Charities answer call after quake in Pakistan


Faiz Rehman was writing at his computer at 3 a.m. Saturday when a message popped up. Pakistan had been devastated by a magnitude-7.6 earthquake, the worst on record ever to hit his home nation.

By daybreak, Islamic and Pakistani-American organizations in the Maryland region were planning a conference call to discuss relief efforts. By yesterday afternoon, the groups - including several from the Baltimore area - had raised $118,000.

Rehman, president of the National Council of Pakistani Americans, said he thought they would have raised more.

"But we had only known about the earthquake for a few hours," said Rehman, of Washington. "I am positive that within the next few days we will come up with more money, much more."

The earthquake in northern Pakistan is believed to have killed 20,000 to 30,000 people.

Participating in the conference call and fundraising were Baltimore's new Islamic Community Center, the Islamic Society of Baltimore, the Maryland Muslim Council, and the Baltimore County Muslim Council, along with national groups such as the Chicago-based Association of Pakistani Physicians of North America.

Donations came in pledges as small as $10 and as large $10,000, said Dr. Abdul Rashid Piracha, president-elect of the physicians association. The fund will be managed by the group, which plans to send doctors to devastated areas and to buy food, medicine and blankets.

Longer term, Piracha said, the money will be used to rebuild schools and hospitals.

"We feel so helpless sitting here, because you can only do so much," Rehman said. "Money is one factor, though, that can help the poor people very much."

Ghazal Chughtai of Baltimore's Islamic Community Center said it would postpone fundraising for the center's American Museum for Islamic Arts, enabling donors to direct their giving toward earthquake relief.

"Other things take precedence," said Chughtai, executive director of the center that opened this summer in the former Provident Savings Bank building on North Howard Street.

Last month, Baltimore's Islamic community collected money, clothes and supplies for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The physicians group set a goal of $150,000 for Katrina victims and has raised $71,000. Piracha said the group hopes to raise at least $250,000 for quake relief.

The Pakistani Embassy in Washington buzzed yesterday with employees fielding calls from Pakistani-Americans worried about loved ones back home. But information was in short supply because many phone lines in Pakistan were down.

Embassy spokeswoman Talat Waseem watched the news and wondered aloud what could be done.

She said President Pervez Musharraf is asking Pakistanis abroad to give generously to the relief effort. Donors who phone the embassy are being asked to give to the President's Relief Fund, established this weekend by the Pakistani government's initial allocation of $16.7 million.

The embassy is expediting visa requests for relief workers headed to Pakistan, Waseem said. Tomorrow, a condolence book will be set out at the embassy.

But yesterday, as the death toll mounted, Waseem stared at the television and gave voice to the world's collective shock.

"Oh, my gosh," she said, looking at the image of three small corpses amid the wreckage. `They are just kids."

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