Today, as people around the world celebrate the 2012 International Day of Peace, ChildFund Afghanistan’s national director, Palwasha Hassan, reflects on the importance of caring for children during wartime.
War turns everyone’s life upside down, but none more so than a child’s. At ChildFund International, we strive to create environments in Afghanistan where children can learn, play and grow. We want them to have a safe, stable, normal childhood and to grow up in communities where they can become leaders of positive, enduring change that will help bring peace and security to the country.
Children in Afghanistan currently face many issues that impact their future. The mortality rates of infants, children under 5 and mothers are among the world’s highest. Stunted growth due to malnutrition affects more than half of our children. Much of the country’s population lacks access to safe drinking water, which leads to diseases that threaten public health. Child marriage and child labor are particularly prevalent. The life expectancy in Afghanistan is 48 years, compared to 78 in the U.S. Only one in five girls aged 15-24 can read and write.
ChildFund International understands the plight of Afghan children. We are working in this country to help fight these problems so that children can have a brighter future. We’ve trained parents, community leaders and government staff to recognize child protection issues; we’ve supported community-based literacy classes for children and trained their teachers. We’ve provided children with recreational areas in which to play, and we’ve developed health services that include training health workers in how to diagnose and treat illnesses. We’ve helped returnee families rebuild their lives. All told, we have assisted more than half a million children and family members with the support they need to take greater control of their lives and their future.
While many news reports focus on war, we must not forget about the children there. It is time for them to get back on their feet and move in a positive direction. It is the children who will determine Afghanistan’s future.
by Julien Anseau, Regional Communications Manager, ChildFund Asia
Afghanistan is one of the toughest places in the world to be a woman. On International Women’s Day, we talk with ChildFund’s country director, Palwasha Hassan, about the plight of women in her war-torn country and how ChildFund is helping.
Palwasha, what is the status of women in Afghanistan today?
There are many challenges to face as a woman. Every 30 minutes, an Afghan woman dies during childbirth. Life expectancy is only 45 years. Only 18 percent of girls age 15 to 24 can read and write. One in three Afghan women experience physical, psychological or sexual violence. And many women are forced into marriage.
Although there are encouraging signs of improvement such as women’s participation in activities outside the home and the number of girls enrolled in school, there’s still a long way to go. Discrimination, lack of education, domestic violence and poverty are a fact of life for many Afghan women.
What are the challenges in women’s education and getting girls to go to school?
Only 40 percent of girls attend primary school, and only 15 percent go on to attend secondary school. Traditionally, there is little awareness in Afghanistan on the importance of girls’ education. Many poor families cannot support their daughters’ education; girls are expected to stay home and help with housework rather than attend school. Schools are also often far away. Security is also an issue. It’s not safe for parents to send their children to school.
Education, however, helps women claim their rights, and it is also the single most powerful way to lift people out of poverty. ChildFund recently surveyed children in Afghanistan, and girls tell us they want to learn; they want more and better schools for all children.
Over the years, with support from UNICEF and the U.S. Department of State, ChildFund has trained teachers, provided educational materials to schools, run literacy classes, opened community libraries to promote reading and supported social mobilization efforts encouraging children to go to school. Particular focus has been on girls.
What is the situation regarding women’s rights in Afghanistan?
Although legislation has been passed, in reality, the implementation of women’s rights remains patchy. Many women in Afghanistan face physical, sexual and psychological abuse, forced marriage, trafficking, domestic violence and the denial of basic services, including education and health care.
With support from UN Women and the U.S. Department of State, ChildFund has trained parents, community leaders and government staff to recognize gender-based violence and promote women’s rights, as well as strengthen referral mechanisms so that women can seek help.
Can you tell us how else ChildFund is helping women in Afghanistan?
We educate mothers on the importance of their children’s education, health, hygiene and nutrition. We train parents, community leaders and government staff to recognize child-protection issues. We have provided livelihood training and support to women for income-generating enterprises, including carpet weaving and tailoring so that they can support their families. We also provide reintegration support to internally displaced and refugee families, including the construction of shelter and wells. All told, our programs provide thousands of women and their families with the support they need to take greater control of their lives.
Looking ahead, what are ChildFund’s priorities in Afghanistan?
ChildFund’s priorities and expertise in Afghanistan lie in early childhood development, raising literacy rates and improving child protection. In addition, we are focusing on youth vocational and leadership skills development, gender-based violence and reintegration support to internally displaced people and refugee families.
As an Afghan woman, is there anything else you want to tell ChildFund supporters about your country and the women there?
ChildFund has worked in Afghanistan since 2001, assisting more than half a million children and family members. We operate in more than 150 communities within Badakshan, Baghlan, Kunduz, Nangarhar and Takhar. Yet, the needs of the Afghan people are still great. For sustainable development to happen in Afghanistan, there needs to be a long-term global vision for the country. Then, conditions will improve for women – and everyone.
