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Korean Volunteer Team Helps Build 40 Shelters For Pakistan Earthquake Survivors

Volunteers Include Pakistani Student Who Returns To Hometown To Assist

Raring to go: The 16-member team from South Korea ready to do their part for earthquake survivors.

Staying focused: Korean volunteers In Ok (left) and Seungki Hong concentrating on cutting timber

New design: The Korean volunteers helping to build earthquake-resistant homes for the survivors

BALAKOT, Pakistan, 30th January 2007: Amid near freezing temperatures, student volunteers from South Korea spent a week building more substantial homes for survivors of the October 2005 earthquake that devastated the area around Balakot, Pakistan.

The 16-member team, comprising mostly undergraduates from Myungji University in Seoul, arrived in Pakistan on late January. Together with villagers and Habitat staff, they built a total of 40 shelters in the three villages, Ghanool, Kanshian and Batsanger, about 200 km. north of the capital, Islamabad.

The trip had special meaning for one team member. Waqas Akbar Lughmant (Vicky) who was returning to his hometown.

Vicky, a Pakistani engineering post graduate studying at Myungji, lost 15 members of his family in the earthquake. “I was not here when it happened but quickly came home to help my family. It was hard to believe this could happen. There was nothing left for any of us. My family relocated away from here to another city because of the fear of future earthquakes.

“There is so much more that needs to be done for the people. The people in the remote villages have no other place to go to and would wish to leave the villages? where they have lived for generations. The work that Habitat is doing is providing needed assistance for now and this is very helpful to them.”

Student Min Ho was similarly affected. He and other volunteers went to the old house of a family whom they were going to help. “The old house was very small, made of mud and sheets of metal. The grandfather is sick with cancer with other members still suffering from the effects of the quake.

“It made me sad to see how they were living but I knew we were going to provide them with a new shelter that would help their situation so I felt happy over this,” he said.

Min Ho said: “I am impressed by the work our team has been able to do in these three areas where we have built but there is the feeling that so much more needs to be done.”

The 7.6 magnitude earthquake killed more than 70,000 people and left 3.5 million people homeless in the northern parts of the country and Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Some 30,000 people died in Balakot, among the worst-hit areas.

An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 families, each family averaging four or five people, continue to live in tent communities that were set up soon after the 2005 earthquake by various international organizations and local non-governmental organizations. Over time, the harsh winter and monsoon rains have taken their toll on the canvas and plastic tents.

The South Korean team’s task was to focus on providing something more permanent.

In Ghanool and Kanshian, the Korean team constructed 15 homes of a new earthquake-resistant design, using timber salvaged from the rubble. The volunteers helped lay foundations, erect wall siding and roofs. Sheets of metal served as siding to the houses. Each new shelter, 4.6 m. by 6.1 m. (15 ft.x 20 ft.), costs 75,000 to 80,000 Pakistan rupees (about US$1,240 to US$1,320). It takes 10 to 15 days to construct a new shelter.

The timber used in these new shelters was cut to shape using the free sawmill services provided by a joint Habitat for Humanity Japan and Pakistan project.

The Korean team also helped 56 families to cut timber using Habitat’s free services. In the sawmill services project, funded by the non-profit organization Japan Platform, two tractors with three sawmills made their rounds among the various villages in Balakot, serving three to four families each day. To date, Habitat has served 1,600 families through the sawmill project.

A total of 55 are currently under construction in these villages and within a week 25-30 should be completed.

The Koreans also cut a total of 1,400 sq. ft. of timber in the two villages, sufficient to provide wood for 56 more homes.

The volunteers also built 25 “round” shelters, each comprising four iron pipes with seven corrugated steel sheets. These are similar to the shelters that Habitat has been building since the start of its reconstruction project in February 2006.  Each shelter is 3.7 m. by 3.7 m. in size and two meters tall, about 6.5 ft. by 12 ft. by 12 ft., and is insulated with foam sheeting inside that provides warmth against the cold and wind. These components can be re-used in the construction of permanent shelters Habitat has built 408 “round” shelters since February 2006.

The project is based out of a Habitat Resource Center in Balikot. The center provides shelters and sawmill services.

The trip to Pakistan was organized by Yong Sang-kang Justine, HFH Korea’s manager of project management, who was on the Korean team. He helped to raise over US$35,000 through Korea International Cooperation Agency (Koica) to help build shelters for Pakistan earthquake survivors. Koica is the government agency responsible for South Korea’s grant aid to and technical cooperation with developing countries.

In the process of fundraising, he was so moved by the stories of the affected families that he was spurred to go to Pakistan to help in reconstruction.

“I presented my idea of organizing a volunteer team to Kun Myung-jung, president of Myungji University in Seoul,” said Yong. “He in turn encouraged students in the university to join the team I was organizing to help build in the earthquake hit areas of Balakot.

Summing up the trip, Yong said it has been a very moving experience. “The families we have worked with have been very friendly to us all…the need is so great in these areas. We all wish to do more when we return to Korea, to help in raising more funds to help build more houses for the families who continue to live in tents and inferior structures.”