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Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK February 2017 Newsletter

This update includes articles by Ellis Brooks and Maya Evans who have just returned from Kabul. During their trip they worked with 100 street kids, delivered conflict resolution workshops to the Afghan Peace Volunteers, collected Vox Pops on what Afghans think about Donald Trump, spoke with Abdul Ghafoor who supports Afghan deportees and delivered all your kind donations for duvet making and the street kids school.

‘Tashakor’ from all at VCNV and the APV, hope you enjoy this extra special bumper newsletter; and if you haven’t yet loaded your image browser, you might just want to, it’s well worth it.

 

Workshops with Kabul Street Kids

Over the last 2 weeks we have been leading workshops with 100 Kabul street kids who currently attend the ‘Borderfree’ centre for weekly lessons with teenage members of the Afghan Peace Volunteers – providing grassroots opportunities for some of the 60,000 children who currently work the streets of Kabul. These street kids receive monthly sacks of rice and a tin of oil plus winter clothes and shoes, all thanks to your kind donations.
I was six when the Russians came

The story of Farzana, translated by her daughter Zarghuna and written up by Maya Evans

When I was six life was good, I didn’t know anything outside my mother and father’s world. In the village where I lived it was possible to see the mud houses from far away. The Baba Mountains stretched forever into the distance. In spring everything was lush green, the water flowed from the mountains feeding the stream in front of our house, all the time you could hear water flowing. People worked hard on the land every day in the mountains herding sheep and goats or working in the shops at the Bazaar. Women made bread in tandoors. Life in the village of Topi was hard but people were happy.

I had just started school for maybe a month when the war started. The Russians had come to Bamiyan and it was the beginning of war for Afghanistan. When the helicopters started to drop bombs on our village the people fled to the mountains to live in caves. Sometimes two families would live in a cave for two or three months. We loaded food and blankets onto a donkey and crossed the rocky mountain paths to the safety of the caves. During the day the men would go out to cut alfalfa and the women sometimes travelled back to the farms to collect vegetables. I stayed in the cave and played with my dolls and my siblings, an older sister and two big brothers.

It took a long time for the Russian war to end, maybe two or three Presidents passed. It was hard growing up under constant pressure. People were always afraid and they couldn’t travel freely. When I was twelve I got to travel with my grandmother to Kabul when it was under the control of the Russian ‘iron fist’. Although Kabul was full of Russians then, and ‘bad men’ who would beat people, Afghan women wore short skirts and sometimes didn’t wear head scarves. I remember once being on a bus and a woman admired my handmade scarf from Bamiyan. The woman stroked it and said she had never seen a scarf like mine and asked me to bring one back from Bamiyan for her.

Kabul was clean then, not like today. The rivers, which now contain more rubbish than water, were a source of life and leisure for Afghans, with people fishing on the banks and even swimming. The streets weren’t crowded and the air was clean. I remember seeing the Russian tanks leaving to fight in the Panjsheer valley. When the soldiers left they were happy but when they returned they were beaten, carrying their dead and wounded from a battle. This victory made the Tajik Commander Ahmed Sheer Mahsood’s name, forever glorified in Afghan history as ‘The Lion of the Panjsheer’.

After the war people were very poor and there wasn’t much food. Many Afghans became refugees in Iran including my two brothers. One of my brothers travelled on foot in women’s clothing to avoid being forced to become a fighter. Those still living in the village returned to work on their farms, growing potatoes and wheat, and keeping cows. My grandmother and I planned to follow my brothers but my older sister, who had recently married in Kabul, fell pregnant so my grandmother stayed to help her with the baby.

By the time that war ended I was thirteen and it was decided that I should marry. It was autumn when I married. It was an exciting day and although it wasn’t my decision, I realised I had to accept it. My husband Rahmony was around nineteen years old and was handsome and kind. We had grown up in the same village so I already knew him. Everyone knew everyone in the village as there were only around 32 families.

