Afghan Peace Volunteers
by Patrick Kennelly
2014 marks the deadliest year in Afghanistan for civilians, fighters, and foreigners. The situation has reached a new low as the myth of the Afghan state continues. Thirteen years into America’s longest war, the international community argues that Afghanistan is growing stronger, despite nearly all indicators suggesting otherwise. Most recently, the central government failed (again) to conduct fair and organized elections or demonstrate their sovereignty. Instead, John Kerry flew into the country and arranged new national leadership. The cameras rolled and a unity government was declared. Foreign leaders meeting in London decided on new aid packages and financing for the nascent ‘unity government.’ Within days, the United Nations helped broker a deal to keep foreign forces in the country, while simultaneously President Obama declared the war was ending—even as he increased the number of troops on the ground. In Afghanistan, President Ghani dissolved the cabinet and many people are speculating the 2015 parliamentary elections will be postponed.
These heavy quilts, stuffed with wool, can make the difference between life and death during Kabul’s extremely harsh winters. For the past two winters, the APVs have relied on women in their local area to manufacture thousands of duvets which are then distributed free of charge. The women are paid a living wage for their labor.
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.
—“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.
Six of the Afghan Peace Volunteers went to Delhi for an International Youth Camp on Nonviolence. They also visited and stayed at the Gandhian ashram called Ekta Parishad. Read the photo-journal here.
World Peace Gong: New Delhi
Zekerullah going to school in BamiyanZekerullah 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.
“Love will end drone attacks”
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.
Children in the Street Kids program studying Dari and math.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.