For Female quake victims in Rehab Center

Hindi films from Mumbai’s giant film industry flicker on the screens at the Melody Cinema in the midst of a congested bazaar.

But the films are no longer played on the giant screen or for mass audiences. Instead, a line of television sets with DVD players, placed before beds on the second floor, play the movies for women who lie flat on a row of beds, their feet slightly elevated on cushions. Most of them will never walk again.

This is the first time in over two years that films have played at the Melody Cinema in Pakistan’s federal capital, Islamabad. The once popular film venue was burnt down by a frenzied mob of religious fanatics in 2003, during riots triggered by the murder of a leader. Since then, it has stood abandoned – a burnt out shell providing a reminder to many of times when cheerful crowds thronged to watch films such as ‘The Incredible Hulk’, the last movie screened here.

But after the quake of October 2005, owner Attique Khattak, urged on by his mother, Nafeesa Khattak, who had been visiting women quake victims at various hospitals, turned the complex into a relief and rehabilitation centre for women with spinal injuries, using money donated by friends and family. Most patients were shifted to the renovated cinema building from the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), the capital’s best hospital, after undergoing surgery.

“The situation for these women, many of whom could literally not move a single digit, at the hospitals was terrible. We wanted a place where they could rest and recover in a pleasant environment,” Nafeesa Khattak told.

The atmosphere in the wards at the Melody Cinema rehab centre is certainly pleasant. The youngest patient here, 13-year-old Sadaf, whose legs are now paralysed, whizzes around from bed to bed in her new wheelchair. The wards are kept immaculately clean and freshly laundered linen covers the beds. Handicrafts, including knitted items, painted greeting cards and baby clothes are arranged on a low, central table. The visitors who come in each day browse through the display, buying whatever takes their fancy.

Some of the women lying in their beds knit busily, the needles clattering as the ball of wool rolls around on the bed. “One of the kind ladies who come here taught me how to knit. Now I can make things for my two little children back at home with my mother, near Muzzafarabad,” Shazia, 20, said. Shazia is now paralysed from the waist down – but remains full of hope that she will, in time, recover sufficiently to return to her home and family.

The X-rays shown by doctors at the rehab centre provide a vivid image of the kind of injuries most women here have suffered. Even to a layperson, the fractured spinal cords and shattered vertebrae are visible. Many of the women and young girls were caught by the quake inside their homes, and instinctively crouched down covering their heads with their arms. As a result, falling beams, rafters and concrete from ceilings caused serious injuries to their backs and in some cases, also their necks.

“Out of 53 women, aged between 13 and 42 years, 30 have suffered paralysis so grave that they will never walk again,” explained Dr Rubina, one of the doctors at the rehab centre. The Islamabad-based Organisation for the Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons (ORDP) is among the groups active at the centre, and its team of psychologists, physiotherapists and doctors have done a great deal to rebuild self-esteem and confidence among women, even though many have still to come to terms with the fact that they will never walk again.

In a society where there are few provisions for the handicapped and little awareness about their problems, this carries its own deep trauma. The married women wonder if their husbands will take back a wife who cannot walk, control her bladder or bowel or perform the usual domestic and agricultural chores, including fetching water, collecting fodder and firewood or tending to animals, expected of women in most mountain areas. The girls not yet married wonder if they will ever find husbands.

The staff at the rehab centre are, however, determined to try and give the women back their lives. Female attendants, usually close relatives, have been taught how to care for the women, how to insert catheters, to avoid bed sores and how to bathe and wash them. Volunteers help in this task of training and motivation, and cheerful chatter fills the wards as a patient’s hair is braided and make-up painted on. They are also being taught skills, such as knitting, sewing or making jam, with the hope that this will allow them to gain some independence after they leave the rehab centre.

Some of the women are now able to hoist themselves into wheelchairs or use crutches to move about. Many seem to make a special effort to do so during visiting hours, when relatives come into the wards. But volunteers accept there are many challenges; wheel chairs, after all, cannot be used on the narrow footpaths and terraced fields of many mountain villages; an official policy on people disabled by the quake has still to be announced – and for most of the women here, it is still far from clear what the future holds for them.

Courtesy: IRIN

1 Comment so far

  1. Baraka (unregistered) on February 10th, 2006 @ 1:07 am

    What a wonderful program – thanks for sharing!

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