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Anne Leinonen – Kabul – Education gives a direction in life

7 Oct

Anne Leinonen is Children in Crisis’ newest recruit and will be volunteering her considerable communications and advocacy skills at our UK office for the next few months. As she was working for an organisation in Kabul, we couldn’t let Anne leave Afghanistan for Children in Crisis HQ without taking the opportunity to visit one of our Community Based Education Centres in the city. Below is her account of the visit. How wonderful to have a fresh perspective on the work of these Centres and a volunteer with such great experience of our work!

 Samir, a proud leaner, offered a friendly welcome.

“Welcome! We are happy that you are here,” a friendly voice greets me when I enter a classroom. I am immediately surrounded by shy laughter and hushed voices. The nervous giggles do not put off the friendly greeter.

“Hello. My name is Samir. How are you?” he continues in English and laughs, along with boys with whom he shares a desk at the back at the classroom.

I am visiting a Children in Crisis Community Based Education Centre (CBEC) in Kabul. Here, out-of-school children can cover an entire primary school syllabus at an accelerated pace. In Afghanistan, forty per cent of children do not go to the school.

Just 18 months ago 13-year old Samir was among the unfortunate forty per cent, as he spent his days on the streets of Kabul. One day, Children in Crisis teachers visited his parents to talk about CBEC in their neighbourhood. After the visit, Samir’s parents let him go.

The neighbourhood might be a short drive away from the city centre of the Afghan capital, but it is still far from being prosperous. Many struggle to provide for their families. Education is not a priority. It is not unusual that parents are illiterate and did not go to school either.

“I like it here. I will go to a state secondary school after this course, and I will study even after that. One day I will become a police officer and will make sure that my neighbourhood is a safe and peaceful place to live in,” Samir tells me proudly. His ethusiasm is contagious.

CiC school in Mariam's neighbourhood makes the school runs easy.

Mariam loves going to school. Having a CBEC in her neighbourhood makes the school run easy.

The school next door

Mariam, also 13, has been coming to the Community Based Education Centre for six months. The school is close to her home, so it is easy for her to come here. She loves Dari and art. At first, most of the words felt too long and a bit scary. It was pure joy and laughter when she learnt to read some of them. The importance of going to the school gets her serious.

“With education you get a direction in your life. Without education one doesn’t know even God,” she says and turns her head away shyly.

Mariam, too, hopes that she can go all the way to a state secondary school. But she does not want to talk about that. In a year or two, school might not be an option for her. In Afghanistan, the drop-out rate for school girls is unfortunately high, as the girls marry young. When they reach puberty, the parents feel staying at home is safer for the girls and their reputation. This makes the primary school education that Mariam is getting at Children in Crisis’ CBEC and the efforts of her teachers to advocate for her further education that much more important.

Open doors

In Afghanistan, the government is unable to provide schools for all. Organisations like Children in Crisis bring education to these deprived neighbourhoods. Thanks to an agreement with the Ministry of Education, the children completing primary school education are guaranteed a place in a state secondary school – girls and boys.

“We research which neighbourhoods need our support most and where people would be keen to attend the classes. Then, we meet with the community elders to discuss our project,” says Timor Shah Abid, the Country Director of Children in Crisis in Afghanistan.

Open doors policy is part of the close ties with the community. Every community member can visit the Centre to see what happens there. That also brings security. When people trust the Centre and its staff, there have not been any problems with security. The communities make even sure that the girls can walk to their lessons without being disturbed.

Currently Children in Crisis runs two Community Based Education Centres in Kabul. The demand for quality education, however, exceeds the two neighbourhoods…


Peter Simms – Afghanistan – In these rooms, women had power

27 Mar

After three years, with these five latest CBECs, Children in Crisis has been able to help women become conscious of their identity, of their society. Some will accept that world, some will contest it, and some, or the daughters of some, will slowly, gradually, change it.

This month, classes at Children in Crisis’ current five Community Based Education Centres (CBECs) project in Afghanistan, came to an end. We are now working on opening Centres within other communities that need their support.

Every community project comes to an end and interventions, however long, can never be permanent. These five latest Education Centres run by Children in Crisis have been incredibly successful, helping women and children to access basic education. 300 children, mostly girls, from some of the poorest communities in Kabul have been able to gain a full primary education despite never having previously been to school. In addition, over 1,000 women from these communities have learned to read, write, and develop other critical skills at the CBECs.

The girls and women who came to our five Education Centres will be better off, not only because they have learnt to read, but because they will be granted access to a world of opportunity and hope.

