“After 10 years of a large international presence, comprising about 2,000 aid groups, at least $3.5 billion of humanitarian aid and $58 billion of development assistance, how could children be dying of something as predictable — and manageable — as the cold?” New York Times, Feb 2012
by Maya Evans with Ali
For the second year running the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ duvet project is well underway. VCNV UK has been able to contribute £3,000 this year with the support of anti-war groups and many individuals, to date $30,000 has been raised internationally. In the middle of Kabul’s brutally cold winter, the venture provides an income for some of the poorest women in Kabul who are paid to make the duvets, and it brings warmth to disadvantaged families who live in some of the worst conditions in the world.
Over the next three months, around 3,000 duvets will be made by sixty women and distributed to families in Kabul who most need the extra warmth they provide. The duvet project is run entirely by the young men and women APVs who work entirely voluntarily. In the last few months they have put a lot work into the project, researching which households will benefit most from the duvets, as well as recruiting local seamstresses who are in need of the work to help support their families.
The process starts with referrals from local NGOs of poorer households who are at serious risk in winter from the cold. These can include refugees, the disabled, the visually impaired, the families of drug addicts and street kids. When the APVs visit the homes they have an eligibility criteria to look for which include, for example, the number of people in a family, the number of bread winners, any individuals with special needs and whether the house is rented or owned.
Last week the seamstresses started to arrive at the APV compound to collect the materials to make the duvets. Twenty Pashtu, twenty Tajik and twenty Hazara women will make around 3,000 duvets for providing families with extra warmth for the next three months where temperatures can plummet to around minus 16 degrees celsius in the night. Each woman receives 150 Afghanis for each duvet she makes (equivalent to $2.67), usually taking enough material to make ten duvets at a time.
The yard of the compound has suddenly become a hive of activity with large bails of synthetic wool dotted about what is usually a makeshift football pitch for the APV. The bails are cut open and portions precisely weighed out for the duvets by Zekrullah, a long term APV member who is “approximately 17 years old” but I suspect a few years younger. Each portion of weighed out wool is bundled into a pre-made duvet coverlet, ready to be taken away and stuffed and quilted into a ready to use duvet by the women.
A duvet consists of a cheap coverlet purchased from the Mandaee Bizarre in Kabul town centre. They are probably from China and usually portray cartoon or comic characters such as Batman and Sponge Bob. These materials are the cheapest way of making the duvets. The APV looked into using local materials and making the duvets from scratch but the cost came up more expensive this way, which is another indication of how the long conflict has disrupted local manufacture and now the market is flooded with cheaper mass produced Chinese and Pakistani goods.
The seamstresses usually arrive with some of their children to help, some take the materials away in wheelbarrows and others hire taxis or get friends or relatives to drive away bundles of synthetic wool and coverlets. After a week they return with the completed duvets pilling them high in the yard. The APV account for the made duvets in a ledger, pay the seamstresses for their work and get them to sign it, or for those who are illiterate, a thumb print also suffices.
Shakira, long associated with the APVs and one of the seamstresses, described the importance of the project: “lack of money is one of the main causes of violence towards women in the home, if women can make an income that helps to relieve the problem”.
The main APV co-ordinators of the project are Ali, aged 17 and Holida, who is around 23 years old. Ali describes his role and the importance of the project: “I handle the accounts and part of the overall co-ordination of the project. When I was involved last year I was very affected and moved by the plight of needy families. I remember on one assessment we visited a family on a hillside in Kabul, they were living in extreme dire poverty. I feel very happy to be involved in the project.”
Holida helps with the distribution of materials and ensuring the records of payment are kept in order. She said: “I wanted to do something for the people. Afghans are so desperately in need due to the current poor economy.” Tomorrow the duvet distribution to poor families will begin.