PARWARI SHGA Auni quev i s i onf ort hef ut ur eofAf g ha ni s t a n onec hi l datat i me.
Supporting these children is not only a gift to them as individuals,
it is a gift to the world's future. Against staggering odds, they have made it this far, surviving as lights of hope through the darkest of nights. It is up to us to help them continue to shine. - Jennifer A. Hartley, CharityHelp Board Member
AFCECO MISSION The aim of the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization is to bring up the next generation of Afghan citizens, so badly affected by three decades of war, and to help them grow into strong, productive, thoughtful members of society. The girls and boys in AFCECO’s parwarishga (“foster havens”) are taught tolerance, respect for diversity, environmental sensitivity, respect for the rights of others, and strong values of integrity, honesty and caring. AFCECO teaches: • Respect for the differences between human beings and an understanding that all human beings don’t have to think alike. • Freedom of thought, to avoid imposing one’s ideas on others arbitrarily. • Freedom has real meaning only with justice and democracy. • No human being is superior to any other because of gender, class, color, language, race, or religion. • Respect all religions and their followers.
• Understand that religion is a private matter that cannot be forced on anyone else and nobody should be allowed to misuse it for any end.
• A culture of peace is not possible if it does not promote conservation of the environment. • Respect for the value of life. • Encourage eagerness in understanding the ideas of others. • Promote the understanding that everyone, regardless of where they live, is part of the bigger family that we all belong to. • Respect teamwork and focus on the success of common goals. • Encourage work for world peace and make peace a priority over conflict. • Promote peace by learning other countries’ cultures.
PARWARISHGA A unique vision for the future of Afghanistan one CHILD at a time Afghan Child Education and Care Organization www.afceco.org
ThE PlIGhT OF ThE aFgHaN CHILDReN IN AFGHANISTAN TODAY:
Over 1,000,000 children suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome.
at least 8,000 â€œenemy combatantsâ€? are boys 14 or younger
Over 600,000 children sleep on the streets.
In two years the number of orphans has risen from 1 million to 1.6 million
Over 400,000 children have been maimed by land mines.
70% of school-age girls do not attend school.
35% of children have lost one of their parents
an estimated 2,300 girls and women attempted suicide by self-immolating in the past year.
hree decades of continuous conflict have struck children more than anyone else in Afghanistan. The number of orphans increases yearly, as well as the numbers of street children and child laborers and the incidence of child trafficking. These children have been subjected to extreme violence, sexual abuse, drugs, humiliation and hostility. Girls in particular bear oppression due to the persistent cloud of religious extremism. They are sold into marriage at puberty, and resort to self-immolation as a means of escape. Domestic violence is on the rise, with husbands and uncles taking turns at beating the girl if she does not cooperate. As grim as this reality is, it need not paralyze us. AFCECO is creating space for peace, nurturing, and strength. We are empowering the only resource a homeland has: its children. While the country has spiraled, the AFCECO family has thrived, and with each additional child we care for, the purveyors of hate and oppression become ever more marginalized. It is simple, it is universal, and it is catching on like fire.
as grim as this reality is, it need not paralyze us.
MESSAGE FROM THE DIRECTOR F
rom the moment I could open my eyes I saw my village turned to rubble by a Soviet airstrike. From the moment I could hear I listened to the screaming voices of helpless widows and orphaned children. I carried these tragedies as burning ashes in my heart throughout my life. One war bled into the next, and the next. As I grew older I learned that war is not the only disease affecting my ill-fated nation. A dominant medieval and decaying ideology is far more perilous than the legacy of war. Oppression blanketed my country, crushing women to the point they became less than mules, to the point they could only escape by suicide. One day, war will finally end, but this will not end the devastation. All that will be left are powerless women, boys who only know how to use a rifle, and girls whose lives are deemed useful in so much as they can be sold as child brides. These grim realities turned the ashes in my heart into fire and triggered me not to sit in a corner, but to stand up. For me there is a practical remedy for the ignorance, oppression, hatred, and poverty so deeply embedded in society: raise a new generation of boys and girls. It began with bringing twenty orphans to the school I directed. When I saw how quickly they responded, I felt hope. I thought that if we could do more than feed and house these children, if we could educate them, teach them to embrace equality, empower them with a sense of security, they might give back to their country what their country desperately needs: Afghan teachers, Afghan midwives, Afghan engineers and of course, Afghan leaders. That is the basis from which I began the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization, AFCECO. Visit one of our orphanages and you will experience an island of peace. Pashtun cares for Hazara. Tajik cares for Nuristani. Uzbek cares for Kabulese. Boys learn that the future of their country depends on walking side by side with their sisters as equals. All of them respect the gift of education; all understand the responsibility and the value of freedom. Only in this way will democracy come to Afghanistan, from within. When asked what is the best thing about the orphanage, one of our older children, Farzana, contemplated this question for some time. Then, with a smile and a light in her eyes she uttered two words, â€œWorking together?â€? Yes, Farzana, working together, because without the help of so many individuals, we would not be here. Special thanks must go to CharityHelp International, in particular its founder Paul Stevers. Through him and his organization hundreds of people sponsor our children. We thank each of the sponsors for their undying support. And above all, I wish to extend my cordial thanks to my Afghan colleagues, the widows and hard working men, and of course the children themselves who have stood beside me and never once let me down. There is a saying in my country that one flower does not make spring. Because of these people and so many more who believe as I do that the future almost entirely depends on these children, there is hope for a new beginning.