The girls and women who came to our five Education Centres will be better off, not only because they have learnt to read, but because they will be granted access to a world of opportunity and hope.

For the girls who came to these Centres they will be half as likely to marry before their 16th birthday, and far less likely to be a mother before the age of 15. The women will be twice as likely to have their own children live past the age of five, and for every year of schooling will have a 20 per cent increase in household earnings.

However, the benefits of these centres go beyond statistics. The girls and women who came to these five Education Centres will be better off, not only because they have learnt to read, but because they will be granted access to a world of opportunity and hope.

From extensive research done around the world, we know that girls who learn to read and write will be more likely to work, to support their families, and to be economically independent. But the realities of life here in Afghanistan pose an added barrier to this empowerment. The lack of access to education for girls in Afghanistan was always a symptom of broader gender inequalities and reflected deep social norms inhibiting their participation in not only schools, but also in society and communities as a whole.

Our Education Centres provided a space for women to be safe, to be collective, to have a voice – literally to speak.

Our Education Centres provided a space for women to be safe, to be collective, to have a voice – literally to speak.

Reducing education to its rate of return is simply inadequate as a measure of impact in Afghanistan. Instead we need to look closer, to look harder at what education actually means to children and women of these communities. Paolo Freire showed how education allows people to be able to read the world – to describe, and then define, their contexts – to be truly conscious.

As I spoke to women in the CBECs it was clear that, despite progress made, their world is still not one of open opportunity.  However, the Community Education Centres offered something more – ‘A place to gather’ was the most common response; ‘a chance to leave the house’; ‘to be outside’. Many said it was where they could share experiences with other women. Our Education Centres provided a space for women to be safe, to be collective, to have a voice – literally to speak. In these rooms women had power, and through shared experience they could develop resilience.

One Community Education Centre is not going to break the deep-rooted structures of gender inequality in Afghanistan, but it can begin a process and encourage dialogue where women have a space to assert themselves and develop their own identities. The skills of reading and writing can then empower that identity, allowing someone to use a telephone, read a medicine box, or help a child with their homework.

Children in Crisis' latest Education Centres have been incredibly successful, helping women and children (mainly girls) to access basic education.

Children in Crisis’ latest Education Centres have been incredibly successful, helping women and children (mainly girls) to access basic education.

Children in Crisis will be opening new CBECs in other marginalised communities over the coming year, taking a model that we know works and expanding it to reach even more women and children. We will work in areas where others don’t go, meaning the challenges will be greater and the achievements relative to just how deprived these communities are.

After three years, with these five latest CBECs, Children in Crisis has been able to help women become conscious of their identity, of their society. Some will accept that world, some will contest it, and some, or the daughters of some, will slowly, gradually, change it.

Children in Crisis has currently been able to find support for two new Community Based Education Centres. We are still seeking funding to help us open the remaining three Centres within communities whose children and women need assistance. If you, your company or Charitable Foundation think you could help, please email Peter on

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.

Group of kids - 700 pixels wide

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.

two boys - 700 pixels wide

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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Bethan Williams – Hadisa – a wonderful young lady

18 Jun

Children in Crisis is sorry to say that after years of dedicated, professional service, Bethan Williams, Programme Manager for Afghanistan, recently left Children in Crisis. As a parting gift Bethan wanted to write a blog about a cause very close to her heart…


I feel honoured to be a part of the life of such a brave father and wonderful young lady. 

6 months ago I only had 1 sister, now I seem to have 3. The first new one didn’t surprise me too much since my now husband and I had been planning our wedding for a while but the third one was a bit more of a surprise.

I gained the third sister late one Tuesday night a few months ago somewhere on the A40 in a taxi from Heathrow. Hadisa is a 16-year-old Afghan girl I originally met in Kabul in 2012. Hadisa was born with a severe facial deformity and  it’s only as a result of the dedication and care paid to her by her loving father that she’s alive today.  Children in Crisis originally met Hadisa in 1997 just after we’d opened our office in Kabul and under the Taliban regime. Hadisa’s father brought her to a hospital supported by Children in Crisis where she was seen by two surgeons from the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital. The surgeons decided that Hadisa’s case was so severe she would need to come to the UK for treatment. The medical plan was always for three operations, one to ensure the hole in Hadisa’s brain was closed to reduce the risk of her contracting meningitis, the second to further improve her medical chances and the third to give her the features of an adult face.

Hadissa with her father during their current stay in London.