My mother and father-in-law brought candies to the wedding and threw them in the air like confetti. The women played the doryha drum and danced, while they sang a special coming of age song. When I went to live with her husband’s family it was very difficult as it was a big family, he had three brothers and four sisters plus grandparents. One of the brothers had already married so his wife also lived in the house. My husband was gentle and he would sweep the floor and cook. His brother would say he was not a real man but I loved him and appreciated his kindness. Unlike other husbands he never beat me.

Every day I washed the clothes, collected alfalfa off the land and milked the sheep and cows. The alfalfa naturally grew near the potatoes and wheat and we knew that the crops would grow strong if the alfalfa grew. The men were all farmers and would spend the day working on the land.

Then the fighting started again and many of the men joined the Mujahuddin, but not Rahmony, he stayed to work on the land as he didn’t like the violence.

The men would mainly fight each other in the mountains but sometimes violence came to the village. I often saw flame throwers – canisters of gas propelled through the air by a flame. The fighting was between five groups and they would fire at anyone who was walking around. The different groups were drawn up along ethnic lines and were supported by different countries. ‘Nasar’ were helped by the Americans, ‘Harakat’ and ‘Scepor’ were backed by Iran, ‘Jamyat’ were Tajik and Pashtoon and there was also ‘Shora’. They all fought in the ‘Jang-e-dohkhely’ – the ‘war inside’.

I heard from the people in my village that America was a country far away but I didn’t know where. I heard the names of other countries like Iran, Russia and Pakistan, but only when people in the village talked about where the weapons came from.

I was fifteen when my first child Khamed was born. Life was hard because of the Mujahuddin but because of my husband Rahmony I was happy. A year later my second son Lolla was born, then four years later my first daughter Zarghuna was our third blessing.

After the Mujahuddin things weren’t clear. Najibullah became President and I thought he was good for the people. I remember listening to the radio at home, being warmed by the flames of our stove. I heard Najibullah’s voice crackling through the radio, with his message urging for peace and asking the fighters in the mountains to come down, to have peace and life. But they did not listen. I didn’t understand why they continued to fight, maybe it had something to do with the business of weapons, but I don’t know.

By this point my second daughter Karima had arrived, and then my younger sons Abdul and Arif making six. Life for me was the same, I still went out to collect alfalfa for the cows, washed clothes and looked after my family. My eldest daughter Zarghuna adored her father and never liked to be separated from him. Sometimes he liked to sleep outside under the stars and although she was afraid of the worms in the ground, she would insist on sleeping next to him, lulled to sleep by the sound of the stream running past their home. Rahmony was keen for his daughters to attend school. It was he who enrolled Zarghuna at age six and it was him who often fetched her from school.

And then the Taliban came to Kabul.

I had heard from others in the village that the Taliban killed everyone, especially the Hazaras, but I did not believe these stories. Then one day men from the Mujahuddin returned to the village and said the Taliban were coming, and that even they were afraid. At first the Talibs arrived by car and then on horseback. They carried guns and long knives. I realised then that the stories I had heard were true.

There was no time, it was chaos. Rahmony and I collected up all our children, except for Khamed and Abdul who were missing. But the family had to flee for their lives – immediately. During the day we crossed mountains, and that night we saw the smoke of burning houses which the Taliban had set alight. We had nearly escaped to the safety of the mountain tops where the Taliban would not find us.

We were not the only family who were fleeing. In our group were Rahmony’s brother and his family plus two other men. We walked for nearly a day when we became aware of the voices of Talibs close by so we crouched in the shady shadows under an overhanging cliff. Everyone was frozen to their hiding space. Karima said that she was thirsty but still we didn’t move as we could sense danger was near. The women were praying that the Taliban would not see them; we needed to stay hidden for just a few more hours and then dusk would hide our escape into the mountains where we would not be found.

A man whom we didn’t know happened to wander past, he wasn’t a Talib and he did not sense the imminent danger. He could see the group sheltering under the rock and called them to come out. His voice cut the silence of the mountains.

I had dressed my young son Lolla in my own clothing so he looked like a girl, but there was no disguising Rahmony, his brother and the two other men. Zarghuna clung to her father as the Talibs ordered the men out of our hiding place. Rahmony took his scarf and wrapped it around seven year old Zarghuna, his daughter who never liked to be away from him, he told her not to be afraid and that he would always be with her.

Five minutes later we heard the sound of gunfire.

The Taliban told the women and children to return home. The shock left me unable talk and my legs stopped working. I had to go down the mountain by dragging myself along the ground. The next day we decided to try and find Rahmony but it was snowing and very cold. We searched but did not find him.

Rahmony’s Mother realised that the men had been killed so she went out to find the bodies. She discovered them not far from where we had been separated, holes were dug and they were buried at the spot that they had been killed.

Rahmony, my kind and handsome husband was gone.

Now I had to think about the lives of my six children. At first I didn’t want to tell Arif and Karima that the Taliban had killed their father, plus I still had no news about my eldest son Khamed and four year old Abdul. We asked the people returning from the mountains if they had seen them, but they had not. After twenty days the people in the village said that they must have been killed by the Taliban, but finally after forty long days a cousin came to say that they were safe and at an aunt’s house.

Life was nearly impossible without Rahmony. Two of his brothers and his father had also been killed. I asked his remaining family if I could have his share of the land, one of the brothers agreed but the other did not. But I was now the head of a family and like an Afghan man I claimed my piece of land.  Security was still bad, the threat of the Taliban still loomed heavily so we sold our remaining livestock and planned to leave. We bought two sacks of flour for bread and loaded up our donkey. I lead my young family as we travelled for weeks; sleeping on hilltops and under the stars, dodging Talibs. Abdul was still a slow walker and Arif had to be carried, but still I kept my family together and safe.

Finally we reached the outskirts of Kabul and found a kind woman who wanted to share her large house with a family which did not have any men. Her husband and father had both left for Pakistan leaving her with three children and the house to look after. The room which we were given was beautiful as the kind woman’s father was rich. Lolla, now eleven, managed to get a job in a local shop and also went to the mountains with Khamed to collect bushes to fuel the tandoor and sell to other families.

We stayed in that house for six months until relatives in Bamiyan told us it was safe to return, that the Taliban had gone. We made the long journey back to our village, though by now it was winter so the journey was extra arduous. We collected wood and bushes during the day to burn at night.

When we returned to our house we found that someone else had been there. The pictures on the wall had been burnt, a box of clothes which we left in the corner had been thrown outside, and on the floor were bullets. My grandmother told stories of becoming a cook for the Taliban. They would call her ‘mother’ and bring chicken for her to cook or flour to make bread. The Talibs who occupied the village were different from the Talibs who first came and killed and beat women for not wearing socks. These Talibs accepted my grandmother and even gave her a new scarf because the one she wore was thread bare.

When the Americans came the Taliban left in cars with camouflage netting stretched across the roofs.

I remember food parcels being dropped from the sky and one of my neighbours running out into the field, unaware of a land mine which someone had planted during one of the many wars. Then foreign soldiers came but the village people did not ask questions. It was a time of peace even though everyone was poor and many people had been killed or had left.

Things were expensive. Khamed worked on the land and Lolla sold things on the street like bubblegum, socks, matches and walnuts – a walnut in its shell was 2 Afghanis (around 2p). Karima and Zarghuna worked at home washing clothes and collecting water from the spring, they also returned to school.

After so much travel and being hungry and scared, we found hope to be alive.

This interview took place when Farzana travelled from Bamiyan to Kabul for Zarghuna’s graduation ceremony. Today the roads from Bamiyan are extremely unsafe as they’re patrolled by the Taliban, ISIS and criminals. If a bus is stopped people say they are travelling to see family or for hospital, if students or government workers are found they are likely to be executed. If foreigners are discovered they will be kidnapped or killed. A white flag on a house signals the Taliban.

Zarghuna is a member of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, she is the first person in her family to become a college graduate, the first woman in her village and one of the first APVs. She translated her mother’s story and added details from her own recollections. Farzana was extremely proud to see her daughter graduate.

This was also written the week a UNAMA report was published stated that a record number of 3,948 civilians were killed in 2016 and 7,920 injured. Since 2009, the armed conflict in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of 24,841 civilians and injured 45,347 others.

What do Afghans think about Trump?

“All white Americans were immigrants, would he have treated the founding fathers in this way?
He is also creating stresses for Muslims within America as they’re now being treated differently.
If Trump continues Obama’s policy of maintaining troops it will have a negative impact for us. If feels like American policies have been designed to control the minds of Afghans, if that continues, it won’t be good.”  
Ali, age 19
“I don’t really know that much about him except he’s a business man and he’s banning Muslims from America. I think immigration is a good thing because sometimes people need to start new lives and a diverse society means you learn a lot.”
Haddisa, age 18
“He seems to be against Muslims so I feel afraid of him. Before he was President, Afghans could study in the U.S., now I think that will change.” Mahdi, age 17
“He will not have good policies because maybe he only knows about business. I don’t think he will be good for Afghanistan if he has a bad idea about Muslims. By his behaviour he will bring segregation and this is bad for anyone who is not white.”
Farzana, age 16
“He is an angry President, I don’t think he will be good. There are many protests and still he doesn’t give up his decision about Muslims and Latinos. He is so angry about Muslims, I think he will use more drones in Afghanistan. I think he needs to not look at things like a business deal.”  Qasim, age 18

Street Kids Profiles

On average a Kabul street kid will earn less than $2 a day begging and hawking sundries, for some families it is their main source of income.

Currently there are 60,000 street kids in Kabul, that number is increasing.
The kids who attend the Borderfree street kids project are encouraged back to Government schools and also given a monthly ration of rice and oil.

20% of children at the centre are achieving a position between 1 and 5 at Government schools.

This project has been funded by your generous donations!!!

Mohammed, age 10
“I worked on the street for a year selling bubblegum but really I like to study. When I grow up I want to be a Doctor because I want to treat the illness of people”
Fatima, age 15
“I sold candy for 2 and a half years but managed to stop thanks to this school. It’s helped a lot as before I could not read, now I can. When I’m older I want to become a police woman as I want to serve my country.”
Umidullah, age 15
“I worked for 3 or 4 years on the street cleaning cars. Being part of this project has let me study and given me a chance to stop working on the streets.”
Khadija, age 13
“I used to sell Bolani on the streets for a year but I didn’t like it, I wanted to study. This school has helped me a lot as now I understand more things. In the future I want to be a Judge so I can help bring regulations to this country.”
Talfon, age 16
“I worked for 10 years washing cars and selling candy, now I work as a carpenter and am in the 12th grade. The school has helped a lot with food for my family, there are now less expenses in the family.”
Inoyat, age 11
“I’m still working on the streets doing ‘Isfundi’ (burning incense in cars), I’ve been doing that for 3 years. I’ve nearly been at this school for a year, it’s helped me with food, note books and pens, plus the teachers work hard to teach us. I want to be a Doctor as there are so many sick people and I want to help them.”
Mahdi, age 16
“I used to sell bubblegum and work as a bus conductor, now I work in a bakery. I’ve been coming to the Borderfree centre for nearly a year, the teachers are good and my family are helped by the monthly rations of rice and oil. I want to become a Doctor so I can help treat the drug addicts.”
While in Kabul we carried out a Vox Pop with the APV to find out what Afghans think about Trump and how he will impact Afghanistan…
“I’ve heard he doesn’t like Muslims or immigrants, I don’t think he will be a good President, immigrants go to the U.S. because they need to but he rejects them. We know America wants to be the most powerful country in the world, their army have been here fighting, I don’t things will improve for us if he sends more troops, most of the victims have been civilians. I’m sick of war but it will continue if more foreign soldiers are sent.” Neda, age 17
“I don’t know much about him him except he’s banned Muslims from America. We are all global citizens, and although we’re Muslims we haven’t done anything wrong, we share love and humanity, our religion is humanity.” Zahra, age 17
“I don’t see how it is possible for him to do business with countries like Saudi Arabia, but then say Muslims are banned. He could possibly be good for Afghanistan as he’s a business man and doesn’t like spending money on soldiers. But as Afghanistan is strategic in Asia, he will not want to leave” Sami, age 19
“I hate politics, I don’t want to talk about it, it’s all false. Trump is a bad person and all the world knows it.” Bismillah, age 18
Conflict Resolution Afghan Style
by Ellis Brooks

Afghan Peace Volunteers are doing something incredible. They are uniting for nonviolence in a country where the voices in power- the Taliban, their own government, the USA- tell them fighting is the answer. In a society riven by abuses of power, they make decisions together. They overcome long held mistrust to bring together young people of different ethnic backgrounds, whether to tackle poverty, educate street children, play football or a dozen other projects for equality, peace and sustainability.

But the challenges of peacebuilding are never over. Living and working together so closely, conflict is a necessary part of life for these young people. Who should join which committee? How should the ethnicities be divided between the football teams? What about when women are excluded from an activity?

The APV Conflict Resolution Team have been running workshops with their peers this week. They plan to offer a mediation service and to engage other youth in alternatives to violence.

I’m learning a lot too. Conflict is universal, but our ways of dealing with it are like the colours of the rainbow. The “Afghan” in the APV name doesn’t just tell you where they are; it signifies the rich heritage that they can draw on when dealing with conflict.

For an Afghan, you don’t enter conflict merely as an individual. Far more than in UK culture, you carry with you the responsibility to your group, be it your family, ethnic community, perhaps your gang. This loyalty is a real strength and source of resilience in a society where people have depended on one another to survive decades of war. Whether we’re talking about physical or mental suffering, poverty, or conflict, knowing you have a group who will be there for you is a source of strength.

It contrasts favourably with Western individualism at its worst, which presumes everyone will prioritise her or his own needs whatever the cost to others.

Equally, this responsibility to your group carries pressure and dilemmas. For example, perhaps you’ve had an argument you regret with someone from a different group; if you accept your wrongdoing in the conflict, you’re not just accepting it for yourself: you are bringing that guilt upon your group. Your group might not welcome that! But if the conflict escalates, your whole group lives with that danger.

And if the conflict is within your group, asserting your personal needs may look disloyal. More than that, it says to your group that it has failed to meet your needs, a source of shame. Many people’s needs are being accounted for in this equation.

In our sessions we’ve explored “conflict styles” based on how assertively and how cooperatively you behave. Afghans, perhaps in a spirit of self-preservation, say they tend towards either avoiding conflict altogether (like a turtle), or going to the other extreme and to force their point (like a shark). Entering into equitable dialogue, where both parties’ needs are heard, is a high-stakes undertaking. When you do, you are likely to involve your whole group: your whole family or community. Everyone has a stake in the conflict. Traditional Pashtun practices like the Jirga take this all-in format.

It’s like playing spindle sticks: move one part and everything shifts. It contrasts with the Western hue of conflict resolution in which individual rights and responsibilities are emphasised. You could look at the group versus the individual as two incompatible models, another clash of East and West. I prefer to see it as a healthy tension, different lenses which each shed more light on the problem. The APVs are doing just that.

While every volunteer has a unique background, this group has built its own identity as the Afghan Peace Volunteers. Their identity is rooted in striving for nonviolent solutions together. They combine their own insight and experience with practices from their own culture and around the world.

So if you want to find out about conflict resolution, Kabul is the place to be.

Duvets are endlessly brilliant…

Duvet Project 2017

*Special Thanks* to all those who donated

3,000 duvets will be given out this year, currently 1,200 have been made by 60 local poor illiterate women who are surveyed for eligibility. The women are selected from different ethnic groups, and receive a wage to make duvets; those duvets are then distributed to refugees, very poor communities and those newly deported back to Kabul. The project is run by the teenage members of the Afghan Peace Volunteers and a few of the now older (former) street kids who volunteer for various APV projects.

Ali, Co-coordinator of the duvet project: “I like to work with poor people, it makes me feel I’m doing something good. When I do the survey, I can help them, that makes me feel happy. Also I get experience of life in a harsh situation.”

Zarghuna, Co-coordinator of the duvet project: “I want to support the women to earn money for themselves; in Afghanistan it’s hard to do that so when the women get money they are proud to buy things for themselves, they believe in themselves and that they can do something. We can do one small thing but for them it’s a big thing.”

At the time duvets were being distributed (in the above photos) heavy snowfall and freezing weather had killed 27 children in a remote district of northern Afghanistan. Fifty centimetres of snow blocked roads in Darzaab in northern Jawzian Province as temperatures plunged to minus 10 degree Celsius.

Read more from the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan

Women’s Borderfree Knitting Circle
The Women’s Borderfree Knitting Circle has been started by Madam Freba. She reconises that knitting can give women a relaxing activity while providing them with an opportunity to make an income so they are not reliant on their husbands.

Madam Freba said: “I feel at my happiest when I am knitting, you can make things for your children or sell them. When guests come to my house I encourage them to knit.”

Madam Freba started knitting at age 13 when her mother taught her. At the moment their are 8 women who are part of the weekly knitting circle, she enjoys teaching the other women.

Kabul Diary
by Maya Evans
February 12, 2017
Time has zipped by, and it’s nearly time for me to step off the APV roller coaster of community dynamics, border free center issues, the threat of bombs and the daily encounters with poverty and a general poor standard of living.Highlights from this trip  include sharing a room with Zarghuna’s mother Farzana, allowing me to hear a Bamiyan woman’s life story.  She talked about spending 6 months in Kabul when she was around 12 and the Russians occupied the city with violence and torture. She recalls that women wore short skirts and no scarves. She also remembers a time when she sought shelter in Bamiyan caves to escape fighting in her village. At age 13, she married a “kind and handsome” man. They created a family through the time of the Mujahidin, and then finally fled from their village when the Taliban came. During that flight, the Taliban killed her husband. She told me that as a young woman her only awareness of other countries like America was when she heard about the weapons they were providing to various fighting groups.

They created a family through the time of the Mujahidin, and then finally fled from their village when the Taliban came. She told me that as a young woman her only awareness of other countries like America was when she heard about the weapons they were providing to various fighting groups. It was quite surreal writing up her story while she and Zarghuna watched a documentary about Michael Jackson’s early life. I had to give a brief background history on Michael Jackson and explain he was from the same area of America as Kathy!! I cannot imagine what was going through Farzana’s mind as the documentary covered a similar period to her life in the Bamiyan caves.

Tomorrow Zarghuna will graduate from University and it looks like I’ll be able to attend the ceremony – another Afghan treat! Her graduation robes are proudly hanging in our room. She’s the first person in her family and her village to graduate With Barath Khan, she is the first of the APVs to graduate. I can tell Farzana is brimming with pride for her daughter. I learnt that she was only able to attend school for a month before the Russians invaded and they fled to the caves.

Yesterday we visited Abdul Ghafoor who supports Afghans deported back to Kabul. As you can imagine he’s currently super busy with interviews and greeting deportees. His office is on the 6th floor of a dilapidated building with a spectacular view of snowy mountains and the sprawling metropolis of Kabul; from such a high vantage point the city looks exciting and relatively attractive. The UNAMA report which came out a few days ago highlighted the annual increase of casualties as the war drags on with 3,498 civilians killed and 7,920 wounded in 2016. Ghafoor explained how Afghanistan has become even more dangerous since the rise of ISIS and the increase of Taliban control in  Afghanistan. I looked out his window and imagined Kabul (a city originally inhabited by 1.5 million in 2001 but now accommodating 5 million) becoming an independent state within Afghanistan. In many ways, it’s already become that, though it’s far from being a safe oasis with daily attacks in the city, only yesterday there was an attack on the Kabul Supreme Court where 21 were killed and 41 injured. There are still many who find it impossible to scratch a living in the highly competitive city and they instead return to their incredibly unsafe villages in the provinces. Afghans continue to find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

A few days ago, we visited APVs Raz Mohammed, Khalida and their gorgeous son Osmon who was practicing his first steps. Khalida, pregnant again, looks happy and radiant. It’s heartening to see a young family finding joy and hope in such harsh conditions. Again, I reflect and think of Raz when I first met him, a meek and nervous teen with hardly any English, how he has lapped me in learning a new language and taking on big life responsibilities; my western pace is glacial compared to his.

It’s also looking like Barath Khan’s new wife Razia is also pregnant, maybe 3 months. We went to dinner at his house last week where we shared food with his Pashtun family. It was certainly a ‘border free’ gathering as it consisted of a dozen Pashtun men from Paktia (a very harsh and insecure area bordering Pakistan) and us – a group of Hazara men and women, a Singaporean, an English man and a super smiley English woman; I really cannot imagine what Barath’s family thought. Anyway, after dinner the women in our group were ushered away to meet the other women where we had a mini party in Barath Khan’s room. His new bride Razia is gorgeous, very smiley and giggly, I can imagine her and Barath are madly in love, though you wouldn’t know it, as when he entered the room she immediately adopted a coquettish persona where she turned away from him, occasionally glancing at me with a coy smile – apparently it’s a cultural thing. All the women were incredibly beautiful with their glittery clothing and plastic bling jewellry. The gathering turned into a henna party with me, Zarghuna and Farzana having decorative patterns drawn on our hands. We then got a phone call from the men saying they wanted to leave. I immediately tried to imagine the logistics of descending the mountain perch of Barath’s house,We had already struggled to climb up the steep muddy path 2 hours ago, now it had started to rain and both my hands were disabled by the wet henna designs. It was going to be like executing a ski jump in a long floor length dress with no hands…. Ali took one of my arms and Zekerullah the other, and by some miracle I made it to the bottom of the slippery muddy hill in the dark and rain, through open sewers and icy puddles, reaching the waiting taxi with freezing hands, mud encrusted shoes, but henna designs still perfect!!! Deffo one for the VCNV newsletter!!

This is my 8th trip to Kabul and still I’m learning more and more about the ‘Afghan way’ and the fierce collectivism which exists amongst Afghans, the importance of a family or tribe sticking together no matter what, walking through fire for a member of your family. Afghans automatically put ‘the group’ before themselves. I’m guessing that under such extreme insecure conditions the best chance of survival is to stay together. It’s very different to my circle of friends in the UK where it’s a given that you put yourself first, you do what’s best for yourself while (trying) to be conscious of others. This makes the APV even more interesting as they are a kind of synthesis between Afghan culture and many western conflict resolution styles. I can see how this blend has allowed the APV to become strong as they’re adopting the best of both worlds, but it also regularly creates challenges and conflict as their mindsets are constantly challenged, or at least my mindset is constantly challenged.

Added note for Henrietta who asked me about the water situation in Kabul:  Kabul water wells which were originally 26m deep but are now 50m, 7 months ago the well which provided water to the APV dried up so the landlord had to drill a deeper one. Much of the water isn’t ‘sweet’ because of the poor sewage system, 70-80% of water in Afghanistan is from snow melt which has drastically declined over the last decade (possibly global warming), and Hakim adds that a Chinese company have won a contract to extract copper from mines just outside of Kabul, when this goes ahead it will reduce water supply into Kabul by 50% – at the moment it looks like the Afghan Government has approved the contract but work has yet to start.

Zarghuna has just come back frozen to the core after 2 hours outside coordinating the duvet project. She says it’s hard as every day 10 or 12 women come and ask for duvets, and it’s extremely difficult  to say no when they are crying and desperate.

Ellis and I should be leaving in 2 days (if the airport has reopened post snow). As always, I’m sad to leave my friends, yet I know I’ll quickly adjust to my world of relatively abundant privilege.

Stop Deportation to Afghanistan
Sitting with the Afghan Peace Volunteers in the Border Free Centre in the Afghan capital, I picture a glossy advert: Kabul: central Asia’s best kept secret. 

“Will you miss out on the journey of a lifetime? Millions are flocking to take advantage of the Afghan haven. Free one way ticket on your 18thbirthday.”

by Ellis Brooks

Kabul must have quite a draw given the millions of people its way headed. The secret is of course that almost none of them are travelling by choice.

The UK government has fought hard to be able to deport failed Afghan asylum seekers, and now regularly charters flights to expedite the process. The Afghan government pleaded with the UK not to resume deportation; human rights organisations protested; the UN and World Bank said it would further destabilise the country; but the Home Office cheerfully began enforcing departures in March 2016.

Part of the basis is that, while the rest of the country is riven with increasing violence from the Taliban and Islamic State, Kabul is safe. Safe enough to deport you even if you have no family or friends here; safe enough even if you’re not from within 500 miles of the capital; safe enough even if you’ve only just turned 18 with no experience surviving in Kabul. 2,018 young people who arrived in the UK as child asylum seekers have been deported to Afghanistan since 2007.

But Kabul is safer than the rest of Afghanistan the way the frying pan is safer than the fire. Attacks and intimidation in the capital are frequent. Abdul Ghafoor, who runs Afghan Migrants Advice and Support Organisation (AMASO), told us “It’s not a suitable time to deport this number of Asylum Seekers back to Afghanistan.

“Kabul is no safe city…. They’re attacking ethnic minorities. The mosques are not the safe, the schools and educational establishments are not safe. Who are the victims? Afghan civilians.”

In this city, even day-to-day decisions like whether to attend a friend’s graduation ceremony or Friday prayers become a security question. Nationally, the war has worsened with 3,498 civilians killed in 2016 according to UNAMA.

There’s no economic security either. There’s already sky-high unemployment and more vulnerable people than can be supported. It’s not that the people in Kabul aren’t resilient; just to survive here takes more strength than I have. The Afghan Peace Volunteers themselves support hundreds of street children and poor families battling the odds.

But Kabul is a city of 1.5 million now accommodating 5 million people. Meanwhile, more than a million refugees from neighbouring countries are being sent back to Afghanistan. On top of this, in 13 camps around the city there are 1.5 million Afghan civilians displaced by violence. Amnesty International describe many thousands “in makeshift shelters, where overcrowding, poor hygiene and harsh weather conditions” lead to widespread disease. Many have died in the cold this winter. It is to this poor excuse for a haven that Europe is set to deport a further 80,000 people.

Abdul calls the deportation policy a “lose-lose situation” because European countries are spending millions to force out asylum seekers who, when confronted with the danger and vulnerability of life in Kabul, will migrate again despite the risks of making the journey.

At the knock-down rate of $4,000, you entrust your life to traffickers to get you over land and sea to get somewhere safer, even if only a little. Abdul described to us the abuse, enslavement and death such a journey risks, telling you all you need to know about how desperate you’d need to be.

In addition to the counsel and support AMASO offers, Abdul’s running a safe house for recent deportees to Kabul, but keeping up with the influx looks set to be impossible.

He’s asking European countries to re-evaluate their unreal attitude to Kabul in the light of the facts. “I went to a meeting inside the European compound and the officials were wearing body-armour,” he says. “So imagine how safe it is in Kabul.”

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*All photos have been taken by Maya & Hakim