Here in the Pakistani city of Mardan, displaced families are starting to move home after nearly three months sweltering in the hot tents of makeshift camps.
Two days ago, I visited one spontaneous camp of 250 people — who'd fled from intense fighting between government troops and Taliban militants — living in the yard of a brick factory in a neighboring district. The owner of the factory simply opened up his gates when he saw families trudging along the road as they fled the turmoil of the Swat Valley. When electricity failed and the electrically-powered water pump wouldn't work, he opened his home so that everyone — 250 people — could have water, which is critical in the ferocious 105 degree heat.
It's hard to fully fathom the depth of generosity that so many host families have displayed, even as their guests have ended up staying for months. Nearby in the village of Lundkhwar, 170 people are camping at a girl's middle school. When I visited, most of them were returning from a wedding, having been invited by a kind member of the host community.
Mercy Corps has worked to provide additional temporary latrine and washing facilities, hand pumps and — perhaps most importantly — sheltered, shaded areas where our teams help children play in safety. In addition to the heat and discomfort of living in tents with just a few household items, perhaps the toughest daily reminder of displacement for families is the tedium that can lead to hopelessness and acting out by the kids. in the brick factory, almost 80 kids were in the two play shelters, working puzzles and looking at picture books. The families in this brick yard are from Matta, one of the toughest and hardest-hit areas in the northern part of Swat.
It has not yet been fully declared open for return, so they may have another week or two before they can begin their journey home like so many of their neighbors already have.