Andeisha Farid “…(is)
an extraordinary woman from afghanistan,
who has taken great risks to educate the next generation, one girl at a time.” - Barack Obama, US President
tHe aFCeCO STORY
he story of Parwarishga must begin with the modern history of Afghanistan. Nowhere, it seems has the poison of war come together with the poison of religious extremism and outdated ideology to such an extent and with such devastating effects upon children. These effects have been embedded to the point that many people claim it to be a cultural issue, that the burqa and all it represents, that the seething hatred between Pashtun and Hazara, are somehow indicative of the Afghan spirit and therefore cannot, or even should not, be tampered with. But a young Afghan woman named Andeisha Farid did not see it that way. She herself was born in war and raised in camps, but was lifted by education and perhaps more importantly a community of peers and adults striving right along beside her, challenging, reaching, never giving up hope for the dream of peace and equality and perhaps one day, a homeland. Andeisha saw the children begging for a few pennies to buy bread. In these children she saw herself. Yet here she was, a young woman in university, a woman capable of making her way in the world. If only a small number of these children could be raised as she was raised, their influence would reverberate in each family. If these children were reflective of every race, every region, every tribe of Afghanistan and they were raised together equally, their influence would settle the inflamed passions of tribalism from one corner of the country to the other. And finally, if the girls were raised as she was raised, and the boys raised as her friends had been raised, the symbol of this â€œcultureâ€?, the burqa, would become a thing of the past. It was with this belief in the power of children to change the fate of her country that in 2004 Andeisha
founded her first parwarishga. Starting with limited funds she established a safe place where children could come each day. After building a reputation she became known to CharityHelp International, which developed a child sponsorship program to finance an orphanage. In short time Andeisha was able to see her dream grow. Now AFCECO runs eleven orphanages, nine across Afghanistan and two serving refugees in Pakistan, caring for almost 700 children and employing around 50 widows and scores of university students. Beside orphanages, AFCECO has implemented other services for children such as a New Learning Center, health clinics, a Leadership Academy for its older girls, karate and soccer teams for girls and boys, bringing children to Europe and the U.S. for short-term scholarships and sending sick children to the U.S. for specialized treatment. AFCECO has blossomed into a progressive social service that is not institutional, but rather meshes with Afghan society in a partnership where all agree about the needs of the children. What it offers the world is best illustrated by a simple incident in Nuristan, an area under complete Taliban control. When four-foot eight-inch, 14-year-old Zainab arrived on a donkey to visit the village in which she was born, the elders, very aware of the AFCECO orphanage she has lived in since she was four, set her up with her own room and asked her, pleaded with her to begin immediately to teach the other children. Regardless of her notions of gender equality, her secular temperament, even at times her lowered scarf, the elders looked the other way. The fact is they perceive Zainab not as a threat, but as a tremendous asset to the village. This begs the question, what if ten Zainabs return to ten villages across all of Afghanistan. A hundred Zainabs? Or a thousand?
ChIlD SPOTlIGhT FaRZaNa F
arzana was five when Taliban forces raided Yakaolang, a district in Bamyan province that is home to the Hazara minority. It was January of 2001. The marauders of Yakaolang were following the decree of their spiritual leader, Mullah Omar, who had ordered them to “Behead all men whose age is greater than 12, let it be a warning lesson for the Sadat and Hazara survivors of the Yakaolang.” And they did with mighty cruelty, beheading over 300 men on one day, including Farzana’s father and many of her relatives. AFCECO could only take 60 children of the survivors to the orphanages in Pakistan. Farzana and her sisters were the luckiest on that golden wagon. A small kid who had been badly affected by that tragedy soon emerged as a firebrand student in Watan Orphanage, and buried all those miseries and hardships with a strong commitment to work hard for a peaceful Afghanistan. This little master of English began to translate the letters that came from sponsors to children and helped the children write back to their sponsors. When the opportunity came to send two of the children to a satellite program in Italy, for them to live with a host family and go to a world-class school, Farzana was an easy choice. She is now 16, living during her school year with her Italian mom and dad, Angela and Maurizio Iovino in Milan. She is interested in becoming a journalist. Her passion for language may one day become manifest. Already she knows four: Pashtu, Dari, English, and Italian. She returns to her beloved orphanage every summer. When she speaks of her future, it is always framed by her desire to one day help her people and her country realize the same kind of peace and equality as the orphanage has given to her. In the back of Farzana’s mind, always are the people of Yakaolang who have suffered so much. It is impossible to underestimate the impact she alone could have as a professional, worldly and respected woman, the role model she will be to scores of Afghan girls, and the desperately needed skills she could provide.
