Earthquake highlights extreme poverty in Harnai, Balochistan [Express Tribune]

Earthquake highlights extreme poverty in Harnai, Balochistan [Express Tribune]

by Natasha Raheel

KARACHI: “We only have football which is what brings life to us. We don’t want cars or a lot of money or anything much. Just a respectable enough way to play football and not worry about how our houses will be run and families will be fed,” Ajab Khan Khilji, the captain of Ahwad Football Club (FC) in Shahrag, Harnai explains, as he relates how horrific the earthquake was that struck Harnai on Thursday at 3 am.

Ajab, 29, is adamant that the players all over Harnai District located in the northeast of Balochistan, not just in tehsil Shahrag where he works in a coal mine from morning to afternoon are in dire need of help. The earthquake has only exposed the extreme poverty among the people and especially among footballers as most of them come from very humble backgrounds.

Ajab, who is a striker and captain of his club Ahwad meaning homeland or “Watan”, describes how vulnerable the footballers and almost all the people with limited means in Harnai district are.

“The Earthquake has been devastating, the walls of our houses have fallen, there is so much destruction but we are thankful that at least among our footballers in the club or in Shahrag the damage is only of material things and no one died in the quake,” Ajab told The Express Tribune.

“We unfortunately see people die in many other ways, as we don’t have government hospitals that can even treat minor injuries of our players or if anyone gets shot in a dispute or if we get injured while working in the coal mine. This is because government hospital doctors don’t even want to work in this place.”

“The government hospitals are run by corrupt people so we have to either get the treatment privately or run to Quetta but by that time we lose the patient and even when the ambulance service comes to us, the injured person has passed away. So the well-being of our people is in danger, because there is no system in place.”

As footballers we only have the sport that we play after our coal-mining work at the Railways ground, where Ajab said that his club players ended up making the goal posts with pipes bought from Quetta.

“All we ask for is a transparent system to be put in place as there is no help from the government,” Ajab said adding that “all the players work in the mines and the club is run on donations from the people.”

“In Shahrag, we are all poor people, we love football because that is our passion and it helps us look forward to something that is outside of the mine. Working in the mines is not easy either and it is now comparatively even more dangerous to go into especially after the earthquake,” explained Ajab. “As a club, we run on donations, for example if we are competing in any tournament, then at least few days before the tournament, we go out in the market and ask for donations, so it all depends on that which helps us buy food and transportation.”

The last tournament Ahwad FC played was in Sibi less than a week ago, just few days before most of them lost their homes in the earthquake. The players of the club collect Rs50 every Friday after their match to have some amount saved for emergency treatment of any player should they get injured.

Ajab said that there is no support from the government or provincial sports bodies or the ministry. “We request the people and the government to change this. Without hospitals, schools, proper systems and unemployment, we are far behind. I request the government to help us, we have suffered in the mines, but our children shouldn’t.” pleaded Ajab, whose team had been topping in regional events for the last five years.

Published in The Express Tribune, 9 October 2021