Hadisa with her father during their current stay in London.

Hadisa and her father came first to the UK in 1998 and then her second trip took place in 2002 a few years before I joined Children in Crisis. I’d heard about Hadisa before I met her, Hadisa’s story is well known within the organisation, particularly how, when Hadisa and her father returned to Afghanistan her father would cycle Hadisa and her two younger brothers on his bike to attend the Children in Crisis school we were running in Kabul. When I took on the management of the Afghanistan Country Programme in 2008 it was clear that we needed to fulfil our promise to Hadisa and her father, to ensure she had her final operation.

Hadisa with her father outside the Children in Crisis office in Kabul, Afghanistan after her second operation.

Hadisa’s father cycling her to the Children in Crisis school in Kabul, after her second operation.

After a review of her situation in 2006 the surgeons advised that she would need another operation in around six years. This was fed back to Hadisa’s family by our team in Kabul. Right on time in January 2012, Hadisa’s father got on the phone to our Office Manager in Kabul and wanted to know what the plan was. When I first met them both I was confronted by a bright Afghan school girl, dedicated to her studies. In one of our meetings Hadisa passed me a note that she’d written in English with the help of her teacher ‘please, please help me. Things are very hard and people are not kind to me’. Although Hadisa has the full support of her father, other members of her family and the wider community are not so kind. In those early meetings I didn’t have much opportunity to speak with Hadisa, we mostly discussed the logistics of getting them to the UK, feeding back reports I had received from the surgeons, requesting additional health checks and finally, in October 2013, asking them to make the trip to Pakistan to secure their UK visas.

Finally after all our meetings, with the support of our team in Kabul many of whom remember Hadisa as a baby and the charity founded by the two surgeons who originally met Hadisa, Facing the World, I found myself in Heathrow Airport arrivals waiting for Hadisa and her father. We almost missed them as they confidently pushed their trolley of luggage into arrivals. After the long process of getting everyone into the taxi plus luggage and everyone’s seatbelts on, we were on the road. Hadisa claimed she didn’t remember anything about her two previous trips to London until we saw a red London bus ‘I remember that!’ she proclaimed before she turned to me and said ‘can I call you sister?’, then turned to her father and asked in Dari ‘can I call her sister’. Since that night I’ve had a third sister.

Me, with my newest sister

Me, with my newest sister

I’ve learnt how brave Hadisa is, she told me that she never cries because she wants to stay strong. It is only in our conversations here in London that I appreciate the full extent of the discrimination Hadisa has faced. From the moment she was born when the nurse called her father into the delivery room and said ‘this is your daughter, what would you like me to do with her?’ to the time her Uncle in Peshawar suggested to Hadisa’s father that if they took her to a crowded market in another part of the city they could leave her there and she wouldn’t be able to find her way home.

With the help of Afghans in London, Hadisa now has a laptop and after we managed to get them on the internet under the guise of allowing her father to watch the Afghan news it wasn’t long before she was playing me YouTube videos of ‘Afghan Star’ the equivalent of The X Factor whilst her father looked on despairingly and rolled his eyes.  It’s likely that Hadisa will have to have three procedures when she’s here in the UK, one of which she has already undergone. In her style, Hadisa wooed all the nurses who didn’t want to say goodbye to her with her thank yous for everything and her excellent English. It’s a joy to have my Afghan sister here in the UK and I’ll cherish these months and the joy she’s getting from them. I feel honoured to be a part of the life of such a brave father and wonderful young lady.



Subsequent to Bethan having written this blog Hadisa has undergone further surgery. We are pleased to announce that she is responding well to treatment. Hadisa is due to undergo her final procedure on 19th June. She and her father will return to Kabul as soon as she has recovered from her surgery.


Learn about Children in Crisis’s current work in Afghanistan here.

Support Children in Crisis’s work here.


Najib Afghan – Afghanistan – A visit to Kabul

10 Sep

“Mountains never meet but human beings do”

“Mountains never meet but human beings do” is a proverb here in Afghanistan. It means that societies only function effectively if people are willing to help each other. I always thought America as being at the other end of the world and that a son of cobbler like me would never leave the village where I grew up, let alone travel to another country. Jerome Starkey changed all that and is the director of my story. He is the Africa correspondence for The Times newspaper and we met 4 years ago in Helmand when I was only 14. Jerome witnessed a rocket explosion fired by the Taliban which killed my 11 year old brother and left me seriously injured. The Afghan doctors did what they could, but Jerome contacted Solace for the Children, a non-profit organisation which looks after injured Afghan children, and I was sent to America for further treatment. After 6 months and four surgical procedures, I was feeling much better – especially after the consultant ophthalmologist, Dr Nasrollah Samiy, removed the shard of shrapnel that had lodged behind my retina (although sadly the doctors could not restore sight to my injured eye).