tHe NeW lEARNING CENTER
n May 12, 2011 AFCECO officially opened the New Learning Center (NLC) serving all the children of its Kabul orphanages. Our primary benefactor for the NLC is USAID in cooperation with the Asia Foundation, without whom AFCECO would still be searching for ways to provide our children with the kind of education that is central to our mission. We ascribe to the notion that to lift our country out of the decadeslong morass will require a new generation of Afghans who are empowered through a worldly education to make real and lasting change in their world. The NLC takes a gigantic step in that direction. It lays a foundation to dramatically augment the public school program. The NLC is dedicated to enrolling equal numbers of girls and boys, with the understanding that the future of Afghanistan depends upon the liberation of its girls from the chains of oppression and illiteracy. To begin, the NLC provides children in grades 6 through 12 with in-depth courses in chemistry, math, physics, biology and history that complement the public curriculum, insuring our children excel in their school standing. The NLC goes on to provide a wide variety of extracurricular programs such as fine arts including drawing, painting and wood carving, English language and humanities, and computer use including full access to high-speed Internet. Additionally the NLC is proud to house the Lorraine Music Room focused on traditional Afghan instruments as well as western orchestral instruments. One additional hallmark program the NLC hosts is the Girlsâ€™ Leadership Workshop, which fosters leadership qualities and skill in our older girls, leading to mentorship in the U.S. over winter break. Additional programs to be implemented are dance, drama and photography workshops. The NLC is housed in a three-story mansion known affectionately as The Pink house. Its many rooms have been reconditioned to include a full resource library, three computer labs, a conference room, art studio, the music room and an additional three classrooms. The basement
has been transformed into an auditorium for performances, lectures and films. The NLC is full of life six days a week starting at 8 in the morning and ending at 7 in the evening. At any given time you can enter the beautiful courtyard garden and immediately hear children practicing their scales on violin, or a chorus of children singing in Pashto a traditional song accompanied by harmonium, tabla and rubab. Pass beneath the grape arbors and beyond the rose hedges, up the marble steps and enter through the huge, ornate wooden doors. If it is on the hour you will see children moving from one classroom to another like clockwork, excited and invigorated by such a vibrant, safe, positive atmosphere of growth and enrichment. As the music room is tuning up, you may also hear down
the hall children reciting Shakespeare. You can go up the stairs and peek inside another room and see children seated at their own computer stations, learning to create a Word document, while next door seven girls and boys are studying a vase full of peaches, attempting to draw their first still-life portrait. Everywhere you will note an atmosphere of respect, from cook to librarian to instructors to receptionist to students to gardener and guard. This is the AFCECO vision realized! There is no doubt as you descend the steps of the NLC that what you carry away from your visit will revolve around a new and deep sense of hope, for the children and for the people of Afghanistan.
continued on pg. 14
SPECIAL PROGRAMS AFCECO believes that developing character and fostering leadership begins with a dynamic education. This means physical, mental and emotional development as well as practical skill building. Orphanages are equipped with a small gym, a clinic and a computer room. Volunteers are invited to facilitate extracurricular activities, tutors are hired and professionals brought in to encourage growth and worldliness. A drama group meets every week to develop acting skills, utilizing scripts in both Dari and English. Photography, fine art, and singing have all been offered to students. Gymnastics and martial arts are regular offerings, as are lessons in the use of computers and the Internet. Three programs in particular illustrate AFCECO’s commitment to educating the whole child:
Twice a year, in each half of the school session AFCECO hosts an “art party” that is open to the public and located at one of the orphanages under a tent in the courtyard. These events are organized by the children, from setting it up, decorating and providing refreshment to developing the program itself. The art party includes competitions in poetry, debate and basic knowledge. It also includes exhibitions of whatever extracurricular programs are ongoing, whether tumbling on mats, karate moves, photography slides or folk songs in English. The drama group always provides a 20-minute presentation, from Greek tragedy to avant-garde adaptations of Brecht. Always the art party is framed as a celebration of Afghanistan, of its people and history from brighter days before these past thirty years of devastation and oppression. Attan dancing, costumes, patriotic songs and reminders of Afghanistan’s struggle for independence all have a part to play. The level to which this activity reinforces the AFCECO mission cannot be stressed enough. The distance between the girl who arrived crushed by fundamentalism and the girl reciting Shakespeare in front of 200 people is almost unimaginable, and yet in short order this is achieved through the supportive and familial atmosphere of the orphanage.
Leadership Academy Thanks to a grant received through Goldman Sachs, Fortune Global Women Leaders Mentoring Award, and to this year’s sponsor the Afghan Women’s Empowerment program through the U.S. Embassy, AFCECO is offering an intensive three-month workshop in leadership to 16 of the oldest girls. They have use of a fully equipped resource room, including computers, high speed Internet, a large classroom with projector and screen and multi-media hookup. Along with instruction in history, language, the arts and leadership, special guest lecturers come to share their expertise, from social reform workers to members of parliament, and even professionals from abroad will video-conference with the students, bringing the world right into the classroom. The workshop culminates with the top three students going to America for a three-month mentorship and handson learning.
