Editor’s note: This is the final in a two-part series about a recent trip taken to Pakistan by members of the Mariposa-Yosemite Rotary Club.
Ophelia McInturff and Bill Lowe have a new perspective on one part of the world — Pakistan.
The two, along with Ophelia’s husband, Richard, went to Pakistan last month as members of the Mariposa-Yosemite Rotary Club to help provide polio vaccinations to young people. (See the first part of this series in our Nov. 22 edition.)
Fulfilling that need was rewarding for them and along the way, both also said they found some interesting insights about Pakistan and its people.
“They love Americans,” said McInturff. “They think the media has given Pakistan a bad rap.”
She said many in Pakistan believe the media has portrayed the country as a “terrorist state.”
McInturff agrees that has been the case, but said the reality is much different.
“They are peaceful, loving people,” she said. “I was so blown away.”
“I felt very safe,” said Lowe. “I was not worried. In other countries I have been to, you are eager to have to go, but not there.”
In fact, Lowe said he was sick for part of the time while in Pakistan and he wanted to thank the person who helped him get through the illness.
“I didn’t care if I missed the flight,” said Lowe. “I would just get another one.”
He didn’t miss the flight.
One issue both said was obvious is how many people in the country are poor.
Lowe said only 1 percent of the population pays taxes “because everybody is broke. There is no money for schools or money for anything.”
That’s part of the mission of Rotary International, an organization that focuses on issues like helping schools, providing immunizations, assisting hospitals, making water supplies clean and much more.
Lowe did say he thinks other countries in the world are seeing the potential in Pakistan. He said the Chinese are “building manufacturing plants” in Pakistan, and America is “missing out” on the opportunities.
Both also said security is tight in the country, mostly because of its border with Afghanistan, where America has been at war with the Taliban since 2001.
They had to go through three checkpoints in the airport and said wherever they traveled, they had armed escorts. Part of that was because they were instant celebrities in Lahore, the capital of Punjab Provence. Billboards were erected with their photos because of the work they were doing to provide immunizations.
“We had crowds around us all of the time,” said McInturff.
Rotary has many chapters in Pakistan, she said, and one thing that stood out in her mind was her fellow Rotarians from Pakistan “grabbing me and moving me” because of the crowds.
A lot of her conversation time was spent in their vehicles, where they were escorted from school to school and other venues.
“We talked a lot about bonding relationships,” said McInturff. “The number one problem there is poor people and the lack of education.”
A major goal, she said, is to “lift them up.”
Also, she said they spoke about “the women and education there. Women are being recognized. Education was one of the most important things we talked about.”
Lowe said though they are aware of the volatile political world, for the most part, they want normalcy.
“The average person is just trying to live their lives and be happy,” said Lowe. “They are very smart people.”
Lowe also pointed out that Lahore is “one of the wealthier towns” in the country. He said there is a “whole mixture” of styles, from clothing to architecture. All of the signs, he said, are in both Arabic and English.
He also managed to eat at a McDonald’s, one of the many American companies which have a presence in Pakistan.
“It was the same horrible, boring menu as here,” said Lowe. “We are ruining Pakistan.”
McInturff, on the other hand, was able to visit an upscale eatery that included coffee.
Coffee, she said, is a “big deal” because the country’s residents generally consume tea.
One evening, they were invited to a restaurant, which she called a “fine dining” establishment.
“The huge thing was the coffee shop,” said McInturff.
Both Lowe and McInturff also said the people were friendly in the most welcoming way.
“They were very friendly,” said Lowe. “I was saying hello to everyone.”
“They were nicer than any other country I have visited,” said McInturff. “People were very receptive. I expected the kids to run away from me, but they didn’t. They flocked to me. The girls all ran up to me and hugged me. There was a bond.”
Lowe said “at first” the people “looked at us and tried to figure out who we were. We showed up in SUVs and they are using oxcarts. Then they figured out who we were.”
He did say the huge poverty rate is “sad, but at the same time, they are happy. They have less but they have their families.”
“They don’t know any better because that’s what they have,” said McInturff. “If you don’t know what else is out there, you are happy with what you have.”
Lowe said one good thing is that food is “cheap and plentiful” so “they are not starving.”
But, he said, the water supply is dirty and “creates diseases. We need to clean up that water supply.”
So do they plan to go back?
“I’m planning on going back,” said Lowe. “I’m hoping other Rotarians will join us.”
McInturff, too, wants to return.
“I do foresee going back,” she said.
Both also said they found a sense of satisfaction by helping others. It also showed them what the money they give to Rotary International does for other, less fortunate people.
“It opened up my eyes and I saw the money we give being put to good use. It gives me a bigger love for Rotary International,” said McInturff.
“It’s given me another purpose to be part of the world,” said Lowe. “I think there is a selfish side, because it’s an adventure. But the other side is the humanitarian side.”
Less than a year ago, Lowe had no concept he’d even be a member of the Mariposa-Yosemite Rotary Club, let alone being traveling to Pakistan.
Lowe said he met the McInturffs when they were walking along a road by his house.
“I invited them to dinner,” he said.
They asked him to come and speak at a Rotary meeting, which he did. Later, he said they asked him to continue coming to meetings and eventually sought his membership.
“They snuck me in, kind of like a drug dealer,” quipped Lowe.
“We like to be able to show them (new members) all parts of what Rotary represents,” countered McInturff. “We wanted him to get the full branch of the group. We cuddled.”
Whatever it was, the addiction seemed to work on Lowe.
“It has changed me in what I want to do,” said Lowe. “If I can take a couple of trips a year, I have the time to be able to do this.”
He was also questioned by a friend why he was doing it and he shot back, asking his friend why he wasn’t doing something similar.
“I asked him and he said he had a family,” said Lowe. “People are too busy judging other people and then saying they are too busy. That’s not a good enough excuse for me. It makes me fulfilled to do this.”
McInturff said the trip to Pakistan gave her a new perspective, as well.
She said “for years and years” she has gone to different countries to do humanitarian work. Much of the focus for her has been in Mexico.
She called going to Pakistan “stretching myself beyond borders I have never crossed before,” adding that was “the key to opening my eyes and seeing the needs around the world. I believe every human being has an innate need for service and we need to tap into service wherever we are called. It makes me feel better but it makes me open up my eyes that there is more to be done.”
It would appear Lowe and McInturff are more focused than ever on helping their fellow human beings — and that is a good thing.