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.
Americans take their bathrooms for granted, but for 2.6 billion people worldwide, a toilet is a luxury. To raise awareness of global sanitation needs, Nov. 19 is designated World Toilet Day.
“Children often suffer the most because of limited access to clean water and poor sanitation,” said Sarah Bouchie, ChildFund’s vice president for program development. “Poor sanitary conditions lead to more disease and less food, and precious family income must be spent on purchasing water or dealing with the effects of illness.”
Responding to water and sanitation issues is a primary component of ChildFund’s work to help children around the world.
Beginning in 2008, ChildFund helped Nam Phong, a village of 3,600 in Vietnam, construct latrines and water supply systems. Community members were also taught to adopt hygienic practices, which helped clean up streams and roads in the community.
In Timor-Leste, where 70 percent of people have no access to sanitary bathrooms, ChildFund built latrines, a community bathroom and provided hygiene training to children and families. In Afghanistan, we are partnering with UNICEF to teach children about sanitation and hand washing. ChildFund Afghanistan has assisted some 6,000 former IDPs (internally displaced people), refugees and vulnerable families lacking quality housing and bathrooms. We’ve provided building materials and a small economic incentive to help families construct a two-room house and latrine.
An initiative to install latrines in elementary schools in Mexico provides students privacy and protection, increasing their likelihood of staying in school. Girls in particular are less likely to attend school if there are no bathrooms.
“Improved sanitation in schools, better access to clean water and knowledge about how to prevent waterborne disease helps ensure the health and development of the world’s children,” Bouchie said.
Celebrate World Toilet Day and help flush out poverty.
Reporting by ChildFund Afghanistan
On International Women’s Day, it’s important to remember that violence against women is an everyday reality in Afghanistan, according to Ana-Maria Locsin, national director for ChildFund Afghanistan. But it’s a reality ChildFund is seeking to change.
Since 2001, ChildFund has served the northeastern Afghan province of Badakshan, working to prevent gender-based violence and empower women to claim and exercise their rights. “ChildFund listens to women and girls about the issues and problems they face in their homes and communities,” Locsin says.
Because awareness is often the first step toward prevention, ChildFund, with funding from UN Women, provides training to community members on gender-based violence and related issues faced by women and girls. We’ve reached out to 20 communities in Shuhada, Baharak and Argo and held awareness activities with nearly 3,000 community members, most of them women, on domestic violence, women’s participation in society and child protection.
ChildFund is also raising awareness among men. Helping men understand issues around gender-based violence is an important strategy in promoting the rights of women, Locsin notes.
To better protect the rights of children, ChildFund has established 195 Child Well-Being Committees and 120 Family Support Groups in Afghanistan. These groups serve as the first line of support to children and women who are victims of violence or are at risk of abuse.
ChildFund is also building relationships with government officials, child-protection action networks, health providers and the police to help protect and promote the rights of women and children. “This is a key strategy,” Locsin says. “We need government agencies to be aware of gender-sensitive issues and be able to prevent and respond to abuses. By strengthening inter-agency collaboration and referral mechanisms, ChildFund is improving services and support for the victims of gender-based violence.”
At the same time, ChildFund is also empowering women and girls by providing vocational training in skills such as tailoring and carpet weaving, and providing support for entrepreneurs who want to start small businesses.
“My family and I were refugees in Pakistan for 16 years,” says Muzhda, a mother of five. “When we returned to Afghanistan, we lived in a relative’s house because our house was destroyed during the conflict. To survive, my husband worked as a day laborer. I then completed a ChildFund course in carpet weaving and, with the assistance of ChildFund, started my own carpet-weaving business. We were able to build a new house, and we are now able to provide for my family’s needs and children’s education, thanks to the income from my business.”
ChildFund is also providing literacy and numeracy classes to Afghan women and girls. We provide financial support for teachers and provide books, pens and notebooks to students. Through this program, many young women have learned to read and write. Formerly unemployed women are now engaged in successful business enterprises.
“Many of us want to take part in the courses.We have a thirst for learning,” says Nasreen, 24. “I have now learned how to read and write. I have learned math, too. I feel more confident that I can help my children and family.”
by Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
Children are running out of safe places to play in Afghanistan, and we’re asking ChildFund’s Facebook fans to take action.
This week we’ve launched a Facebook-exclusive Fund a Project to build a new playground in a rural Afghanistan village.
Imagine the smiles on the children’s faces when a barren field becomes a fun gathering place, complete with a slide, swing, see-saw and jungle gym. The new community playground will serve approximately 400 children from 150 families.