In the spring of 2010 American University of Kabul invited AFCECO to utilize its soccer field. Since then the program has blossomed into a regular AFCECO offering, including professional coaches and trainers and scrimmages with other teams. This year the girls’ team scrimmaged with the Afghan National Women’s Team. The benefit to girls cannot be underscored enough. They have two teams now, and a few of them are on track to join the national squad. For them just to run freely without a head covering, to push their bodies and do what boys do is in essence liberation at its deepest level. It is like releasing a bird into the sky. Imagine what a sports program means to girls everywhere and double its effect for the Afghan girl. Once they step onto that field AFCECO’s girls can never go back, they will never settle into the life that had been appointed them upon birth, to sit in a corner and serve a man day in and day out. Their bodies grow strong, they develop confidence of spirit, confidence from the taste of equality.
Afghan girls have no choice but to stand up on their own.
There is no way for a woman to achieve her rights but to fight for herself. In a country dominated heavily by an extreme fanatic ideology and lack of laws to protect women,
NBC’S BRIaN WILLIaMS WItH tOP StUDeNtS FROM tHe LeaDeRSHIP CLaSS IN NeW yORK.
tHe LeaDeRSHIP CLaSS WItH eX-PaRLIaMeNtaRIaN, aCtIvISt aND WRIteR, MaLaLaI JOya.
Learning leadership skills, learning about their rights and the womenâ€™s movement around the world, is as vital as water and food for them. AFCECO
In this way might they begin to flee from the chains of oppression.
â€œ In a country where girls are considered as weak, an entity that is half-man that should sit in a corner of a house, getting these girls on a soccer field is actually
A Fight AgAiNst oPPREssioN, NURtURiNg idENtity.
It builds confidence and awakens the girls to their own potential.â€?
FAMIlY SPOTlIGhT: KHaLa* PeRRI aND aLI
li and his younger brother, Ahmad, were ten and seven when their father began to show signs of dementia. Their lives had always been miserably poor. They lived in Farah Province, close to Iran and in the middle of a drug trade route. Their father took to drugs, and then to beating his wife Perri. When finally he disappeared completely, the boys and their mother found themselves in a tremendously difficult position. Khala Perri couldnâ€™t even re-marry, and had no way to take care of her boys or provide even basic needs. Ali took to working in the streets, pulling in some bread here, a few Afghanis there. Perri began to experience blackouts, and considered suicide, while Ali watched other boys go off to war with the Taliban, boys who received a tempting regular salary of a hundred dollars a month. Desperate to keep her son out of the war, Khala Perri and Ali joined the first AFCECO orphanage in Kabul. Perri and her eldest worked hard for their keep, and were integral in holding that first fledgling orphanage together. Ali, at 12, had had no schooling, but he soon proved he was a sharp young man, jumping immediately from grade one to two. Khala Perri stood her ground as head house mother of the orphanage. A year later and Ali jumped yet another class to grade nine. He attained 3rd position, and is also the star pupil in a medical training class given by a doctor in AFCECOâ€™s clinic. He volunteered to take full charge of a huge public exhibition produced by AFCECO, and has been trusted and charged with possession of the key to the clinic. Ali has also joined an intensive English class at the New Learning Center, and has begun to realize that his future is indeed bright. Ali has emerged as a positive force in his family. It is easy to imagine where he could have ended up. The Taliban almost certainly would have recruited him. Khala Perri no longer falls into her black spells, and she looks forward to the day when her sons succeed, go to university and become respected professionals.
* Khala is a term of endearment given to older women.
aLI aND aHMaD WItH tHeIR MOtHeR, KHaLa PeRRI.
The AFCECO Widow
he plight of women in Afghanistan has been internationally recognized as the worst in the world (2011 survey by Thomson Reuters Foundation). In Afghan culture today, the widow with children is even more at risk. Estimates of widows roaming the streets of Kabul hover around 10,000. A widow is an outcast; to the prevailing paternalistic Afghan society, she is considered dirty. A lucky one will marry her husband’s brother, but most are cast away. Multiplying her problems, the widow is almost always illiterate with no job skills. Often she cannot feed her children. Worse off is the woman who has fled a violent husband. Compounding her situation, it is impossible for her to wed, her children may be taken from her, and her family threatened. She may even be thrown into jail or returned to the abusive husband. AFCECO’s mission has, from the beginning, gone beyond attending to orphans. Seeking to offer the children a broad, integrated base of support, as well as to address the myriad problems exacerbating most attempts to curb the endless stream of orphans, requires our extension into Afghan society at a variety of levels, especially regarding women at risk. It is no accident the keystone of our orphanages is the widow. She is strong, courageous, eager and loving. She protects, cares for the children as her own, and runs the orphanage like a tight ship. Right now we have 30 women on staff who otherwise would be struggling to survive. In return for each woman’s services, AFCECO covers her living expenses including medical care, pays a salary, offers literacy instruction from the older children, and of course her children reap the benefit of all the programs AFCECO offers, including a dynamic education. It is not AFCECO’s wish to create dependency. With few expenses, the women save their salaries. Two of them have already made plans to purchase a small piece of land. Meanwhile they take pride in watching, due to their own efforts, their children grow up to be leaders in society. Eventually, these widows may choose to go out on their own, having acquired savings and income-generating skills of their own. This would open the door for yet more women to escape the streets and join the AFCECO family.
