Pakistan Earthquake Relief Efforts

 

COLLECTION DRIVE: Bergen County Relief Center

By ZAHRA MAMDANI

OF SUBURBANITE

On November 18 at 7:30 pm at the Mount Calvary Baptist Church there will be a Benefit Gospel Concert to collect funds for the BCRC (Bergen County Relief Center). The group is a collaborative effort led by Derek Boone and Cynthia Fisher and is temporarily located at 27 S. Van Brunt Street in Englewood. The BCRC aims to provide local aid for the underprivileged citizens of Bergen County and to address the global needs of the world community. It has already collected money and goods for Katrina survivors and has provided much needed assistance to the victims of the South Asian earthquake.

On October 8, a 7.6 magnitude earthquake severely shook the northern region of Pakistan and slowly rocked Afghanistan and India, the two countries that surround Pakistan, leaving 90,000 people dead and 3 million homeless. For several days, the earthquake produced aftershocks that rippled across the northern regions of Pakistan and shockwaves that reverberated around the world, including Bergen County.

As the earthquake roared throughout the small South Asian nation, Boone was 17,000 miles away at the Englewood Hospital, recovering from a serious spinal cord operation. A business owner and first vice president of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), Boone was not personally affected by the earthquake but when he heard the news, he knew that he needed to help.

Boone called different organizations and posted signs about his efforts to collect winter clothing, bottled water and other necessary items for the victims. “We are all God’s children,” emphasized Boone. “It could just as easily come and happen to us.” People warned that organizing a relief drive would burn him out, but Boone was persistent. “I had to do something, all those people, those children,” he said, referring to the tens of thousands who were orphaned. “I just knew I had to do something.”

Boone has experience constructing a foundation of hope from the shards of tragedy. A few months ago, Boone watched as CNN aired images of bloated bodies, devastated houses and the ravaged parishes of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck. Along with members of his family and the tri-state community, he collected thousands of dollars worth of items for the people of New Orleans and personally helped a family relocate from New Orleans to New Jersey. “Derek has an extraordinary selfless commitment,” said Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes. “Even when he was not well physically, he was making phone calls and doing everything he could to help.”

It was with the same enthusiasm and relentless drive that Boone worked for the victims of Pakistan. “I know there will be some smiles when they open these boxes,” said Boone, carefully folding tunics, scarves and coats for the children. Boone sat in a room that was more than full with goodwill and concern, but less than half empty with donated items. “We did not get the same response [for Pakistan] that we got for Katrina,” said Boone. “Several people came up to me and said, ‘why are we helping them?’” Wildes echoed the same concern. “There has to be seamless rope of support that transcends politics, religion and differences,” emphasized the Mayor. “A person hurt in Louisiana is as in need as a person hurt in Pakistan.” (Wildes’ website www.michaelwildes.org has more information about how people can help for Katrina and the earthquake).

According to Reuters, Pakistan needs $5.2 billion to rebuild Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, and other badly affected areas. However, the world has donated less than 20% of this aid. People are in desperate need of the most basic necessities and with winter fast approaching, warm clothing, tents and other items are in very high demand.

Sultan Karamali, managing trustee of the Muslim Community Center of Englewood, Shah-e-Khorasan, repeated these statistics to his congregation. Tragedy hit more than once this year for his community, comprised of South-Asian Americans. Most had friends, family or knew people in Louisiana and now share stories about the earthquake.

“The destruction [in Pakistan] is mind-boggling,” said Karamali. “I heard of one remote mountain town that had 2,000 residents and after the earthquake only 25 people survived. These people could not bury their dead fast enough leaving carcasses to rot. When the wild animals smelled them, they came down from the mountains and dragged the bodies away to feast on them.”

According to Karamali, Katrina and the earthquake are just two of the issues that Bergen County citizens should be concerned about. “Famine, war, poverty, these are all things that affect us, no matter where in the world they happen.” Fisher, who works at HUD (the US Department of Housing and Urban Development), echoed this sentiment and emphasized the work that needs to be done at the local level in Bergen County. “There are families here that need our help. We have single moms who cannot afford housing and people sleeping in the streets. With winter coming we need to do something about that.”

Although Bergen County is one of the wealthiest districts in the United States, it has problems with homelessness, poverty and 5% of the population, or 45,149 people, live below the poverty line. Many relief agencies have a limited number of financial resources and therefore cannot help these people. For example, there is a 5-10 year waiting list at HUD for low-income mothers and families in New Jersey. Many organizations only receive government funding and because of the recent cuts in federal aid are increasingly becoming less effective than they once were.

It was a convergence of these types of local issues and global concerns that compelled Boone and Fisher to start the Bergen County Relief Center. “This is important because we have so many tragedies, even in Englewood. We want to reach out and help people,” said Fisher. Boone nodded in agreement. “As long as I have breath, I will do what I can to help any nationality,” he said.


 

Paid for by Friends of Michael J. Wildes, Claudia Colbert, Treasurer