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Pagosa and Pakistan, fund-raising dinner Tuesday

In the mountains of northeast Pakistan sits a community much like Pagosa Springs.

That community, the Gurais (sometimes spelled Gurez) Valley, is situated in the Pakistani state of Jammu and Kashmir, and is home to approximately 40,000 people.

The 40-mile-long Valley sits at an elevation of about 7,000 feet, with surrounding mountains at 13,000 and 14,000 feet, meaning weather there, as in Pagosa Country, becomes an issue in the winter and spring months.

However, while Wolf Creek Pass may close due to avalanches for a few hours at a time and rockslides are quickly cleared, the Gurais Valley is unreachable in winter due to heavy snows, and spring rains bring landslides that block the road into the valley.

The rural valley has no telephone, Internet or central electric system and lacks medical facilities, physicians and clinics for the residents.

For years, Pagosa Springs has been unusually connected to this valley thanks to the efforts of one couple.

Local residents David and Jean Smith began traveling to Pakistan in 1982, and years later met Mujtaba Imran, president of an aid organization, Pakistan Relief. Following the meeting, the Smiths began working with the organization to help the Gurais Valley.

In looking to assist the people of the valley, the Smiths began raising money to help the valley community obtain educational facilities, and medical knowledge and facilities, in addition to providing relationships and increasing understanding between the cultures.

In 2008, the Town of Pagosa Springs Town Council proclaimed Pagosa Springs and Gurais Valley to be sister communities.

In the last year, the effort to support Pakistani Relief and the Gurais community has gained momentum, with the creation of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Connecting Pakistani and American Communities (meaning donations to the cause are tax deductible for most people), and becoming the local Rotary International project.

Thus far, money raised in Pagosa Springs has helped create two sewing centers and two computer centers, funded first aid training for over 460 residents (at a cost of about $15,000, money raised in Pagosa), and allowed 10 women to begin midwifery training.

This year, a number of goals exist to help the residents of the Gurais Valley.

The Gurais Valley largely escaped last summer’s flooding in Pakistan, but the community did lose three micro-hydroelectric generators, which provide about 100 watts of power to homes in the area, as well as power for the two computer centers.

Replacing the hydro plants will cost about $25,000, David Smith indicated in an e-mail.

In efforts to create a mobile clinic to increase health care and replace the hydro plants in the Valley, local Rotarians have raised $16,000, which, as part of their international project, they hope to increase to $50,000 with matching funds from Rotary International, Smith said.

That money, if obtained, will go toward purchasing a four-wheel drive vehicle to be equipped as the mobile clinic. That clinic will serve the Gurais Valley in summer and other locations in Pakistan in the winter, Smith said.

Pakistani Relief will staff the clinic with volunteer doctors and physicians and will, for example, allow for cataract surgery to be completed in the field, Smith said.

Another project is in planning stages — a high school with a science curriculum for both boys and girls.

Currently, one high school in the valley serves only boys, but lacks science education.

Smith said local youth are not prepared to enter post-secondary educational programs, including health care fields.

USAID, as part of a bill for humanitarian aid to Pakistan over five years, has expressed interest in the project, which Smith hopes will include an 8,000-square-foot structure with two classrooms (one for boys, one for girls), a science laboratory and staff housing, to address a lack of qualified teachers in the Valley.

“We have a good project,” Smith said of the hopes to obtain funding from USAID.

Once funding for the school is secure, Smith said he plans to spend several months in the valley to help with construction.

A Pakistani Rotary Club has already donated $1,750 to the project.

And, as always, a goal of the Smiths, CPAC and Pakistani Relief is to increase understanding between the U.S. and Pakistan.

“We’re trying to get people in the U.S. to understand Pakistan,” Smith said. “We also want people in Pakistan to understand us.”

Smith said it’s easy for people in Pakistan to think of Americans as invaders without understanding that the real goal of U.S. foreign policy is peace.

“Interaction helps understand foreign policy,” Smith said.

Annual dinner

Now in its fourth year, a traditional Pakistani dinner (photos of which are shown to valley residents to help increase relations) is the primary fund-raiser for work in the Gurais Valley.

This year’s dinner will take place Tuesday, June 21, at the Pagosa Lodge and will feature beef karahi gosht, chicken white korma, carrot halva and more, all cooked with spices brought back from Pakistan for the purpose.

Paul and Carla Roberts will provide live music and a hand-knotted Pakistani carpet will be available for bid.

Doors for the event open at 5:30 p.m. Dinner will be served at 6 and the evening’s program will begin at 7.

Tickets are available at the Chamber of Commerce, Moonlight Books, Higher Grounds and the Pagosa Lakes Recreation Center, or by calling the Smiths at 264-6647.

To donate to CPAC, call the Smiths at 264-6647.

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