PaSHtaNa, ONe OF tHe OLDeR gIRLS, teaCHINg tHe WIDOWS’ LIteRaCy CLaSS
INTERVIEW WITH A SPONSOR: DOFFIE ROTTER Q: You began with sponsoring one child, then three, then ten and now you sponsor an entire orphanage in Jalalabad. What moved you so, to keep increasing your involvement with AFCECO? Working with and for AFCECO is different from any other “helping” experience I’ve had in my life. From the start and right up to the present, the personal relationships I’ve enjoyed with these children have brought me joy and a sense of certainty that I can truly make a difference in their lives. Sharing letters and photos brings us closer and closer; I can see them learn, grow, and change over time and they so enjoy my sharing my life and family with them. They are “my children” and I am “their Doffie.” How could I not want to do everything I can to help them live healthy and productive lives in a war-torn country that will need their skills and courage for years to come?
Q: What are some of the struggles you have faced as a sponsor?
The hardest — no, the cruelest — part of being a sponsor has been “losing” some of my sponsored children. Some have been forced to return to their families to help relatives who were ill or disabled. Some have simply disappeared, and my very realistic fear is that the girls have been sold into marriage because their families need the money to survive. I think about these lost children often. One such story has a happy ending. Afsana, the first child I sponsored, was in an orphanage in Pakistan. She and her family returned to Afghanistan, to Farah, the heart of Taliban country. The school Afsana attended was closed and, for a while, the whole family disappeared. I feared the worst, but Jamshid tracked them down near Herat and Afsana and I, once again, exchanged letters.
Q: Tell us about one of your children, and about your relationship. Maria is a very special person in my life. Now a young woman, I have seen her grow perhaps more than any of the children I love. What defines Maria is heart, determination, and ambition. When we first met, she knew very little English. But, even then, her letters showed her drive and curiosity. These days, we write long, juicy letters, telling each other what we are doing and thinking. Recently Maria’s mother came to the orphanage and tried to persuade her to come home, get married, and give up all this crazy education stuff. Maria absolutely refused! There is something strong and determined inside this sweet and loving girl, and that makes her very special.
lives in South Florida. She sponsored her first three children seven years ago. Every ensuing year she has given freely of her time and resources, sponsoring more children and culminating with the sponsorship of an entire orphanage, Hariwa in Herat. She was also founding sponsor of Sitara Orphanage in Kabul and has been instrumental in organizing speaking opportunities for Andeisha Farid and spreading the word about AFCECO.
a retired professor of psychology at the University of Connecticut, is considered â€œMomâ€? of AFCECO. She has been around from the beginning, sponsoring one, then 12 children, and now Spogmay Orphanage in Jalalabad. The library in Mehan Orphanage is dedicated to her efforts, as is the health of the children who received their immunizations, or even their warmth in winter when firewood was needed.
is Australian born and lives in New Orleans. A champion of humanitarian efforts, she has added AFCECO to her devotions. Aside from sponsoring four children, Rose has been the go-to person every time AFCECO needs items for essential projects, whether it be a digital camera, sound system, musical instrument; anything and everything in a pinch, Rose is there.
sPECIAL PROGRAMS FUNCTIONS Children are encouraged to organize and hold functions on different occasions such as mother’s day, teacher’s day and Independence Day. The children organize everything themselves for these functions. They produce dramas, speeches, quizzes, singing and dancing competitions and much more. Apart from fun and entertainment, such functions are good opportunities for the children to build up their capacities, talents and organizational skills.
A nation that has only witnessed ruined architecture, the abolition of music, the obliteration of culture altogether, for boys used to rummaging through a dusty street and girls who have known what it means to be encaged in a house, going abroad is like a visit to a new world beyond their imagination. This not only gives them joy and relief from painful realities but also an opportunity to learn a host of good things that they could never expect from their war-stricken and fundamentalist-infected country. Their hearts have been so entwined with the hearts of their host families that soul and body are filled with love, friendship, affection and care.
All of the children have very painful and bleak stories. “Birthday” is a new and strange term for them because they don’t remember if anyone ever celebrated their birthdays. Indeed, most of the children don’t even know their birth date. AFCECO has contacted their families and relatives to find out their date of birth. Imagine how exciting it must be for each of these children to celebrate a special day just for themselves!
AFCECO organizes trips for the children including sightseeing and visits to the zoo and museum. These outings are not only educational and entertaining, they help the children feel a sense of normality. These children no longer achingly watch other happy families in the parks; they have one big family of their own.
US MeDICaL tReatMeNt:
In addition to the experience of a foreign tour, these children experience the universality and power of compassion. Their eyes can see, their fever is assuaged, and their bodies can dance.
