by Jacqui Ooi, ChildFund Australia
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today, we meet Ahmadullah Zahid, who was forced to flee his native Afghanistan at age 13. Now 28, Ahmadullah is working for ChildFund Afghanistan, assisting other returnee families and their children.
I was 13 when we fled to Pakistan. At this time, the security situation in Afghanistan was very bad. There was fighting everywhere. I remember when I was a kid, every night suddenly a fight would start between two commanders – very huge fighting around our houses and we were unable to sleep.
Several times at school, we were busy studying and suddenly the fighting started, and everybody started jumping from the windows and running out the doors, running toward home.
Then slowly, slowly the school was closed and there was no school to go to, and it was also difficult to work. So that’s why we decided to go to another country. At least we could study and we could live safely.
We returned to Afghanistan in 2005. I came back first to repair our house – the doors, windows, everything was broken. Of course, we were happy to return, very excited. After such a long time, we were returning to our home country and the situation was completely different. We were seeing the changes in the faces of the people – good changes, happy changes.
I first started working as a monitoring officer for a ChildFund project in my home province of Kunduz. When the project was completed, I was promoted to operations officer. Now I work at the head office in Kabul as the program support manager. I love my role because I go to the field and talk to the people who are served by ChildFund and see the happiness on their faces, and I really feel that ChildFund is doing something for them.
The situation now for children in Afghanistan depends on where they live. In some places, it’s still very hard, especially in areas where the security’s not good and the government and NGOs still don’t have access to these places. So you can imagine there’s no school for the children. Most of them are helping their fathers with the farm work. From the age of 7, they are taking their cows and goats to pasture in the morning and returning in the evening, without any break.
The children would prefer to go to school but they also feel, “If I don’t do this, who will? I have to support my father. He’s all alone feeding our family.” In Afghanistan, it is typical to have a big family – the average number of children is seven – with only the father earning income.
In other areas, where the security is good, children still support their fathers but also go to school part-time – girls included. In most areas, especially in the north where ChildFund is working, there is access to school.
I recently started working on a new project – the Resettlement Support for Afghan Returnee Families – in Nangarhar Province, bordering Pakistan. The Afghanistan government has established a special camp for these returning families. Currently, around 3,500 families are living there, but there is capacity for 10,000 families.
ChildFund is building five early child care centers, especially for 3- to 5-year-olds. These centers offer three-hour sessions twice a day, preparing the children for school. We also offer parenting sessions for approximately 1,000 mothers of 1,200 young children.
The other priority in this community is drinking water. It’s a mountainous area, so we are building seven solar-powered water systems. As a result, we’ll be able to provide water for around 1,400 families.
ChildFund has also provided resources for Afghanistan children through the Gifts of Love & Hope, including water mugs and jugs. These are especially needed so that children can carry water with them when they’re going to school. The weather is extremely hot during summer, up to 47 degrees centigrade (116 Fahrenheit). We have also distributed football equipment so children have an opportunity to play again.
In addition, we are establishing Child Well-Being Committees to provide children with training on issues such as child protection, child rights and domestic violence. Recently, we provided 750 of the most vulnerable families in the community with winterization kits, blankets and other items for the cold weather.
Overall conditions have improved for the children who returned to Afghanistan in the last few years. They tell me: “Before we returned, we were very much afraid that we wouldn’t have a place to live, that we would not have any income.” But when they returned, the government provided land. Then UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) came and built houses. And now many of these children are going to school and receiving assistance through ChildFund. A pathway has opened for them.