Reporting by Ahmadullah Zahid, ChildFund Afghanistan
After the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s, Malik Nader fled to Pakistan and lived there as a refugee for 20 years before returning to his homeland. Now 41, the father of eight lives with his family in Sheikh Mesri New Township, a refugee resettlement community near Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan. ChildFund is at work in Sheikh Mesri through its RESTART program, a collection of services designed to help meet the needs of the community’s youngest children for education, nutrition, water and sanitation. In this remote, dry landscape, water was the greatest challenge. Malik shares his story as we mark World Water Day on March 22.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, we lost everything. We had to take our last option ― migrating to Pakistan ― and it was very difficult to live with no basic services in another country. We settled in a refugee camp, where we were provided tents and some food items.
Like other Afghan refugees, I started working as a laborer to feed our family. Twenty years of my life passed without any promotion to any other work, but still we were happy that our families and children were safe.
But after a while, the Pakistani government began destroying our small mud houses and camps, and we became afraid again. Nothing in our lives was guaranteed, and we had to deal with the Pakistani police every day. Tired of this, we finally decided to return to our home country.
Arriving in Afghanistan with only a Voluntary Repatriation Form from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), we received a piece of land from the Ministry of Refugees and Repatriations. And so we began our new lives in Sheikh Mesri New Township.
At first, we lacked even the basics for life such as water, health care, food, decent roads and jobs. It was just like 20 years ago, making a start in Pakistan.
The most difficult problem was drinking water. We spent as much as five hours a day bringing water from far away to meet the needs of our children and families. Awhile after we arrived in Sheikh Mesri, the UNHCR built some wells, which helped to some degree, but they were often out of order, and water would be unavailable.
Then, last year, ChildFund built seven solar-powered water systems in Sheikh Mesri. The design is great! It’s very easy to collect water, and it’s accessible to everyone ― enough water 24 hours a day. We had dreamed of seeing water flowing in our camp, and the solar-powered water systems made our dream come true.
In fact, the UNHCR is building similar solar-powered water systems in Sheikh Mesri, which will solve 100 percent of the water needs of the Afghan returnees who are making their lives here.
Now life feels more stable, and Sheikh Mesri feels like a place where we can stay.
Were you inspired by today’s blog? Share your thoughts on the subject with your Twittter followers! This week, ChildFund is encouraging its supporters to “tweet-out” for World Water Day using the hashtag #Water4Children. Top tweeters will receive water gifts sent to a family in their honor. More details here.
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.