A decaying culture imposed by the religious hardliners tells girls not to appear in public, but here the girls perform drama in front of a big audience. It is really swimming against the flow in Afghanistan. This kind of resistance gives the girls the confidence that they can do it.
INSIDE tHe ORPHaNage
hen we hear the word orphanage, for most of us cavernous halls with rows of straw mattresses come to mind, cold and embattled attendants who have grown indifferent to crying, and dirty fingernails, soiled sheets, and lice-ridden hair. Whenever anyone visits an AFCECO orphanage, the first thing they notice is how clean it is and how happy the children are. It is as NBC’s Brian Williams aptly noted, “a haven for Afghan children”, not so much a place sheltering orphans and giving them food, as it is a place where a new generation of progressive Afghan leaders can emerge. The Dari word Parwarishga means, literally, “foster haven”. When people ask, any attempt to describe gives way to a simple question: “Have you been to visit the children yet?” Most of the children are orphans, victims of child labor or street children who were forced to beg. They have been exposed to very hostile and painful environments. They enter the orphanage in a state of wonder. This new environment is a world apart from their prior lives, a place where they can sleep and eat without fear. Here they begin a new life based on peace, love and respect. Diverse as Afghanistan itself, AFCECO children have one thing in common: if they were not in the orphanage they would be victims of the street, of war, of poverty. They come from Farah, from Nuristan, from Mazar, Bamyan and Herat. They come from the most remote mountainside village where water is still hauled up from a river. With heartstrings attached to villages and family, they are not disconnected from their country, but rather those connections are reinforced. They learn how a family can grow. A typical AFCECO home is three stories with spacious rooms. There is a courtyard where flowers grow. With 80 children living there, every day is bustling with activity. Bread is to be made, floors swept and laundry to be hung. Some children are off to school, others are gathering with a volunteer English teacher, while still others are upstairs in drama class preparing an Afghan version of a Greek tragedy. They all have responsibilities, and if anyone
The impact of such daily living upon the children, and by proxy their families, cannot be overstated. The impact on girls is so profound that it strikes to the core of the problems facing Afghanistan. AFCECO’s girls don’t only realize their rights, they practice them. They stand up tall, their scarves fall from their heads, and they begin to dream. It is impossible to call such a place an orphanage, because these children are reclaiming their identity, are moving forward stronger and more resolved than ever imaginable in the milieu of Afghan society.
neglects their duty their peers hold them to it. At the age of 9 or 10, girls and boys are separated and go to their own orphanages. They treat one another as they would any sibling. Their free time is spent playing games such as table tennis or jumping rope, or telling stories on the verandah while drinking afternoon tea. After school many go off to soccer or karate. They are given an hour in the evening to watch television but also have prescribed times in the library where they must do homework. Every week there are guests to attend to, journalists and volunteers interested in AFCECO, or sometimes a family member or sponsor visiting from afar. There is constant interaction between the orphanage and the outside world. With each orphanage AFCECO opens, the need becomes clearer. As soon as it is announced, the orphanage is filled. Frustratingly, dozens of children must be “waitlisted” until another orphanage can be opened. Most extraordinary is the plethora of AFCECO children from Farah Province, from Kunar and Nuristan, areas more conservative than the Kandahar and Helmond Provinces so much the focus of NATO forces. These provinces are almost completely controlled by Taliban forces. And yet, here the people are lining up to place their children in an orphanage where girls are taught to be equal, boys to allow it, and all are exposed to a secular and liberal arts education. What most every Afghan is looking for, what they see in this orphanage, is opportunity. How this opportunity is provided dissolves ideological boundaries, because AFCECO’s tenets are universally desirable: create a safe, clean, home-like environment, encourage alliances through diversity, and provide a dynamic education. All of this in an atmosphere of tolerance and respect.
INTERVIEW WITH A Volunteer
Q: Why volunteer, why Afghanistan, and why with AFCECO? You might say it was a midlife crisis, but it involved the state of the world as much as my own desire to feel useful. I poked my head up and looked around: things in the world looked bleak in 2006, not the least of which was a seemingly endless war with countries that I, and apparently most people in America, knew nothing about. Iraq was the big news at the time. I guess that’s why I gravitated to the somewhat secretive war in south-central Asia. I’m an educator and counselor, I love kids, so this is what I had to offer the people of Afghanistan. I spent a year rearranging my life. Then I found what I was looking for, Afghans helping Afghans. I wanted to serve their cause, not mine.
Q: What was the single most amazing thing you experienced in the girl’s orphanage where you lived?
