Last week, Kashmiri diaspora members based in the United States came together in a unique event to organise an Iftaar fundraiser in the New York City for the blind and partially blind pellet victims of Kashmir. The fundraiser was the first of its kind event organised by Kashmiri American community for the pellet victims in the US.
The Iftaar was organized by young Kashmiri Americans, who cooked ethnic Kashmiri food for the guests and briefed them about Project Noor. An initiative designed to rehabilitate low vision pellet victims and blind patients of Kashmir, the project Noor is run by the US based nonprofit organisation, Revive Kashmir, which works for long-term social and economic development in Kashmir.
Focusing on supporting the pellet victims from 2016 and other blind, partially blind Kashmiris, the project intends to raise $15,000 in the month of Ramadan to continue providing group, family, individual counselling, technology aids, devices, and skills development workshops for the pellet injured youth in Kashmir.
Dr. Naureen Haroon, the project head and board member of Revive Kashmir, said that Project Noor is focused on supporting Kashmir’s unprecedented rise of low vision and pellet blinded patients that emerged from the pellet injuries as a result of indiscriminate firing on Kashmiri protesters during the 2016 summer uprising. “Project Noor is a long term, strategic initiative that falls under our first mission element of capacity building and skills development,” said Dr. Haroon, who’s a professor at Midwestern University at the College of Optometry where she focuses on ocular disease and public health advocacy. “We found that the post-operative needs of such patients remained largely unmet and Kashmir is extremely under-resourced for eye care and does not have sufficient healthcare infrastructure to rehabilitate low vision patients to a point where they can lead productive and meaningful lives and return to work or school,” she said.
Samma Ishaq Hafeez, a Kashmiri American IT professional who joined other Kashmiri diaspora organisers of the New York fundraiser last week, said there’s a need for such community work to help the victims of pellet guns in Kashmir. “I was visiting my family in Srinagar in 2016 when the government forces imposed curfews and fired pellet guns, not used anywhere else in the world for crowd control, to deliberately blind people protesting on the streets,” she said. “I felt we needed to do more for the pellet injured youth so that they can be helped to resume their normal lives.”
Conducted in three stages, the project involves home assessments of pellet injured patients in Kashmir, creating and implementing training programs specific to the needs of each patient and, in the third stage, re-assessment of each patient to determine if they need to continue another year in the program.
Presently, Dr Haroon points out, there is not a single low vision specialist in Kashmir. “Patients with vision loss are forced to largely cope on their own in the absence of mobility, mental health, and skills training resources needed to build a new life,” she said. “And this is where project Noor fills the gap.”
Tahir Qazi, the president of Revive Kashmir, said that they currently operate and collaborate within a strong support ecosystem that includes a professionally diverse team in the US, staff in Kashmir, benevolent firms that lend services at a reduced or no cost, and Kashmir based partner organisations like The HELP foundation, HPVT, etc., having government clearance to receive donations from outside India. “In the past we have also provided surgical kits to local hospitals in Kashmir for eye surgeries as well as travel assistance to pellet injured patients who were sent to Hyderabad’s LV Prasad Hospital for more complex cases,” he said.
“The New York fundraiser is one of the small ways our Kashmiri diaspora community shows its love for the besieged people of Kashmir,” said Qazi. “There is so much more we can and should do. This is just a small portion of the responsibility that is on our shoulders.”