Looking back ahead – disaster relief evolves into long-term project work

by NST/SRI,  2009/01/26

Pakistan in the late fall of 2005: People in extreme distress

The emergency call reached me in October 2005 while I was in the United States: The north of Pakistan had been hit by a devastating earthquake of a magnitude of 7,6 on the Richter scale. 15 hours after receiving the message on my mobile I was on a plane together with a humedica doctors' team. Destination: A disaster region in Pakistan. Aid that continues until today. Aid that changes the lives of people in distress.

Around 2,5 million people lost their homes during the 2005 earthquake. Photo: humedica/Nils Stilke

With more than 80 000 dead and around 2,5 million people homeless, the disaster was of a magnitude that even today has a strong impact on my life. At the time, we worked non-stop for two months together with various doctors' teams treating victims in the remote mountain region. Many children in particular came to be treated and we were able to provide help for patients with bone fractures, bruisings, respiratory conditions and psychosomatic symptoms.

It was the children whose faces expressed the gratitude of their entire people. Particularly in the remote villages and settlements to where the Pakistani military airlifted us with choppers and where we lived together with the local inhabitants in tents and in dire conditions. Neither foreigners nor doctors had ever visited these villages before. Two cultures encountered each other in an unusual, dramatic situation with the utmost respect.

This mission saved many lives even weeks after the earthquake. It brought hope in a situation of extreme distress.

From disaster relief leads to other forms of commitment

With the winter came the snow. This represented a new threat to the many homeless. Finally I was detailed by humedica to spend another six months in the disaster region to provide, together with a Pakistani partner organisation, more than 2200 families in the remote mountain villages with building materials for the rebuilding of earthquake-proof dwellings.

The construction of these houses was organised by the village communities. With each family having an average of six children, we were able to give 13 200 people a new home and secure their survival.

Josephine survived her severe burns, although she didn't receive treatment until four days after the accident. Photo: humedica/Nils Stilke

During my mission I met the 2-year old Josephine. Together with her family she lived in poor conditions in a village. While playing in the house, the little girl scalded 25 percent of her skin with boiling water. It was only the next day that her father could bring his badly injured daughter to the nearest hospital, because he had no earlier means of transport, and certainly no money for an ambulance.

Three hospitals refused treating Josephine who was in desperate need of help, probably because the family is not muslim. But perhaps also, because they did not have enough money or because the authorities didn't want Josephine to die in the hospital. After an ordeal of four days the desperate father found his way to me.

Together we brought his heavily traumatised daughter, who, having still received no treatment whatsoever, was in great pain and ran a worryingly high temperature, to a remote city hospital, where she was immediately admitted and treated. By paying for the costs of treatment that accumulated in the following months, humedica ensured that Josephine could receive all the essential medical treatment necessary for her recovery.

Since 2005, Nils Stilke has been giving his all in Pakistan. Photo: humedica

Josephine survived her severe injuries. Now, only a slight physical impediment and the large surface of scar-tissue remain as a reminder of the little girl's ordeal.

In 2008, humedica gave me the opportunity to revisit the now 4-year old Josephine. I accompanied her together with her father to a checkup. Physically, she had overcome the strain, the Pakistani doctor told us.

She would, however, need therapeutic help, in order to learn to eat unaided, to talk and walk. Unfortunately her parents do not have the means to pay the monthly costs of 60 euros.

And again I realise how fortunate we are in the western world, where every child has a right to aid and support. How many children in other parts of the world are denied these privileges?

In the name of humedica I can help again: Josephine's parents expressed their thanks with beaming faces and heartfelf gratitude for the life-saving help provided by humedica and all those who donated so generously.


Since 2006, humedica continues to be active rebuilding schools in the earthquake region. For months, the large-scale destruction prevented children from going to school. A humedica-built school re-openend in 2007, with currently 600 children going to classes.

In an annexed training and therapy centre children and parents are offered psychotherapy as well as practical training courses.

As a project coordinator it was my job to supervise, for humedica, the implementation of all relief efforts. One thing I will never forget are the many words of gratitude from the people in the villages.

Apart from the already mentioned projects, humedica also supports a further school, with a boarding department, in the mountains of Pakistan, whose buildings were also destroyed in the 2005 earthquake. The school, with 120 pupils, was in imminent danger of being shut down.

I am now, since beginning 2008, living in a Pakistani extended family together with 30 children. As a humedica coordinator, I am responsible for ensuring a smooth running of the school and attempt to enhance the quality of teaching. Thanks to targeted assistance we were able to buy a plot of land on which currently a boarding school with classrooms is being constructed.

Most of the boarders come from poor and often difficult family backgrounds. Due to divorce, poverty, death or absence of the fathers many children lived out in the streets. Despite all the destitution that still marks people's everyday lives here, I am much encouraged by our communal work of the past years.

humedica-school started in 2007. Photo: humedica

We have come to the aid of people who depended on us helping them. This help is much more than the frequently quoted drop in the ocean.

Let me emphasise that reconstruction work in Pakistan's earthquake region is far from completed. Helping continues to be our duty. A humanitarian duty, a labour of love for our neighbour, for human beings in distress and need. I appeal to you to continue to support humedica's aid effort in Pakistan.

Warm greetings,
Nils Stilke

*NOTE: For security reasons (and at our co-ordinator's express request) we will refrain in this report from divulging any specific geographical information about our projects in Pakistan. For the same reasons you will find no further details concerning Nil Stilke's person.

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