Pakistan Earthquake's Youngest Survivors

The earthquake that rocked Pakistan on Oct. 8 killed some 17,000 children, according to officials. Ivan Watson visited with some of the young survivors who are struggling to recover from their physical injuries and emotional trauma.

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Yesterday, Muslims marked Eid al-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan. In Pakistan, authorities asked believers to keep celebrations low-key to respect the more than 73,000 people killed by last month's earthquake. Among the dead, officials say, were more than 17,000 children. NPR's Ivan Watson reports from Islamabad on some of the disaster's youngest victims.

IVAN WATSON reporting:

Volunteers organized a holiday puppet show yesterday for the earthquake survivors at the children's hospital in Rawalpindi.

(Soundbite from puppet show)

Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

WATSON: Pakistani and international donors flooded the children here with toys, sweets and money, but the colorful balloons could not hide the bandages that cover many of the children's heads, legs and amputated arms. It's so crowded here that children in body casts lie in beds in the halls of the hospital. Aid workers say children were disproportionately affected by the earthquake because the tremors hit early in the morning when the students were in school. Dr. Siere Sadiki(ph) works in the children's ward.

Dr. SIERE SADIKI: Ninety percent of the schools in our northern areas have collapsed. That is why children have sustained maximum injuries.

WATSON: Among the thousands of children crushed when schools collapsed was nine-year-old Benaris Choudry(ph) who lay in a hospital bed yesterday dressed in a black sweatshirt with bright silver zippers.

BENARIS CHOUDRY: (Foreign language spoken)

WATSON: Benaris says the earthquake knocked a huge piece of the school wall down onto his lower body followed by a shower of smaller stones.

CHOUDRY: (Through Translator) Oh, Lord, I remained buried under the wall till the next day and some people--a lot of people came the next day around midday, and they retrieved me from under the rubble.

WATSON: By the time Benaris was rescued, he had suffered severe internal injuries and much of the flesh was ripped from his abdomen, which later required a skin graft. Twenty-five of his classmates were killed as were many, many members of his immediate and extended family.

CHOUDRY: (Through Translator) My father and my mother both have died, and I am with my grandfather. I was the only son of my parents.

WATSON: Benaris' grandfather, Ismal(ph), stands at the foot of the bed in traditional dress and a black turban. He says his surviving relatives up in the cold mountains still don't have a tent to sleep in. The old man also says Benaris won't stop crying at night.

ISMAL: (Through Translator) He keeps asking about his friends, asking about whether they are alive, whether they are dead and sometimes weeps.

WATSON: Dr. Sadiki says she and her colleagues are focused on healing the children's physical injuries and haven't begun dealing with their psychological trauma.

Dr. SADIKI: It's a big problem for us because we don't know how to deal with it.

WATSON: Benaris is immobilized from the waist down and clearly depressed, and yet he brightens at the mention of his favorite sport, cricket, and suddenly sits up, energetically waving a cricket bat given by a visitor as an Eid al-Fitr present. But for every child lavished with presents and attention here at the country's best children's hospital, there are thousands more camped out in the countryside who are probably having their worst Eid al-Fitr holiday ever. Last week at a tent field hospital in the devastated northern town of Balakot, a Pakistani military doctor wiped disinfectant on 10-year-old Riswan Yusef's(ph) infected thumb.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

RISWAN YUSEF: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

WATSON: Riswan walked three hours from his village to have the gash on his thumb treated for the very first time. He is one of the only members of his family to have survived the earthquake.

YUSEF: (Through Translator) I think I lost one brother, one sister, my father and my mother, and now we are left two brothers and a sister.

WATSON: It was after sunset when Riswan left the field hospital for the long walk back to the tent where he, his uncle and his surviving siblings now live. He walked away alone into the night, holding his injured thumb up in the air.

Ivan Watson, NPR News, Islamabad.

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