- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 2006

NOORASERI, Pakistan — A year ago, in the chaos of a makeshift field hospital with helicopters bringing dead and injured to a soccer field, I didn’t expect to see Zeeshan Shah again.

An earthquake had devastated Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and its regional capital, Muzaffarabad, three weeks earlier, and in the small cafe-turned-field hospital, a man was holding his shirtless son whose left arm had been amputated.

A Pakistani doctor removed stale bandages from the tiny stump and dabbed iodine on the wound. The boy recoiled in pain and burrowed his face into his father’s neck.

I took pictures and asked for their names. An Associated Press colleague handed me a scrap of paper that said “father — Sabir Hussein Shah. boy — Zeeshan, age 9.”

The photo of the injured boy would reverberate around the world and bring him a measure of relief from an unexpected quarter.

On Oct. 8, 2005, Zeeshan’s father was driving a bus near their tiny village, Nooraseri, in Kashmir’s Neelum Valley. His mother and older sister were doing chores. His youngest sister was at school.

Zeeshan and his older brother had skipped class and were playing hide-and-seek at home. Zeeshan was looking for his brother from the doorway when the magnitude 7.6 quake brought the building down on them. Zeeshan’s arm was crushed under a heavy beam. His brother died.

Months later, I got a call from Sylvia Eibl, a German philanthropist who runs a charity called Children First. She had seen my photo of Zeeshan and wanted more information. I knew little.

With 100 color photocopies of the picture, Mrs. Eibl and an interpreter drove through winding mountain passes and hiked along Neelum Valley trails, handing out the pictures. A man recognized the father and led them to Nooraseri, where Mrs. Eibl found Zeeshan and his family 10 months after the quake, living in a tent on their home’s ruins.

Children First flew him and his father to Italy, where the Arte Ortopedica workshop in Bologna fitted Zeeshan with a high-tech prosthetic arm.

He landed back in Islamabad on Sept. 17, and I traveled with him to his village.

After an arduous drive back to Nooraseri, Zeeshan was welcomed by the villagers. The boy prayed at his brother’s grave. At home, he hugged his mother while his father showed his family pictures from their trip and opened a box of Italian cookies.

The next day, Mr. Shah walked the children, including a reluctant Zeeshan, to school, where curious children tried to touch the new arm. Zeeshan was still learning to use it and pick up objects with its flexible fingers.

The village held a lunch and prayer service to welcome Zeeshan home and remember those killed in the earthquake.

Later, at playtime in a meadow, Zeeshan removed his new arm and played tag with his friends, his empty shirt sleeve trailing behind him.

Associated Press photographer David Guttenfelder’s picture of the injured Zeeshan Shah won a World Press Photo award.

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