Life has been anything but normal for Salman since early May. That's when the fifth grader and his family fled their home in Mingora, Pakistan, to escape the fighting between Pakistan's army and Taliban militants.
Salman was in the midst of final exams when his school was ordered closed and his neighborhood quickly evacuated. "From our village we took a minibus," explained Salman, "but when we were passing a large mountain range the bus was hit by mortar fire, and we got very scared and the driver insisted that we get out. We flagged down a truck that took us to Mardan."
When they reached Mardan, ground zero for families fleeing the violence, they set up a donated tent by the side of the road.
"I had nothing to do here," said Salman. "There is no school and we had no place to play. Beside my tent there is a dirty water canal, and me and a lot of other children play in that water, but it is not clean and very deep and one child already drowned there."
Last month, Mercy Corps began offering sports and social activities to 1,200 displaced school-age children at 20 sites, and providing them with activity kits and snacks. We're also giving coordinators at each site money to purchase additional materials, and erecting a large tent for shade.
The goal is to provide kids with positive activities during the day, and reduce the stress associated with fleeing their homes to uncomfortable and unfamiliar surroundings.
"Yesterday, when you brought tents for the school, and toys, me and all my friends were very happy," Salman told us. "And today Mercy Corps is distributing school bags, fruit juice and biscuits. Now we have a safe and good place to play, and we have lots of toys and equipment for playing football, cricket and other games. Today when I go back to my tent in camp I will tell the other children that there is a place for playing games and enjoying our time."
We're helping another 3,000 displaced children by dispensing health and nutrition advice to 500 mothers. Our health team is using local flavors and available resources to demonstrate simple and economical meal choices — such as making chapatti, porridge, pakora and halwa.
Salman is most appreciative of the chance to resume his evening games of cricket, a routine he enjoyed back home.
"I always think about when I will go back to home and see my school and play with my friends at my village grounds," he said. "When I will go back to Swat, I wish that Mercy Corps will come, too."