‘If I had taken the RedR training before, I could have responded in a better way.’
Aasim was 12 when the Kashmir earthquake struck. The 7.6 magnitude quake, which hit Azad Kashmir, parts of Indian-held Kashmir and northern Pakistan, killed 74,583 on 8 October 2005. Aasim was at school, in his home town of Muzzafarabad, the city at the centre of the ‘quake.
Thousands of people died in Muzzafarabad, but miraculously, Aasim, his fellow students and his school building survived unscathed. He said: ‘Our lives had been saved, so our teacher told us we should go and help, because there were people trapped in the rubble.
‘When we got outside, there was nothing as far as the eye could see. Almost all of the homes were flattened.’
Aasim, the school’s other pupils and their teachers were not alone: people from across the community rushed to help wherever they could. They worked hard to free people from the rubble, and succeeded in saving lives, but looking back, Aasif regrets mistakes that were made.
‘The most important thing was search and rescue, but we didn’t know how. The school next to mine had been flattened and there were children trapped under the rubble. People could not lift the concrete so they were breaking it with huge hammers. But every time they hit the concrete, the children were screaming that they were being hurt even more.
‘My school uniform was covered with blood. But I could have used it to stop some people’s bleeding. Instead, I was just pulling people from the rubble. A lot of precious lives were lost in the earthquake.’
When RedR arrived in Aasim’s community, he made sure he took part in our training. In common with 59 other people in his local area, Aasim is now trained in search and rescue, first aid and community disaster preparedness, meaning that if disaster strikes again – and Muzzafarabad lies in a ‘red zone’, which means the next big ‘quake could come at any time – he is prepared.
He said: ‘The community I live in is far from the centre. There is no hospital. That’s why it’s important to learn skills. In times of disaster, those who are present in the community can help respond at the right time.’