Whether Facebook fans have $10, $20 or $100 to contribute to the $3,571 project goal, these individual gifts become part of a unified effort to make a tangible difference in the lives of children whose lives have been upended by war.
Given the great conversations about child sponsorship happening on ChildFund’s Facebook wall every day, we’re excited to offer you an opportunity to engage more fully in ChildFund’s work globally.
In addition to the Afghanistan project, our new Facebook welcome page provides fans with an overview of the organization through FAQs and the ChildFund blog, and it opens the door to our YouTube channel and Twitter community.
Won’t you join us on Facebook and help build some fun?
The International Day of Peace, observed each year on Sept. 21, is a global call for ceasefire and non-violence.
Although war wreaks havoc on the lives of all in its path, children often suffer the most. Many lose parents and caregivers. Others lose their sense of security as critical routines such as school and playtime are disrupted.
Recently ChildFund talked with children and youth in our programs in Afghanistan about their daily lives, their fears and their dreams. Here’s what they had to say:
by Julien Anseau, Regional Communications Manager, ChildFund Asia
Tomorrow, Sept. 18, Afghanistan holds elections for its lower house of parliament. More than 2,500 candidates are vying for 249 elected seats. Security concerns are high, and many Afghans live in areas deemed too dangerous to set up polling places.
No ready solution appears in sight for a county long mired in conflict. “War turns everyone’s lives upside down, but none more so than children,” says Anna Maria Locsin, ChildFund’s national director of Afghanistan.
“We want children to have a safe, stable, normal childhood and to grow up in communities where they can become leaders of positive, enduring change that will help bring peace and security to the country,” she notes.
ChildFund has worked in Afghanistan since 2001, reaching more than 150 communities in the northeastern provinces of Badakshan, Baghlan, Kunduz and Takhar.
Consider these sobering statistics:
ChildFund is working in Afghanistan to help fight these problems so that children will have a brighter future. “Our programs prioritize the community-led provision of health, education, and livelihood opportunities while strengthening the protective environment for children,” says Locsin.
Ultimately, it is the children who will determine Afghanistan’s future.
ChildFund Asia provides this post.
ChildFund Afghanistan is seeking to expand Afghan children’s participation in programs and activities that increase their confidence and understanding of children’s rights.
ChildFund Afghanistan wants to learn from children about their daily experiences of poverty and exclusion by giving them a voice through child-focused program participation.
ChildFund will provide children with a safe environment to examine exclusion due to identity, gender and ethnicity and their understanding and experiences of poverty. Children will be able to express their views about fragile peace and tension between child rights and cultural norms.
Children can talk about violence they may experience. Or they may share about hurdles to education. They also will be able to talk about their daily living conditions, such as whether they are getting enough to eat.
Children will take the lead in developing communications materials, conducting advocacy campaigns and creating development plans for their communities, which they will actively manage and monitor.
The Encouraging Afghan’s Children’s Participation project will give children the opportunity to exercise their substantive rights as citizens. By interacting with peers, family members, community leaders and other stakeholders, children will be exposed to a process of inclusion and recognition — a process seldom upheld under current circumstances in Afghanistan.
ChildFund Afghanistan will also involve families and community leaders in this project with the goal of increasing awareness of child rights and openness to children’s participation.
In turn, children will participate in children’s forums and local child-protection governance bodies so that they are playing an active role in action planning, implementation and policy advocacy in support of children’s participation, child rights and development.
by Jim Hake
Guest blogger Jim Hake is the founder of Spirit of America and author of the recently published book, “101 Ways to Help the Cause in Afghanistan,” which features ChildFund’s work in child care education in Afghanistan.
My organization, Spirit of America, has been active in helping the Afghan people and supporting American troops since 2003. We fulfill requests from Americans serving abroad for goods that will help local people. Our work is supported by individual American contributors.
Over the years, Spirit of America has provided everything from sandals and school supplies to sewing machines, irrigation equipment and farming tools. Our work improves relations and saves lives. Through this, I’ve seen that the involvement and support of so-called “everyday people” can make an extraordinary difference in Afghanistan.
I wrote “Help the Cause” because I know many Americans want to help in Afghanistan, but either don’t know what to do or don’t think they can make a real difference.
“101 Ways to Help the Cause in Afghanistan” describes meaningful ways everyone can get involved, regardless of political views. The book shows readers how they can help the Afghan people and increase the safety, well-being and success of our troops. It profiles the work of more than 65 nonprofit organizations, including ChildFund International, whose work is making a positive impact.
“Help the Cause” is about initiative, optimism and service. I would love for every American to find an organization or project that inspires them and get involved. Imagine what we could accomplish if every person, family, or classroom decided to help the cause in Afghanistan.