'Feeding people my priority now': Pakistan star Shahid Afridi fights against pandemic

Cricketer helping those in need through the Shahid Afridi Foundation and his charitable hospital

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Shahid Afridi is one of the most destructive cricketers the game has seen and easily the biggest star of contemporary cricket in Pakistan.

But there is another facet to Afridi's life which is not as glitzy but is far more valuable. Charity work has become the central theme of Afridi's endeavours over the last few years, Unsurprisingly, the Shahid Afridi Foundation – which focuses on education, health and clean drinking water – has wasted no time in taking the fight to the coronavirus pandemic that has impacted life in Pakistan adversely.

Afridi is currently in his village of Tangi Banda in Kohat, Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa. He is overseeing relief efforts at his charitable foundation and also the Sahibzada Fazal Rehman Charity Hospital, set up in the same locality in the memory of his late father.

While Europe is struggling to contain the disease and provide adequate medical assistance to those most in need, while formulating financial bailouts for institutions, the requirements in places like Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa and other underdeveloped areas of the subcontinent are extremely basic.

Afridi said his main aim now is to ensure the poor get the basic essentials needed to survive the coming days.

"For me, the most important thing is getting food to people," Afridi told The National. "When daily wage workers don't get work and there is a lockdown … ours isn't a developed country.

"I couldn’t just sit at home. If everyone just sits at home, what about those who need food? Through our food drive so far we have reached around 4,500 families in 12-13 days."

The food items being distributed include rice, flour, lentils, sugar and oil. Afridi's team has been focusing mainly on Karachi but is now moving out to the remote parts of the country.

"I too will be moving towards remote areas where people who were working in cities are stuck in their homes," Afridi said.

Healthcare is the other critical area of focus for Afridi and he has made sure that his charitable hospital is ready for any eventuality. While the Sahibzada Fazal Rehman Charity Hospital's emphasis is on mother and child care in an area where many childbirths take place at homes, preparations have been made to handle Covid-19 patients.

"Our hospital has treated more than 120,000 patients in the last year. Since this is a remote area, people come from 20 neighbouring villages to get free medical help. The hospital has OPD, emergency, and other facilities," the 40-year-old said.

"I have already made an isolation ward in my hospital. In case we get a [Covid-19] patient or if the government needs it, my hospital is ready to serve them."

Afridi said the Pakistan government should work with charitable institutions and give them clear guidelines about what needs to be done. The former captain also felt now is the time for countries and societies to show what they truly stand for.

"I feel the government should work with all NGOs [non-governmental organisations] and give them a clear plan about which villages to work at and what work to do," Afridi said.

"We should all work together as this is a problem of the world and keep politics out it. The opposition and government should work together for a common solution. It’s during such times that you know where the nation truly stands."

Unfortunately, it is not that easy to keep politics out of even a serious situation like the coronavirus pandemic.

Recently, retired India all-rounder Yuvraj Singh pledged his support to the Shahid Afridi Foundation. The two stars enjoy a good rapport, with Afridi donating to Yuvraj's charity YouWeCan last year during the Global T20 Canada league.

However, Yuvraj received backlash from Indian nationalists on social media for supporting a Pakistani endeavour.

Afridi said it was an unfortunate development and hoped people would rise above such things. He said the media must spread a positive message during such incidents.

"I was in Canada where Yuvraj was conducting his charity programme. There I donated $10,000 to his charity and people in Pakistan were every happy. I was surprised (by the negative reaction). But I have also received a lot of love and respect from India. I have maintained that I have enjoyed playing in Australia and India the most.

"The media plays a major role here. I request Indian media to take things positively."

For more details about the Shahid Afridi Foundation, click here.