Archive | December, 2014

Pete Simms – Afghanistan – Children’s voices

1 Dec

I especially enjoy talking to children, who seem able to stay optimistic, to dream big, and have real, genuine hope for the future. 

2014 has been a critical year for Afghanistan with elections and troop withdrawal characterising a change in the direction of the country. There is now a new President, one who promises to end the corruption that permeates so much of Afghan politics, and the national military have now taken over responsibility for security from NATO. But what does this change mean for the average person and what does it mean for organisations like Children in Crisis who are trying to bring the right to education to some of the most underprivileged children in the country?

The first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history was an incredible achievement. Democracy only works if people believe in it, and during the election thousands of Afghans defied the threats of the Taliban, the distance to the voting booth, and the corruption of the political system to cast their vote and have their voice heard.

The challenges to building a stable, peaceful nation are still enormous, but people are now demanding that they be heard, that their voice be listened to. This is a significant step along the path to meeting basic human rights and of building a pluralistic society that values the role of all.

Much of the focus on the election was on the involvement of women, and for somewhere that has systematically and structurally undermined the concept of gender equality, the 38% of voters who were women should be celebrated.

At Children in Crisis we believe that everyone’s voices should be heard and that a society should listen to its most vulnerable as much as its most powerful. I spend a lot of my time talking to the people we work with, listening to their stories and to their hopes for the future. I especially enjoy talking to children, who seem able to stay optimistic, to dream big, and have real, genuine hope for the future. Adults can be cynical, sceptical of change and distrustful of those offering it, but children are not.

CBEC pupils 1

I recently spoke to a young girl called Sabera. She had moved to Kabul with her family five years earlier to escape the conflict that still continues in much of the country. Her family was extremely poor and, like most girls in Afghanistan, Sabera had never been to school before Children in Crisis opened a Community Based Education Centre (CBEC) near to her home. Her father is a day labourer and she and her brothers and sisters all work to make sure there is enough food every day.

When I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up she said she wants to be a teacher. She wants to help other children go to school. What impressed me so much about this 12 year old girl’s answer was how she immediately, unquestioningly, wanted to help others. Her hope and dream was to make sure other children receive their basic right to education.

When I asked Sabera about what she wanted for Afghanistan her answers were a mix of the deeply personal and the universal. She wanted a home of her own, an understandable dream for someone who lives in a temporary shelter and who craves a foundation, a structure to an otherwise temperamental existence. She wanted peace – more than anything she talked about security, about an end to her constant fear. She said she wanted people in Afghanistan to be friends with each other.

Afghanistan has certainly improved in the 13 years since the removal of the Taliban regime. However the decision to draw down the international military support and to reduce the humanitarian and development aid to the country is far too premature. The gains made in bringing quality education to the first ever generation of Afghan children should be celebrated, but while more than half of school-aged children are still denied access and are required to work to help feed their families there should be no thought of turning back.

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In one of our CBECs in Kabul I sat with a group of children enjoying the last few days of the autumn, the snow already visible on the line of mountains that snakes around the capital. Rafi told me he wanted to be a pilot, or a football player, and that he hoped that in the future Afghanistan would be like other countries. He listed off the names of the main international contributors – the US, Germany, the UK – these far away countries that he has heard so much about. He said he wanted the different ethnic groups to live together; a pertinent point for this divided country. Nazifa, a bright and precocious young girl who, in line with her dream of one day being a judge, said she wanted the new President to bring justice, to help poor people, and to build more hospitals.

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All of the children talked of their wish for the fighting to stop. They talked about ending the sounds of war – the bombs, the guns, the explosions. Sara wanted to be a doctor when she grows up so that she can help her community. When I asked her what she wanted most of all, what she dreamed of, she said to end the violence against girls like her and against women like her mother.

As the troops are pulled out it is more important than ever to step up our work in Afghanistan. We cannot allow the situation to slip backwards. Incredible achievements have been made; people have started to imagine a future of optimism – we have a responsibility to try and make that a reality.

Children in Crisis is delighted to announce that all funds given by the British public between the 3rd September and the 2nd December 2014 will be matched, pound for pound, by the UK government.

Your support of our work has never been more powerful or important.

 

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