Another Small Miracle – Visiting Mohammadi Machar Colony
You know you are in Machar Colony, named the ‘town of small miracles’, when you are invited in by the pungent odors of the winding, open sewer. For a first time visitor like me, the smell was toxic and it was heightened by the summer heat of Karachi. I was convinced that by the time my visit came to an end, my nose would have definitely lost its sense of smell. The open sewer is filled to the brim with garbage, making it very easy for unaware children and adults to fall into without realizing that under it lies an entire drainage system. Ironically, the pipes that supply potable water to this large neighborhood of approximately 700,000 individuals float on top of the same sewer.
Of course, with such a large and diverse population, spanning across merely 5 square kilometers, come great challenges. These include housing space, healthcare (water is a particularly thorny issue) and source of income among many others. As the population grows, health service providers become increasingly unable to cater to such a large group. Even fewer facilities are available for expectant mothers and children.
The residents of the colony are almost universally impoverished and are always looking for any opportunity to receive free of cost or subsidized services. As a volunteer for the Association for the Development of Pakistan, I was assigned the task of evaluating a local Mother and Child Healthcare (MCH) clinic supported by the Concern For Children Trust (CFC). This clinic was in need of expansion to handle the large influx of patients on a daily basis.
My first impression of the clinic was not surprising, in retrospect. There were women sitting with children running around the narrow waiting area overlooking the lady doctor’s room. The Afghani ladies were clad in their signature blue burkas, the Bengali women in black abayas and the more vivacious Seraikis had their heads covered with a chader. Instantly, the term ‘social integration’ came to mind. In this small space there were three ethnic groups waiting to receive maternal health services.
Upon interviewing these women it was clear that the communities usually intermarried and remained tightly knit, while other women came from villages across the country to settle in the narrow houses of the Colony. It was very clear from my conversation with them that these residents had lived in this Colony for generations, and had no intentions of moving out into other parts of Karachi.
I interviewed some of the women in the clinic to get an informed opinion of the benefits of the clinic and their socioeconomic status. One of the main reasons for the women choosing to visit the clinic was that it provided an accessible service through the low cost of medication and one time registration fee of Rs. 20, less than half compared to other clinics nearby. The lady doctor working at the clinic had joined at the beginning of 2012 and according to her, was visited by an average of 45-75 patients from Monday to Wednesday and around 40 patients on Thursday and Friday. I was pleased to learn that she maintained a logbook for future reference purposes.
An ADP success story was seen first hand by me! The doctor proudly told me that after the purchase of the ultrasound machine, the female patients have been very happy and satisfied as their illnesses can be better diagnosed in a shorter period of time. Before the introduction of the machine, these women had had to visit nearby hospitals where generally they would wait for hours on end, and also strain their already meager finances.
Another service provided at the MCH clinic was raising awareness of Family Planning in young mothers. A choice of contraception is given with the permission of husbands to space the birth of their next baby. These services are provided by a Lady Health Visitor (LHV) in a room the size of a broom cupboard. However this has not deterred the LHV’s determination. She sees about seven patients a day regarding family planning and also provides vaccination for infants (usually 0-9 months old).
It is very heartening to see that even though there are constant day to day struggles in the lives of the Colony residents, they keep moving on trying to lead a normal life, as much as can be allowed.
It is particularly reassuring for the female residents of what is Karachi’s second largest slum to know that despite socio-economic factors including ethnicity, religion and gender, they will be able to have access to an improved medical centre and receive proper treatment.
Thanks to support from kind donors, women and children will be provided better treatment at the Clinic, eventually reducing the risk of life-threatening diseases. Construction for the expansion of the Clinic has already started and will be complete in February 2013. Once the expansion is complete, ADP will fund the purchase of equipment for the clinic as well.
Photojournalist Balazs Gardi has documented the water crisis in Machar Colony as part of his Facing Water Crisis project. Take a look at one of his videos from the project here.