September 1, 2010

A brief student reading suggesting the dimensions of the crisis is followed by suggestions for student discussion and inquiry, and ways to translate compassion into action.

To the Teacher:

Terrible flooding has driven millions of Pakistanis from their homes and land. Many of us feel compassion for them. But, wrote Susan Sontag, "Compassion is an unstable emotion. It need to be translated into action or it withers." (Regarding the Pain of Others)
The brief student reading below suggests the dimensions of the situation for Pakistanis. Following it are suggestions for student discussion and inquiry, and ways to translate compassion into action before it withers.

Student Reading: 

Overview of a catastrophe

Jampour, Pakistan: "In some places the water covers everything, dotted only by the tops of mango trees. Even here, with homesteads and roads on slightly raised lands, mud-brick houses have dissolved and all that remains are pitiful piles of debris where they once stood...Pakistan grapples with a staggering disaster that has left millions homeless and many more cut off without food or clean water..."
Multan, Pakistan: "Torrential monsoon rains struck the northern highlands of Pakistan, beginning on July 28. "Water tore through the upper part of the country with terrifying velocity and it is now spreading out through the flood plains of central Punjab and northern Sindh Provinces on its way to the Arabian Sea."
Islamabad, Pakistan: "Hundreds of thousands more Pakistanis fled their homes as high floodwaters reached the southernmost region of the country...Health workers setting up clinics in the major centers of displacement reported a sharp increase in cases of acute diarrhea...A high incidence of malaria is also being reported in the southern provinces..." (Carlotta Gall, reporting from Pakistan for the New York Times, 8/20/10, 8/21/10 and 8/28/10)
The worst flooding in Pakistan's history has created a catastrophe for many millions of people—more than those affected by the 2005 Indian Ocean tsunami and South Asia earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined. ( More than half of these people are without shelter.
The huge flooded area, running north to south, has meant villages washed away along with crops, farmland, livestock, and homes, bridges, roads, schools, electricity stations, health clinics. Human suffering is acute from homelessness, hunger, thirst, skin and respiratory infections; waterborne diseases. Pakistanis are desperate for help.
"When the immediate crisis ebbs, all that will remain will be hunger, stagnant water, disease and the threat of chaos, which extremist groups will gladly exploit." (New York Times editorial, 8/21/10)
Pakistanis are getting help from the United States, other countries, and humanitarian organizations. But millions of individuals in Pakistan require help not only immediately, but for the indefinite future. So many have lost homes and everything in them as well as fields where they grew crops for family food and income. The only thing to keep them going will be the help of fellow human beings.
The best way to help is to give money to one or more of the humanitarian organizations working in Pakistan. These organizations use the money to buy and deliver clean water, food, medicines, and shelter as well as pay for doctors, aides and other experienced workers who can help Pakistanis survive and rebuild their lives.
These are very hard days for millions of jobless Americans and their families. But times are even harder for millions of Pakistanis who have nothing but the clothes on their backs and a long, very difficult struggle ahead of them to build new lives. 

For discussion and inquiry

What questions do students have about the reading? Consider those questions, as well as some of those listed below:
1. What is he location, size, population, and history of Pakistan?
2. What are monsoons? Why do they create such destruction?
3. What is the nature of the "extremist groups" in Pakistan?
4. What is the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan?
5. How do Pakistanis view the US?
6. How does the the Afghanistan war affect Pakistan?
See "Thinking Is Questioning" in the high school section of TeachableMoment for suggestions and exercises on helping student learn how to analyze their questions.

Action to help Pakistanis

1. Solicit contributions from family members, friends, and neighbors to send to a relief organization.
2. Organize a group fundraising campaign through yard sales, car washes, raffles, or special events, like school-wide assemblies or dances. 
3. Consider school wide or inter-school activities like those suggested in the "Ideas and Issues" item in "Teaching Social Responsibility."

Two useful resources

Interaction ( describes itself as "the largest alliance of U.S.-based international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) focused on the world's poor and most vulnerable people." The site includes a list and brief description of more than 40 organizations that are working to help Pakistani flood victims.
The American Institute of Philanthropy ( describes itself as "a charity watchdog service whose purpose is to help donors make informed giving decisions." The organization provides information about a variety of charities and rates them using a set of criteria it describes. The site also includes a guide to help donors get the most for their dollars, tips for online giving, and a variety of articles on charitable giving.
This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email them to: