Duvets are heavy blankets, stuffed with wool, which can make the difference between life and death during Kabul’s extremely harsh winters. The Afghan Peace Volunteers coordinated manufacture and distribution of three thousand duvets, at no cost to recipients, during the winter of 2013-14. Along with bringing needed warmth to destitute families, the project invited people from different walks of life to work together.
Afghan Peace Volunteers
—“I woke up with the blast of another bomb explosion this morning,” Imadullah told me. “I wonder how many people were killed.” Imadullah, an 18 year old Afghan Peace Volunteer, (APV), from Badakhshan, had joined me at the APVs’ Borderfree Community Centre of Nonviolence.
The news reported that at least three Afghan National Army soldiers were killed in the suicide bomb attack, in the area of Darulaman. Coincidentally, the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) had planned to be at the Darulaman Palace that same morning. To commemorate Gandhi’s birthday and the International Day of Nonviolence, we wanted to form a human circle of peace at the Palace, which is a war ruin.
Zekerullah tells me that the current education system in Afghanistan is not a good learning environment. His story alerts educators, officials and the international community to understand that the relatively small funds spent in badly-constructed new school buildings isn’t sufficient to provide a good education for the young Afghan population. Moreover, the predominantly militarized approach of aid and development, even in the field of education, reinforces the prevalent methods of teaching by force and punishment. Guns of armies, like rattan canes, aren’t helpful either for Zekerullah or for Afghan teachers.
I have been reflecting quite a bit about “privilege” on many levels since my arrival 12 days ago. We talk about “simple living” in the United States but even those who have chosen to live more closely to the poor typically have continual access to electricity, refrigeration, running water, laundromats and frequently washers and dryers in our own homes. Virtually all have stoves and TVs and most have some sort of transportation—cars, bicycles, or a pass on Muni or BART.
Going and coming from our communities to “the center” is a 35 minute walk through village-like streets if you take the back ways. The Borderfree Community Center, when it was first rented, needed considerable rehab and repairs. Hakim, Faiz, Zekerullah and Abdulhai worked very hard to shape it up. Now, guests enter an attractive space, neatly painted, with plenty of classroom and meeting space. Plants, curtains, photo exhibits, and choices for rugs and carpets have all been carefully chosen. Sadaf, one of the APV women who has been very active Borderfree scarf production, organized art students from local Universities to paint images on the walls of a children’s classroom as well as the reception area. Painted on a wall inside the center’s gate is a playful graffiti with lots of floating bubbles. Letters floating in some of the bubbles spell out “We love Peace,” although certain bubbles have wafted up and down, making it a challenge for linear thinkers. Another artist, a well-known cartoonist, painted an image on the outside wall of the Borderfree Community Center, (a wall that can be seen by anyone passing by), of a figure shooting a slingshot at a drone, but instead of a rock, a red heart breaks the drone in half.
The Street Kids program is wonderfully structured. All students, who register and regularly attend classes, receive a large bag of rice and a gallon of cooking oil once a month. If families agree to let their kids be part of the education program, they are given these foodstuffs so their child won’t have to spend too much time on the street shining shoes or selling trinkets. It is a very successful effort, and the kids are eager to learn.
Afghanistan is a stark example of a country that is being mis-governed by the governments of the world. Deforestation has left only 1.5% of Afghanistan’s land area under forest cover. Sixty percent of Afghan children are malnourished. In 2012, at least 2500 Afghan women committed suicide. And over the past four decades, Afghan families have lost at least 2 million loved ones to wars…
I will be sharing more of their stories in upcoming blogs, but I am profoundly moved by their efforts to build a community of nonviolence, despite all of these horrific personal tragedies. They have repeatedly told me, “Blood will not wash away blood.” I came to share my experiences of nonviolence, but they are becoming my teachers.
Kabul—Last week, here in Kabul, the Afghan Peace Volunteers welcomed activist Carmen Trotta, from New York, who has lived in close community with impoverished people in his city for the past 25 years, serving meals, sharing housing, and offering hospitality to the best of his ability. Put simply and in its own words, his community, founded by Dorothy Day, exists to practice “the works of mercy” and to “end the works of war.” We wanted to hear Carmen’s first impressions of traveling the streets of Kabul on his way from the airport to the working class neighborhood where he’ll be staying as the APVs’ welcome guest.
Kabul— On July 10, 2014, in New York State, Judge David Gideon sentenced Mary Anne Grady Flores to a year in prison and fined her $1,000 for photographing a peaceful demonstration at the U.S. Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field (near Syracuse) where weaponized Reaper drones are remotely piloted in lethal flights over Afghanistan. Dozens have been sentenced, previously, for peaceful protest there. But uniquely, the court convicted her under laws meant to punish stalkers, deciding that by taking pictures outside the heavily guarded base she violated a previous order of protection not to stalk or harass the commanding officer.