Dancing. Teaching the girls how to spit watermelon seeds, or the time they wouldn’t leave class early. “We want our five minutes!” they said. Where do I begin to choose one moment? Perhaps my final night there. The girls had begun to follow me around. It was getting late, and though I tried to pack I couldn’t muster the strength. In groups of two and three they all entered my room. They wanted me to sing the song I’d taught them. I pulled out my ten-string cittern and started, and when I got to the chorus they joined in. The answer my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind. Their faces were so
brave. It was inconceivable to them, to me that I was actually leaving. Q: You “served” AFCECO for five months; you in a sense did your time. So when you got home, why did you turn around and go right back? From the moment I said goodbye to the children I knew somehow I would come back. I had a mortgaged house, credit card debt, no career, no savings, no income. This in the middle of the Wall Street housing meltdown. Instead of panicking I continued working for AFCECO. I started arranging speaking engagements, raising money for an orphanage education fund. I spoke to hundreds of Americans at colleges, high schools, churches, libraries, even living
rooms, about the children, about the way in which Andeisha is changing the world. It was how I kept the children in my life. It was also wonderful to discover my countrymen and women anew, and they were fantastic, giving over $16,000 to the fund. I put the house I had built in Vermont on the market. I proceeded, even though nothing was selling. I bought my return flight to Kabul with the last credit on my card. Suddenly there was a bidding war on my house. The sale closed two days before I got on a plane. I threw the credit cards away for good. Why return? I was going home, to the best job I ever had, and it doesnâ€™t pay in dollars, it pays in love, it pays in being a part of something positive and effective. Iâ€™d gone and made myself useful, and with that comes responsibility.
ANGELA, another AFCECO volunteer, DECORATED WITH HENNA
a Day IN tHe LIFe
OF ThE ORPhANAGE
day begins at 5:30 a.m. when the 60 or so children stir and the housemother heats water and the housefather goes off to market. Nobody needs to badger or otherwise nag the children. They mostly monitor themselves, the older ones quickly educating the youngest. They somehow manage the bathroom rotation, get the house swept clean, make up their beds and rooms and dress into their school uniforms before tea and nan (bread), is served. One aspect of orphanage life must be emphasized – punitive punishment is never practiced, as it is against AFCECO policy. Discipline is maintained not by fear, but by common interest. Public school schedules vary, so half the children leave in the morning and return by noon, while the other half leave after lunch, returning by four. This means the orphanage is rarely empty. Before going to school, each child’s shoes, fingernails and teeth are checked at the gate for cleanliness. If not, back inside they go. The schools are close by, and always the children walk together in fours and fives. The rest of the day, whether mornings free or afternoons, is spent doing chores, studying in the library, attending programs at the New Learning Center, or engaging in extracurricular activities such as karate for girls, boxing for boys.
At 6:00 p.m. it is time to relax with a cup of tea and tell stories. Afghans are used to eating dinner at eight, so this twilight hour is free to absorb the day’s activities. After tea some children will watch television, others will play in the courtyard, while still others might visit one of the other orphanages. Everyone sooner or later takes a shift helping in the kitchen. Meals include meat three days a week, rice, beans and potatoes are the staple. Various squashes, spinach, eggplant and okra comprise the usual vegetable dish. Always there is seasonal fruit; watermelon, apples, peaches, plums, apricots, grapes, oranges and pomegranates are plentiful at various times of the year.
After dinner the children do homework to prepare for the next day. The smaller ones are asleep by 9:00 p.m. while the middle ones go to bed at ten and the older ones around eleven. It is an incredibly full life these children lead. Only on Friday does everyone get to catch a breath, the one day of the week that is unscheduled. The orphanage life is filled with a sense of purposefulness, that each day is a gift for growing, deepening bonds, and keeping the AFCECO dream alive. It is truly a laboratory in which democracy is realized and allowed to flourish, whereby staff and children alike begin to taste, on this island in the midst of the storm of war, true and lasting peace.
COMMONLy aSKeD Q: how do you select children to live in the orphanage? A: Through our countrywide network of friends, AFCECO now receives referrals almost daily. There are over a thousand children on the waiting list. If we opened ten more orphanages tomorrow, they would be filled in a week. The children come from the streets, from homes destroyed by war, they come from families too poor to feed them, and they come from abusive homes from which they have fled with their mothers. In all cases, we meet with family members face to face and discuss the long-term goals and benefits. Family members must agree and ascribe to all AFCECO policies, knowing that to give the world we offer takes time and commitment.
Q: why do you not allow children to be adopted? Are these children really orphans?
A: It is illegal to adopt Afghan children, primarily because of the strict doctrine that no Moslem child will be subjected to possible conversion. In addition, there are family members integrally involved, not only uncles and aunts. Worldwide, 75% of children deemed to be “orphans” actually have one or both parents still living. But AFCECO’s reasoning is based on the notion to create change here on the ground. Since the Soviet era millions of Afghan professionals, intellectuals,
and would-be leaders were either killed or had to flee the country. Today, 80% of young Afghan students attending university overseas never return to their troubled homeland. AFCECO is aiming to stop this rampant exporting of Afghanistan’s human resources. Our children are proud to be who they are and intend to stay, to be in ways small or large, a part of the solution. Q: isn’t it dangerous in Kabul and other cities? how do you keep the children safe? A: AFCECO maintains a staff of around-the-clock armed guards who monitor everyone who comes and goes. Every orphanage is gated, and would take a significant effort to enter forcefully. All children are accounted for at all times, and girls especially are transported by van or bus to and from the New Learning Center, soccer field and other locations. That said our greatest security is achieved because we are Afghans helping Afghans, and through connectedness with average Afghans and communities near and far. There is a broad, deep base of support among people from every corner of Afghan society. Remember, these children represent every tribe and every province. Each comes with an entire village of support. Targeting the orphanage or the children is simply at the bottom of the list for would-be assailants, primarily because to attack AFCECO would in essence create a storm of backlash from Afghans everywhere.