CBEC children, Kabul

Smiley pupils at the Children in Crisis run community based education centre (CBEC) in Kabul which Najib visited.

On my return to Kabul, I enrolled at a high school and was looked after by Ted Achilles, the inspirational founder of the School of Leadership (Sola), and learned to read and write. In 2011 Sola was forced to stop teaching boys as there had been complaints about co-educational classes. Jerome contacted his old school, Stowe, to enquire about the possibility of a scholarship and a chance for me to study in the UK. After the ordeal of a 50 minute telephone interview with the Headmaster, Dr Anthony Wallersteiner, I was astonished to receive the news that I would be given the chance to become a Stoic. Within two weeks of the interview, I had a passport, visa, transport papers and the prospect of a new life at one of the UK’s top public schools.

At Stowe, as well as studying Biology, Maths and Chemistry (I dream of a career in Medicine), I take English as a second language classes. I have tried to get involved in all aspects of school life – taking part in house and school sports and joining the community service programme, Service at Stowe, which allows me to make regular visits to elderly people who live locally. I particularly enjoy football and athletics and specialise in the steeplechase. What makes me, perhaps, unusual is that I am asked to talk about my background more often than the average Stoic! I have told my story on the BBC World Service and have given talks about life in Afghanistan at Asia House and at Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank as part of the Alchemy Festival. During the Alchemy Festival I met Koy Thomson:  “very good speech, Najib! I am chief executive of Children in Crisis, can you please give this card to your headmaster, Anthony Wallersteiner?” He handed me his business card and talked to me as though he had known me all my life.

Children in Crisis (CiC) is a charity which was founded by Sarah, the Duchess of York, twenty years ago to give children in some of the world’s poorest countries the education they need to transform their lives and inoculate them against future poverty and resurgent conflict. I was eager to find out more about their work, particularly in my own country of Afghanistan and visited the Children in Crisis offices in South London. A month after my initial meeting with Koy, it was announced that Stowe would be adopting Children in Crisis as the school charity for the coming academic year. Fundraising was launched at a concert by legendary Old Stoic and singer-songwriter Roger Hodgson of Supertramp, to celebrate Stowe’s 90th anniversary. Before the concert, I was honoured to meet CiC’s founder and president, Sarah, the Duchess of York and her daughter, HRH Princess Eugenie, and with the CiC team we managed to raise almost £6,000 for the charity. As part of the school’s partnership with CiC I was asked to visit some of their projects in Kabul this summer when I returned home to visit my family.

Najib CiC t shirt

Najib meets CiC Founder Sarah, Duchess of York and HRH Princess Eugenie at the Roger Hodgeson concert. The man on the right is Stowe’s headmaster Dr Anthony Wallersteiner.

Kabul streets are a huge contrast to those in London. There are no rubbish bins, the roads are unlevelled with  open sewers and stagnant pools of waste water in front of many houses. 5 million children in Afghanistan are unable to attend school and will be condemned to the same poverty trap as their parents. I was very moved when I saw CiC’s educational programme working in such a poor communities.  CiC’s community based education centres (CBECs) offer mainly ‘catching classes’ for children who have missed vital stages in their primary education so that they can join state schools at the grade appropriate to their age. Some of these children have missed 3 or 4 years of education or may not yet have started school. In the UK, it might be compulsory for every family to send their children to school, but here in Afghanistan it does not always work like that and matters were not helped when the government tried to prevent overcrowding in primary schools by passing a law which forbids the enrolment of any child over the age of nine. As a result, thousands of children were unable to access an education because they were unlucky enough to be born into conflict.

CBEC 2 Kabul

A pupil leading her class at a (CBEC) in Kabul

The past 3 decades of civil war in Afghanistan have caused the country’s economy to drop dramatically. We now have a free market and there is no minimum wage for workers. Latifa, aged 11, used to make carpets and is now in her “catching class” at the CiC educational centre. This bright girl lost her father during the war when she was only 2 years old and missed two years of her primary school education when she was asked to contribute to the household income by joining her mother and sister in making carpets. She is happy to be enrolled at one of CiC’s educational centres and spoke confidently when I asked her which lesson she enjoys the most: “I enjoy all my lessons”.

