Business owners in Brooklyn's Little Pakistan neighborhood are trying to raise money for relief efforts in Pakistan, which has been devastated by massive flooding.
Business owners in Brooklyn's Little Pakistan neighborhood are trying to raise money for relief efforts in Pakistan, which has been devastated by massive flooding. Margot Adler/NPR
In the U.S., raising money for relief efforts following Pakistan's devastating floods has been slow.
In Brooklyn's Little Pakistan, which is about a dozen blocks on Coney Island Avenue, there are grocery stores, mosques, halal meat markets and record, jewelry and apparel stores. Many people there wear traditional dress.
The area became quite prosperous during the 1980s, but after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there were many arrests of undocumented people. Stores closed; people left the country.
Asghar Choudhri, who heads the Pakistan American Merchants Association, says people used to come here to buy all kinds of goods, but "then the rumors started: Don't go to Brooklyn. Don't go to Coney Island Avenue. The FBI is walking around. They were scared."
Now, the area is picking up again, but Choudhri says the response to the devastating floods in Pakistan has been slow.
"You don't see American media showing too much about the flood," he says.
In fact, he says, a Democratic Party organizer recently called asking for money for a campaign to keep control of Congress. Choudhri says he told the caller, "Do you know what is happening in Pakistan? You people should feel ashamed. You should give us money. Over there people are dying."
Choudhri also says many people are wary of Pakistan's government.
That sentiment is echoed by Taj Akbar, an accountant who is working in the offices of the Khyber Travel Agency. Akbar is from Nowshera, one of the most damaged regions. He says many of his relatives have been severely affected by the flood and were displaced. But when it comes to aid, he sees little enthusiasm.
"I believe that the people don't trust the [Pakistani] government," he says.
Instead they are giving to private organizations they do trust.
A few blocks down Coney Island Avenue is one of those organizations, the Council of Peoples Organization, which teaches English and computer classes and gives legal advice.
A handwritten sign in Urdu requesting aid was put on the door right after the floods started. Inside the door, there is a small collection of donated canned goods.
Mohammad Razvi, the group's executive director, displays fliers and banners that will go to the Ramadan dinners held by each of the five New York City borough presidents.
Ramadan is typically a time of charitable giving, but Razvi says the reason it's slower now "could be that people economically are down at this moment."
He also says that many didn't realize the scope of the disaster until about a week ago, and he partly blames the Pakistani government, which shut down two widely watched television stations for several days.
"They watch ... Geo TV and ARY," he says, "and they would see more of the hardships the people were going through. They weren't able to see that for a while — and now they are seeing it and they are like, 'Oh, my God. Oh, my God."
Mohsin Zaheer works for Sada e Pakistan, or Voice of Pakistan, one of a half-dozen Pakistani community newspapers in New York City. He tells of one merchant who put 16 charity boxes in all of his candy stores; they filled up quickly.
And grocery store owner Sajjad Butt, who sells everything from Cheerios to dates, spices, tea and ice cream, says people are raising money, including him. He says he puts $20 aside every day for the relief effort.
The fundraising efforts are a contrast to 2005, when money poured into Pakistan after the devastating earthquake.
Jehangir Khattak, communications manager for New York Community Media Alliance, a group that includes some 350 ethnic and community newspapers in New York City, covered the community's response to that event, and he says he doesn't "see any comparison, because people are not responding to the calamity the way that we saw in 2005. There is a huge trust deficit."
Khattuck says people are now launching their own efforts, "giving away money to charities or going themselves into the field, and helping those who are in need."
But that is taking time, and in Pakistan right now, time is of the essence.