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Every couple of months or so Sr. Marie and I, along with Fr. James Kajo or Master Lawrence our catechist, visit the Vimo family in a small village in our parish (Kunri). They are Parkari Kholi people and very poor, but each time we visit they insist on killing a chicken and preparing a pot of chicken karai (stew) and inviting us to a meal. They continually remind me that poor people are often more generous than those who have plenty.
We visited them to give them tokens for food rations soon after the recent floods washed away most of their village. Their house, like the houses of their fellow villagers, had been constructed of dried mud so were washed away by the floods. The only building left standing was the parish school, which is built of brick and concrete.
We planned to do what we had gone to do and move on to the next needy family, but they insisted that we stay. The mother of the house said that she had already sent someone out to kill the chicken. They lost so much in the flood and don’t even have a roof over their head, and yet they want to offer us hospitality.
I see the poor I meet in the course of my daily work as the soft and gentle side of Pakistan. Whatever their religious faith may be, they are so hospitable, and sharing food seems to break down barriers. Even with so little they are grateful to God for what they have. They see our visit as a blessing, and it is a moment to celebrate.
Since the floods in the parish we have traveled the back roads of our parish in a four wheel drive vehicle, especially the back roads far from the main highways. Along the sides of these roads refugees in their thousands from the floods have camped (the roads are raised between one and two meters above the level of the adjacent fields). Those on the back roads generally receive little or no aid. We have been able to give them food ration tokens, blankets and sometimes two kilogram food parcels with rice, sugar, lentils, flour, oil and tea, the basics of the local diet. We were able to give freely without discrimination and without demanding an identity card.
Most of those we meet are strangers to us and we to them. We don’t introduce ourselves but rather just leave them something to alleviate their difficult situation and move on. One woman told us with a smile of gratitude that we were the first to give them a hand. We would return on another occasion and some remained but some were no longer there. Hopefully the flood waters had subsided enough for them to return to their villages to make a new start.
Floods come and go, and the meteorological experts tell us to expect more frequent flooding in the coming years. However, life goes on and some of our parishioners asked us to take on a new project. Some women told me that they would like to be able to read the Bible. Consequently, we organized a pilot project to teach women to read and write and presently have a group of 21 women aged from 15 to 45 years. They are Parkari Kholi and Punjabi women. We began in September but had to close for the floods, but we called the group to class again in October and, much to my surprise, all 21 turned up.
One member of the class told her brother in another village about our class, and he requested adult literacy classes for his village. We want to respond but first we will complete the course we have started and evaluate it. We don’t want to fail by attempting to bite off more than we can chew. Also, we feel that it’s a matter of hastening slowly.
Our teacher is Berna. She receives a salary, and we charge the participants 30 rupees a month (around 20 cents). The classes run from Monday to Friday from 1:30 to 3:00 p.m. A key element to the success of this program is the teacher who has to be someone who treats those in the class with courtesy and respect. Also, we would need to find a person in or near the other village who might take on the task.
We feel the project is off to a good start as the initiative to begin came from the women of the village and the invitation to extend also came from residents of another village.
This article originally appeared in the May 2013 Columban Mission Magazine.