The classes at CiC’s education centres provide amazing opportunities for more than 300 state school children to boost their knowledge in subjects in which they experience difficulties. Through intensive teaching and learning they can cover the complete Afghan primary school syllabus and compete for places at state secondary schools. As we came out of one catching class, we encountered a group of young children who are learning Pashto as a second language (Pashto is one of the two official languages in Afghanistan, the other being Dari). CiC is topping up their educational attainment to prevent them falling behind any further or, worse still, dropping out completely. This is particularly important for girls who have been deprived of any education because of traditional attitudes or fears for their safety. 
Lastly, CiC education centres provide extremely valuable adult literacy and vocational classes. The mother or older sister who has remained uneducated is given the opportunity to learn how to read and write for the first time. Alongside literacy classes, they can take cookery classes or learn tailoring skills so that they can open up their own businesses. You would be surprised to see how many people turn up for these classes.
Najib talks to a pupil at the centre in Kabul

Najib talks to Madina about her experience of being at the CBEC in Kabul

Madina is a mature student who walks for an hour to get to the educational centre to attend literacy classes. I asked about her background: “we lived in the country and there was no school when I was growing up and later when one was built, it was only a boys’ school.” I asked how she felt now that she can read and write: “When I could not read and write, I always felt I was missing something very important in life. It is a very hard life if you cannot dial a number in your phone or cannot read the signs or notices in shops”. Madina thanked her teachers and CiC  for opening a world of new possibilities and hope.

Unfortunately, however, the numbers of educational centres in Kabul are limited and the CiC funding is only for three years, and it has now passed the half-way stage.  Towards the end of our visit to the education centre, a group of literacy students turn up at headmistress’ office to implore us to find the funds to continue CiC’s work. There are many issues surrounding illiteracy in Afghan communities and I have been extremely fortunate to benefit from a fully-funded education in the UK. I don’t feel that I am a different person – I am still the same Najib, son of illiterate cobbler and an Afghan – but I do have choices and can access a world of knowledge that other children can only dream about.

Showing pictures from the day to children from the centre

Najib shows pupils his photos from the centre visit

Unfortunately, my homeland is still a dangerous place: returning from a family visit, I was in a minibus which was stopped by a terrorist road block on the Helmand to Kabul Highway. I was asked get out of the vehicle and a search began. As I was carrying a computer, camera and school text books in English, I feared the worst as the Taliban strongly disapprove of western education and those who collaborate with the British or Americans are condemned as Translators. Terrorists threaten all intelligent people in Afghanistan, from politicians to civilians and it is impossible to predict what might happen if you fall into their clutches. On this occasion, I was lucky as they were distracted by another car and the search was not completed. You never know what will happen tomorrow, whether you will be alive or not. I am fortunate as I have survived and all I want to do now is to raise as much money as I can to help educate the poor children in my beleaguered country and I can only do this with your help. I hope that something can be done to continue the fantastic work of Children in Crisis in Afghanistan: even if you only donate a little, it all adds up and the transformational effect can be profound. Please give generously to the Afghan education project so we can make a difference to the lives of children trapped in war.

Bethan. Kabul. Tokyo.

5 Jul

“These are Kabul’s forgotten communities and I’m proud that our staff could find them even in the midst of winter.”

Bethan Williams, Programme Manager for Afghanistan, recently returned from visiting our sister office in Kabul and the projects that are run within some of the poorest and neglected areas of the city. With the future support of Afghanistan being discussed at the Tokyo Conference on the 8th of July, Bethan reflects on the dedication and commitment of our Afghan colleagues to supporting the forgotten communities of Afghanistan.


Bethan Williams with the Children in Crisis team outside  Community Based Education Centre (CBEC) 2, Tani Kot, Kabul.

Last time I visited Afghanistan, Kabul was covered in a layer of thick snow in the midst of the coldest winter for 20 years. At that stage the education team were just starting the long process of finding accommodation for our new education centres. From the windows of the office the snow gave the city a magical feel but I was well aware of the effort being put in by the team heading out each day in the snow to canvass new areas to assess their suitability for new project, even more important than normal since these centres would be where we set up for a three-year project.


The CBEC 2 building in Tani Kot, District 7, Kabul. The buildings are basic community buildings that are often in some of the more isolated areas of the city.

