Afghanistan has now been in war and conflict for over 40 years. Consistently being invaded by other nations, ordinary Afghan people are bearing the brunt. This winter sees Afghans facing acute malnutrition and starvation with, according to the World Food Programme, 98% not getting enough to eat. Having been a regular visitor to Afghanistan – the last visit was 2019 – not even half the horrors Afghan people are facing today are being reported in the media.
There’s been no media coverage of the forgotten 4 million internally displaced people currently living in camps across the country in some of the worst conditions in the world and in one of the poorest nations today.
It is not uncommon for internally displaced people to freeze to death in wintery sub-zero conditions as the shanty homes made out of bits of scrap canvass, corrugated iron and mud are poorly heated by stoves fueled by plastic or anything that will burn. Refugee children are normally sent out to scavenge the rubbish piles, collecting any scrap which will lend even the smallest degree of warmth.
Waif-like street kids
Being a child in Afghanistan is precarious. Afghanistan is facing its worst food crisis on record. This winter, 14 million children are expected to face potentially life-threatening levels of hunger, and rates of malnutrition are soaring. It is estimated that more than half of all children are now involved in some form of labour. Certainly, whenever I have visited Afghanistan the prevalence of street kids is unmissable.
Normally street kids are the first to greet you upon leaving Hamid Karzai airport, small waif-like figures dodging in and out of traffic; weathered faces and dirty hands, they are frantically busy cleaning car windows, selling bubblegum, shining shoes or burning a scented herb for good luck. Occasionally a moment to be a child reasserts itself… and a game of tag breaks out along a busy roadside.
Most of my visits have involved meeting and working with these children. On one occasion we trained 50 of them in conflict resolution skills. Mainly we have fundraised to support a street kids’ school that provided lessons while subsidising pupils with basic food supplies and clothing.
Secret classes for girls
Currently we have started to wire funding for clandestine girls’ schools. Last week I spoke with five of the young female teachers who are volunteering to secretly teach 150 girls. With an average age of 21, I asked one young teacher why they wanted to teach. Volunteer teacher Rabia replied: “We want to help poor girls who don’t have money to study. This winter our situation is very bad, girls can’t go to school, because of this we have come together to help.” The school is teaching mathematics, science, Dari (the most common language in Afghanistan), peace education and mental well-being.
Our charity, Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK (VCNV), is also funding winter coats and shoes for 40 Kabul street kids, organised by one of our fine Afghan youth-activist friends; a small drop in the ocean but a ripple all the same. Activities like this not only provide practical relief for the recipients, but a glimmer of hope for those trapped in a desperate situation. Staying active and involved in helping bring about positive change is the difference between mentally giving up and having a purpose to keep going; Afghanistan now has one of the highest rates of depression in the world, with 66% of the population suffering from mental health issues.
The people of Afghanistan are once more being forgotten. The US has frozen $9.5bn of Afghan international assets, resulting in even scarcer resources for an already crushingly poor country. So the need for humanitarian aid is urgent. UNICEF and the UN refugee body UNHCR are currently on the ground in Afghanistan, and our own small organisation is slowing wiring funds for girls to be educated and street kids to receive rice, oil, coats and shoes.
How to help
If you would like to support the work of Maya and her colleagues, please make your donation to: VCNV UK, The Co-operative Bank, Account: 65583025, Sort: 08 92 99 | Cheques can be sent by post to VCNV UK, 31 Carisbrooke Road, St Leonards on Sea, TN38 0JN made out to VCNV UK
The UNHCR is calling for funds to tackle a Winter Crisis in Afghanistan, where temperatures can plummet to as low as -12C. For £80 donors can fund a Tent Insulation Kit. The online appeal can be found at unrefugees.org.uk/afghanappeal | Or call 0800 029 3883
Through its Afghan Crisis Appeal, Medecins Sans Frontières is treating malnourished children, those wounded by war and vulnerable pregnant women in five locations across Afghanistan. You can donate by calling 0800 055 79 85