Saving 9, Saving Lives

Pakistan’s First and Only Women-Led & run Ambulance Service

Recently, with the onset of COVID-19, we surely have understood the importance any healthcare system holds. The past year or so has proved out to be extremely crucial in this matter. Where this whole situation revealed the stumbling blocks in healthcare facilities around the world, it also highlighted the importance of volunteers that have been bestowing the healthcare system with their undue accomplishments. Saving 9 is one such name that has given a completely new meaning to the healthcare system of Pakistan. It highlights the importance of granting first aid in case of emergency and aims toward extending this knowledge to every nook and corner of Pakistan. Though the venture goes way back to the COVID-19 fiasco, it couldn’t be more relevant to talk about it today.

Saving 9 is a remarkable initiative by Usama Javed Mirza, who realized the importance of First Aid training during his undergraduate years at Lahore University of Management Sciences. While talking to us at Pakistan Facts, Usama looked back at his time at LUMS and the events which led him to come up with such an initiative. “The story kind of goes back to when I was at LUMS for my undergrad and they had this student-run Emergency Medical Department. This department was responsible for dealing with emergencies on campus. Though I was studying Physics, I was allowed to undertake their course which offered the same kind of training which rescue 1122 staff members had. After that, I was made responsible for working with the team to deal with on-campus emergencies”, Usama said. Talking about his experience, he added, “This experience completely changed my life. It transformed me and I have never felt anything so meaningful as working with the group of people that help save people’s life.”

Maseeha Ambulance

Usama also explained that how these kinds of departments are rendered pointless, but in actual they are very important as they keep us prepared for the emergencies happening around us. “Even when we are in our homes, we don’t realize that the emergencies are taking place all the time. We simply don’t have access to that knowledge in how to tackle those emergencies. Over my two and a half years of service at LUMS, there were over 250 emergencies that I personally handled. These emergencies included everything from fractures and psychological emergencies to burns and poisoning etc. in my last year at LUMS, I became head of training of that department. There I developed a very good bond with some people that I trained which ultimately led me to launch Saving 9.”

We know that big things come to those who keep running through the endless line of struggles. In the case of Saving 9, this tends to be more true because the initial sessions of the organization took place under the roof of a house. “Initially, I started by inviting my friends and colleagues over to teach them first aid at my sister’s house”, Usama went on. This is how Saving 9 came to life and developed into a social enterprise.

In addition to providing first aid training, Saving 9 also launched ambulances to pace up the process of emergency treatment. The organization also holds a significant place in launching Pakistan’s first women-led-and-run ambulance. “This ambulance is operating in the region Pind Begwal near Bhara Kahu, the same area which is known for its conservativism and holds patriarchal norms”, told Usama. He further explained that within such rigid mindsets, Saving 9 was able to bring forth the constructive role of women by providing employment opportunities to housewives as well.  

Challenges and hindrances take an important place for any venture to come to life. Especially when the initiative involves such a noteworthy role assumed by the women, the challenges are more likely to make their place within the framework. Usama also shed light upon the challenges that Saving 9 had to face with special reference to the women-led ambulance, “The first of a few challenges that we faced was to convince people locally and highlight the importance of this initiative. We knew that just calling it the women-led ambulance would trigger people, so we had to control the narrative by shifting the whole focus on the poor conditions of women’s healthcare system in rural areas. Still, some people tried to frame this as the derivative of western culture, but it was toned down when they realized the importance of it.” He further elaborated that prior to this, women who had no access to healthcare were now getting it. In two years’ time, the ambulance has dealt with around 400 emergencies and servicing a population of 45000 people, which certainly highlights the strong impact that it held. 

When it comes to healthcare, the attention always shifts to the physical aspects of one’s health. Saving 9 takes the importance of mental health under its wings by launching Asia’s first and world’s second mental health ambulance, Maseeha. “In this fast-paced world, people are experiencing mental health disorders now more than ever. People suffer from panic attacks, have schizophrenic disorders, bipolar disorders, etc., and in case of these mental health emergencies, no one knows who to call. So, there was a need for a service that would deal with such emergencies, giving way to the mental health ambulance”, Usama explained. He further elaborated that the ambulance also deals with physical emergencies, but the staff is trained in a way to cater to psychological challenges people face. He carried on by saying that most hospitals in Islamabad don’t provide service to psychiatric patients, which he experienced through his acquaintance who suffered a major psychological breakdown.  

Source: Twitter

The subject of mental health is somehow stigmatized all over the world, making it difficult for the proper treatment to take place. Expounding upon the reasons for mental health being an ignorant subject, Usama said, “People will open up about their mental health conditions as long as they see that you are coming from an empathetic point of view and not judging them. they would feel comfortable talking to a person who would have some understanding about the issue. No doubt there is a stigma attached to mental health, but there is also a lot of space to talk about it.”

Saving 9 works in close collaboration with schools around Pakistan. Realizing the extent of corporal punishments and bullying that are undergone in the madrassah system of our country, Saving 9 provided first aid training to the teachers in these schools. “We worked with schools in Pind Begwal to create mental health awareness policies. Through this, we saw a dramatic change in terms of students’ attendance, student-teacher relationship, and students’ responsible attitude”, Usama told. Talking about the future, Usama revealed working with the United Nations Institute of Peace in creating a digital mental health awareness campaign in schools across Pakistan. “In addition to that, we plan to work with Islamabad, KPK, and Punjab governments to provide this mental health awareness training to the teachers across the hundred schools in order to develop localized mental health awareness policies”, Usama further spelled out.

As COVID-19 has created a massive dent in nearly all the industries and businesses of the world, the pandemic also took a toll on Saving 9, “Initially it was very difficult for the staff to have an access to personal protective equipment in Islamabad, but with the generous donations coming up from other cities as well, we were able to stock up on them. One of our members suffered from COVID, so we had to shut off our ambulance system for a while. Moreover, the closure of schools also resulted in a lack of physical training sessions, which was a huge challenge for us. Now we have overcome the hindrances and the system is running smoothly.”

Maseeha Ambulance is only operating in the outskirts of Islamabad, so does Saving 9 has a plan of expanding the system? “Our plan is not to duplicate the efforts that other NGOs are doing by setting up a gigantic network, but we want to innovate. Maseeha ambulance is not only an ambulance but a community transformation unit”, Usama responded. He further asserted, “Our staff is trained and can perform CPRs and other first-aid skills while taking the patient to the hospital and this is what we are trying to popularize in Pakistan. We want to send our trained staff to other cities to build the capacity of the services which they already have instead of duplicating the efforts. The vision is not to spread the ambulance system, but to spread the learnings from Maseeha Ambulance across Pakistan.”

Talking about adding the volunteers to the program, Usama stated, “The volunteers can reach out to us via our Facebook page. We love having volunteers on board and we provide first aid training to people who work with us. Additionally, we have seen a rising interest in candidates who want to work in the developmental sector, so we interview them to understand their professional developmental goals. Through these interviews, we show them how they can achieve those goals by working with the underprivileged and we create a process for them while we mentor them. In this way, we are creating social impacts while helping people to achieve their goals.” Usama further talked about the spirit of volunteering which helps one to achieve prosperity in many ways that we don’t even realize.  

While talking to Usama, we realize that Saving 9 does only deal with physical aspects of one’s health but also brings forth the importance of mental health. Where a lot of organizations only focus on money-oriented goals, Saving 9 comes with the stance of polishing the developmental outlook of its volunteers. These types of initiatives are needed in Pakistan, especially in the rural part of the country to make the residents conscious of their state.