatch! Fortunately, the Pakistani poultry expert who came to our rescue was a more competent machine hatcher and managed to convince the villagers. Our efforts with a domestic science school met with more success, and we even managed to persuade the government to appoint a Pakistani teacher. All in all we had a lot of work and had a lot of fun with the village people.
Because of the paralyzing heat of the Khaipur summer we moved to higher grounds. At Musiarree, in the Murree hills, we found ourselves building a one mile road together with the villagers. Here an ardent wish was fulfilled: a good number of Pakistani college students participated in the camp. The way of life of their rural country men was a revelation to all of them. We were moreover joined by two experienced SCI members from India: Devinder Das Chopra and Absalom Peters. The villages themselves provided the necessary skills and general enthusiasm for the project was great. One Sunday some eighty people were working at the site. Within two months the road and a twenty foot bridge were completed. The example was stimulating and other villages started to build their own roads and bridges. In this service it was proved that an SCI team can successfully function as a catalyser for self-help projects.
At our last camp in Pakistan, at Baharwal in the Punjab, we stayed for only a few weeks, because our term of service was over. We were then married in Lahore, Ethelwyn Best and aPakistani friend acting as witness. During our honeymoon in India we took part in one more camp in Bihar where we helped villagers whose village had been flooded by the notorious Kosi river.
What had all these services on the sub-continent in common? They were all work camps. We shared picks and shovels, tears and laughter, hopes and concerns with our fellowmen in need.
What did those who we came to help gain from our combined efforts? Only the few houses, the bridge, the school, the road, which we hope all still exist? Was also anything immaterial and immeasurable created? We do not know for sure but we believe that some more understanding and tolerance, some reconciliation and positive relationships were brought forth between people who used to think in negative terms from sheer ignorance or factional or nationalistic thinking.
We do know, however, what we ourselves gained by giving ourselves completely, living and working with so many different people for a common cause, without worries about personal material gain, by just being there and with it. Apart from an immense widening of our horizon and erasing our prejudices, it taught us that, whatever one’s origin, solidarity gave us a satisfaction and happiness that will never fade. This we still believe is the greatest value of SCI: that it provides the opportunity to live and work with and among culturally and socially vastly different people on a basis of equality. Such profound experiences keep alive the hope for a brighter future of mankind.