When I returned to Kabul last month to review the progress so far on our new projects, Kabul had returned to its normal sweaty dustbowl situation and the magical snow remained only on the very top of the huge mountains that cradle the city and make take-offs and landings interesting. As I set-off with our Country Director and Education Manager to visit the centres. I was a bit nervous to see where they would be, over the past three years the team have shown increasing dedication in where the centres are starting close to the main roads and once their confidence in the work and the need for education in more remote communities increased, moving deeper into the communities. My main worry that since the centres were established during the snowiest time, that from sheer lack of accessibility, we’d be back by the main roads.


Some children arrive at the CBECs for accelerated learning classes not being able to read or write. In one year they will have progressed through the equivalent of 2 years of primary education.

It seems my concerns were completely unfounded, at the first centre the Country Director told me we were going to take the long way around so that I could drive the way the teachers walk each morning, 25 minutes after leaving the main road we arrived at the centre. Similarly at the second centre, we climbed up and up the side of one of the mountains and reached the centre right at the top. From up there, the teachers proudly pointed out all the houses where the children walked from. I asked them about their commute and the teachers told me, the community are happy to have us here so we’re happy to be here. Happy seems to be an understatement, even though this is part of a capital city of a country that has received huge amounts of aid, the community have never worked with an NGO before, these are Kabul’s forgotten communities and I’m proud that our staff could find them even in the midst of winter. As I squeezed myself onto the central line this morning I thought about the Children in Crisis teachers setting out on their daily commute up a mountain and once again felt grateful for the commitment and dedication of my Afghan colleagues.

You can read more about the upcoming Tokyo Conference on the 8th July on the DFID website here. We will also be following the event on twitter so please follow us @childrencrisis and #Tokyo4Afghans and re-tweet to your followers.

Kabul. A new arrival.

2 Apr
Crystal Stewart, has just recently taken on the role of Project Manager for our social worker training work in Afghanistan. Her previous role was with War Child Holland, working as a program advisor in the occupied Palestinian territories and helping children in conflict with the law.
Kabul is a beautiful, contrasting place. We asked Crystal to give us her first impressions of the city, its people and her first month in a new job.
This is what she wrote: 
Crystal, social worker advisor for Children in Crisis in Kabul, Afghanistan

Photo - Crystal Stewart in Children in Crisis Kabul office

On my flight into Kabul, squished between two very large military guys, I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous about what was to come.  Being one of the seven girls on a flight of around 150 people is a rather intimidating experience. As we approached Kabul, spectacular views of enormous snowcapped mountains lined the sky.  Leaning over the snoring military man to look out the window, I felt my heart beating a little faster.  Still to this day, I’m not sure if it was the breathtaking views or the fact that it was all becoming a reality that caused my body to react in that way.

A snowy Kabul awaited me - the roof of the office with white mountains in the distance.

For years, the Afghan children have captured my heart.  The media portrays the conflict in so many different ways but I always knew there was something more.  As soon as I arrived at the Children in Crisis office and met my new colleagues, all of my preconceived fears were tossed out the window.  They were incredibly kind, welcoming, humble, respectful and extremely dedicated to rebuilding their war-torn country.  I was immediately inspired and ready to contribute in any way possible.

Over the next couple of weeks, I visited the public orphanages, juvenile rehabilitation centres, community-based education centres, met with government leaders, other NGOs and international agencies.  I heard one heartbreaking story after the next but somehow there was always a ray of hope in every story.  I had the opportunity to meet two boys in the orphanage that, through the help of social workers, caregivers, Children in Crisis staff and other NGOs, have managed to recover from life-threatening conditions.  This showed me that, despite the incredibly challenging circumstances children face in this country, things can change.

Camera shy at Chelsetoon. A community based education centre run in a remote community on the outskirts of Kabul.

The Social Work Capacity Development Project has basically built an entire child protection system from practically nothing.  The government now has social workers, trained by Children in Crisis and able to respond to cases of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence.  It is a truly impressive accomplishment especially in one of the harshest places in the world for children to grow up.  Of course, systems take time to develop and there is still a lot of work to be done.  The team here is committed to strengthening the systems and raising awareness about child rights and child protection.

Children on a roadside in Kabul, Afghanistan

Children at a roadside in Kabul

Now the snow has lifted, the newness has worn away, the sun is coming out making even more apparent the filth, poverty, corruption and power struggles that exist in this country.  But in my opinion, one thing will never change, the cheerful spirit of the Afghan children.  Their strength and courage can never be altered no matter what happens.  I have hope that their future is slowly changing.

We’ve recently updated our website, giving more information about the social worker training project that Crystal is working on. Read more.