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South Asia: For One Quake Survivor, Fresh Determination To Help Others

An earthquake survivor in Indian Kashmir (AFP) Prague, 22 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- It has been two weeks since a devastating earthquake hit South Asia on 8 October. There has been growing criticism of the world's response to the disaster, as tens of thousands of people in the region are still cold, hungry, and without shelter. Now, new pledges of aid are flowing in to help Pakistan, the country worst hit by the quake, cope with the disaster.

For one young Pakistani survivor, the experience has given her new determination to help others.

Fifteen-year-old Hina Gul points to what's left of her classroom in Balakot's girls' school.

"This is my seat," she says, pointing at some rubble in the destroyed school.

Hina was one of the lucky ones. When the earthquake hit two weeks ago, more than half the 700 students in the school were killed.

Hina was in her English class at the time.

"When the earthquake started she [the teacher] said, 'Please stay seated, this is better for this time,'" she says. "But when [the] walls [were] destroyed, students were crying. So I [was] also [trapped] under the walls, my brother came and helped me from under the wall and I also helped other students."

Balakot was almost completely destroyed by the earthquake.

Now those who are able are leaving the area to seek shelter from the approaching winter.

Thousands of survivors in the disaster zone are still cold, hungry, and in desperate need of medical treatment following the quake, which left at least 51,000 people dead.

The United Nations has warned that many more could die unless the world steps up its response.

And now, fresh pledges of aid are coming in.

NATO agreed on 21 October to send up to 1,000 troops to Pakistan, as well as a dozen cargo planes loaded with supplies.

"It's a first in NATO's history," says NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. "It will take -- if I consult my paper -- over 1,000 tons of relief supplies to Pakistan provided by UNHCR, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, NATO nations, and other countries as well."

There were other fresh donations, too. One hundred thirty million dollars from Saudi Arabia, and the biggest pledge yet -- $150 million -- from Turkey.

Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on 21 October became the first foreign leader to visit the disaster zone.

"We don't have to stop, we should not stop with the first initial help," says Erdogan. "We have to fulfill out duties in the medium and long term...from infrastructure to housing."

In Balakot, it is not just a question of housing.

The earthquake destroyed all schools in the town. So Hina's only option is a tent school set up in the town of Mansehra.

She says her family will move there in order to allow her finish the 10th grade.

A fter that, she wants to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor.

"I go to Mansehra and complete tent class, and after tent class complete Abbetabbad prep school," she says. "I [took the entrance exam to medical school], the test is a success and [I plan to] help poor lost people."