Q: what about families wanting girls back, presumably to sell them into marriage? A: The people of AFCECO maintain a personal, face-toface relationship with all heads of family that send children to the orphanages. The spirit of cooperation, of common long-term goals, and of being in this together maintains a level of trust through the years. Occasionally it does happen that some estranged uncle or other relative appears, taking sudden interest in having a child “back”. Again through networking with communities, AFCECO is aware of these cases well before they come to a head, and therefore through various means wards the conflict off before it develops. In a few extreme cases, a deal can be met, such as taking even more children for the family, or working with powerful elders from the home village, or simply keeping the girl in question secure and “unavailable” for visitation outside the orphanage. Q: what happens when the children turn 18?
A: AFCECO staff such as guards, cooks, house parents, bookkeepers, drivers and so on are all Afghans who make a humble wage, enough to have their needs met. Most enjoy the sanctuary of being able to live in the orphanages. There are no high paid executives, no expensive travel packages, no consultant fees, no fringe benefits, no advertising costs, no tinted windowed state-of-the-art SUVs or any of the myriad “expenses” most large NGOs are notorious for. The director, managing director and education coordinator are all unpaid volunteers. Every dollar goes to the children’s wellbeing, their environment and their education. Q: do you ever lose children? A: Over the years about 10% of children who come to live in AFCECO orphanages are lost back to their villages before reaching the age of 16. Given the situation prevalent in Afghanistan, though it saddens us to the core losing just one child, it is remarkable we do not lose more. Firstly, these families are desperately poor, and an older child that can work now for bread so people can eat is tough for families to spare for the prospective rewards of an educated professional some years down the road. There is also the predominant culture that forsakes and even shames the family of an older girl living away from home. And of course there is war, famine, crime and even drought causing disruption in people’s lives everywhere. It is our belief, though, that these ten children out of a hundred have essentially been touched with the seed of liberation, education and the joys of a free loving community of Afghans, and even if they only lived in the orphanage for a few years, they, too, contribute to lasting positive change in their families and communities.
A: The first generation of children to have been raised in AFCECO orphanages is now approaching adulthood. This year four high school graduates are attending university. The children of AFCECO are not part of a program that once completed they are shown the door. They are like family, and as such we stand behind them as they make their way into the world. The greatest effort will be made to get as many into higher education as possible. Also, who better to begin hiring for any of a wide variety of positions running the orphanages, especially as AFCECO grows? In exchange for room, board, book expenses, tuition fees or transportation costs, who better than our very own are qualified to teach the younger children, to run the library, help with letters to sponsors, organize events and fundraise?
Q: where does the money go?
Charityhelp International A VITAL PARTNER IN OUR WORK
CharityHelp International (CHI) has been instrumental in creating the Child Sponsorship Program that is central to the work of AFCECO. Since 2004, CHI has provided communications technology and development and administrative support for the sponsorship program, which connects children to sponsors and provides frequent online communications to strengthen and maintain the resulting relationships.
CHI believes that through technology we can: • Create networks of people working to build peace, understanding and free societies; • Facilitate the communication between these people so they can learn from and support each other; • Support the empowerment and education of women and girls in emerging nations and conflict zones.
PAUL STEVERS, FOUNDER & PRESIDENT OF CHI, AT ZARMINA
CHI uses the power of communication technologies and the Internet to promote, create, and support direct long-term relationships between individuals and organizations in emerging nations and supporters. These relationships foster economic development in the non-profit, medical, and entrepreneurial business sectors. The rapid growth of information and connection technologies has created an exceptional opportunity to improve the lives of people in the developing world.
Visit CHI online at www.charityhelp.org.
We invite you to join the AFCECO family Child sponsors provide the lifeblood that enables AFCECO to do its work and to flourish. Sponsoring a child through AFCECO is a potent act. It is an act of caring, of joy, of interconnection, of empowerment. It is an act whose benefits flow both ways. Our sponsored children get to be housed, fed and kept safe. They get to be educated in an environment of respect, equality and diversity, and to grow up with people dedicated to giving them the best future possible. They get to communicate with someone from another part of the world who has an interest in their welfare, who cares about their future and the future of their country. They have the chance to contribute to the rebuilding of their nation. As a sponsor, you get to build a relationship with a young person full of potential. To learn about a country and a culture with deep roots and a fascinating history. To share your knowledge, insights and vision with a young person eager to learn. To pick up a few phrases in Dari or Pashto. And to know that, through a simple, practical act of caring, you are making a real difference. We invite you to become a sponsor. Visit www.charityhelp.org/afceco to join our remarkable family.
AFCECO P.O Box 2820 Kabul www.afceco.org firstname.lastname@example.org