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SM
Shaiyanne Malik
August 13, 2011
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Wali-e-Swat’s granddaughter striving to serve underprivileged people of valley

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SM
Shaiyanne Malik
August 13, 2011

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By Farzana Ali Khan
SWAT: Committed, selfless, hard working, generous, altruistic; these and many other adjectives are insufficient to describe Zebunnisa Jilani, the Swat Relief Initiative (SRI) president who has devoted her life to the welfare of the underprivileged women and children.
Born in 1952 in Saidu Sharif, Swat district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Zebunnisa Jilani is nowadays settled in New Jersey, America. A granddaughter of Wali-e-Swat (ruler of the then Swat princely state), she grew up with her grandparents and her aunt, and she was the fifth amongst children, with no boys in the family.
Zebunnisa recounts how she became aware of the gender inequality in society. “When I was young, I was told how unhappy everyone was over my birth being a girl, and how the family rejoiced when my brother was born a year later,” she added. “There was lamentation over my birth as everyone wanted my grandfather to have a grandson after four girls,” Zebu said.
The Wali’s administration reflected the best of Pakhtun culture, Islam and modernity. “His government was a combination of progressive laws and the regional codes of conduct set by the Jirgas of the region. The balance between traditional culture, religion and modernity ensured a progressive, efficient and enlightened system,” she added.
At the age of 25, Zebunnisa Jilani got married to Arshad Jilani, the son of Major General Ghulam Jilani who was a very good friend of her grandfather. While living in the United States, Arshad Jilani got transferred to China where they lived for four years.
In China, she got her certificate in acupressure and Chinese traditional medicine. On return to the States, she enrolled at a school to get a degree in nutrition, which she completed a couple of years ago.
“Three years back, I was shocked over the destruction of property and homes in Swat due to the conflict between the Taliban and army, which led to a huge displacement to Swatis. The plight of my

people prompted me to help them and hence I decided to set up the Swat Relief Initiative to help the Swati population.”
After collecting funds from generous friends and organisations like Abbot Labs, Wyeth Labs, and National Rural Support Programme, Zebunnisa came to Pakistan in March 2009 to help the internally displaced people (IDPs).
The SRI worked tirelessly during the summer, forming two mobile health units, each comprising an ambulance with a doctor, three nurse practitioners, a nutritionist, a pharmacist, medicines and other supplies.
“Most of our staff were professionals hired from the local Swati displaced population, and were much more successful than other support programmes because we spoke the same language and knew the local culture,” she said. “We were able to treat 400 to 500 patients a day and gave them free medicines, while others, much larger organisations in the area, were seeing an average of 100 patients a day,” she added.
“Since women and children were the most vulnerable groups, our main focus was on this population. Amongst women our main target was pregnant and lactating ones, as we discovered there were almost 70,000 pregnant women among the IDPs,” Zebu said.
A regular vaccination programme for mothers and children to prevent major diseases is a big part of the STI programme now. “As I have been personally going to villages to conduct health seminars and mother-child wellness sessions, I felt anguish and sadness while witnessing the land I love destroyed,” she maintained.

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