Martin Luther King day

For Whom the Bell Tolls

APV Ringing a bell to make the victims of war on Martin Luther King day
APV Ringing a bell to make the victims of war on Martin Luther King day

by Kathy Kelly 

Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.  …  A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. – “A Time to Break Silence (Beyond Vietnam)” Dr. Martin Luther King, April 4, 1967

This month, from Atlanta, GA, the King Center announced its “Choose Nonviolence” campaign, a call on people to incorporate the symbolism of bell-ringing into their Martin Luther King Holiday observance, as a means of showing their commitment to Dr. King’s value of nonviolence in resolving terrible issues of inequality, discrimination and poverty here at home.  The call was heard in Kabul, Afghanistan.

On the same day they learned of the King Center’s call, the young members of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, in a home I was sharing with them in Kabul, were grieving the fresh news of seven Afghan children and their mother, killed in the night during a U.S. aerial attack – part of a battle in the Siahgird district of the Parwan province. The outrage, grief, loss and pain felt in Siahgird were echoed, horribly, in other parts of Afghanistan during a very violent week.

APV with a chart showing the victims of war
APV with a chart showing the victims of war

My young friends, ever inspired by Dr. King’s message, prepared a Dr. King Day observance as they shared bread and tea for breakfast. They talked about the futility of war and the predictable cycles of revenge that are caused every time someone is killed.  Then they made a poster listing each of the killings they had learned of in the previous seven days.

They didn’t have a bell, and they didn’t have the money to buy one. So Zekerullah set to work with a bucket, a spoon and a rope, and made something approximating a bell.  In the APV courtyard, an enlarged vinyl poster of Dr. King covers half of one wall, opposite another poster of Gandhi and Khan Abdul Gaffir Khan, the “Muslim Gandhi” who led Pathan tribes in the nonviolent Khudai Khidmatgar colonial independence movement to resist the British Empire. Zekerullah’s makeshift “bell’ was suspended next to King’s poster.  Several dozen friends joined the APVs as we listened to rattles rather than pealing bells. The poster listing the week’s death toll was held aloft and read aloud.

Martin Luther King and Zerkrullah's Bell
Martin Luther King and Zerkrullah’s Bell

They read:

“January 15, 2014: 7 children, one woman, Siahgird district of Parwan, killed by the U.S./NATO.  January 15, 2014, 16 Taliban militants, killed by Afghan police, army and intelligence operatives across seven regions, Parwan, Baghlan, Kunduz, Kandahar, Zabul, Logar, and Paktiya.  January 12, 2014: 1 police academy student and one academy staff member, killed by a Taliban suicide bomber in Kabul on the road to Jalalabad.  Jan 9, 2014: 1 four year old boy killed in Helmand, by NATO.  Jan 9, 2014: 7 people, several of them police, killed in Helmand by unknown suicide bombers.  January 7, 2014: 16 militants killed by Afghan security forces in Nangarhar, Logar, Ghanzi, Pakitya, Heart and Nimroz.”

We couldn’t know, then, that within two days news would come, with a Taliban announcement claiming responsibility, of 21 people, 13 foreigners and eight Afghans, killed while dining in, or guarding, a Kabul restaurant. The Taliban said that the attack was in retaliation for the seven children killed in the airstrike in Parwan.

Week after bloody week, the chart of killings lengthens.  And in Afghanistan, while war rages, a million children are estimated to suffer from acute malnourishment as the country faces a worsening hunger crisis.

This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we can and should remember the dream Dr. King announced before the Lincoln Memorial, the dream he did so much to accomplish, remembering his call (as the King Center asks) for nonviolent solutions to desperate concerns of discrimination and inequality within the U.S.  But we shouldn’t let ourselves forget the full extent of Dr. King’s vision, the urgent tasks he urgently set us to fulfill on his behalf, so many of them left unfinished nearly 46 years after he was taken from us.  One year to the day before his assassination, he said:

… A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.”… The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

We must never forget the full range of Dr. King’s vision, nor the full tragedy of the world he sought to heal, nor the revolutionary spirit which he saw as our only hope of achieving his vision – making do with everything we have to try to keep freedom ringing, despite the pervasiveness of the evils that beset us, and a world that needs vigorous effort to save it from addictions to tyranny and violence practiced by reckless elites.

“America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.”

Bagram & Guantanamo: What do Afghans Think?

APV Fasting in Solidarity with Guatanamo Prisoners
APV Fasting in Solidarity with Guatanamo Prisoners

by Ghulamai Hussein and Maya Evans

Guantanamo Prison has now been in operation for 12 years. 155 people are currently being held illegally, mostly without charge or trial. 16 of them are Afghans, many swept up in 2002 when fellow Afghans (perhaps motivated by bounty rewards being doled out by the U.S ) informed on fellow Afghans as being members of Al Qaeda or the Taliban. International solidarity for the “enemy combatants” increased dramatically  when 106 out of 166 prisoners started hunger striking a year ago. Forty-five of them were eventually force fed. During the international week of solidarity 6-13th January, marking12 years of Guantanamo, the Afghan Peace Volunteers took action by pledging to a 3 day fast. Other global actions included an international fast, a sit in at Washington DC history museum to “make Guantanamo history” and a mass Trafalgar Square rally in the UK.

Ghulamai making a solidarity banner, Zerkrullah resting while on a fast
Ghulamai making a solidarity banner, Zerkrullah resting while on a fast

During our 3 day fast, which is no mean feat in an Afghan winter, the APV discussed the issue of illegal prisons both around the world and within Afghanistan. Ghulamai, a quietly smart 16 year old peace volunteer started off the discussion by debriefing on some research he had carried out. It seems there is a general lack of awareness in the Afghan mainstream about Guantanamo or Bagram, despite Bagram being in Parwan, the neighbouring province to Kabul only 67km away. Internationally the prison was put on the human rights map in 2002 when two homicides took place, with reports emerging that prisoners Habibullah and Dilawar were chained to the ceiling and beaten to death. Autopsies revealed severe trauma to both prisoners’ legs, describing the injuries as comparable to being run over by a bus.

Seven soldiers were charged; Captain Christopher Beiring was charged with dereliction of duty and making false statements; the charges were dropped, but he was reprimanded. Sgt. Christopher Greatorex was tried on charges of abuse, maltreatment, and making false statements; he was acquitted. Sgt. Darin Broady was tried on charges of abuse and acquitted. Sgt. Brian Cammack pleded guilty to charges of assault and making false statements; he was sentenced to three months in jail, a fine, reduced in rank to private, and given a bad conduct discharge. Pfc. Willie Brand was convicted of other charges, but acquitted of charges relating to abuse of Habibullah.

It was only in 2010 when the American military released (by legal force) the names of 645 detainees during a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. Lawyers also demanded detailed information about conditions, rules and regulations.

On the road from Kabul to Bagram
On the road from Kabul to Begrime, abandoned Russian tanks

Today, according to news reports, there have been 3,000 prisoners in Bagram and allegedly 67 are non-Afghans.  Most are Afghans who were arrested in different places, most inside and a few outside of Afghanistan. The USA  kicked off their flagrant breach of international human rights in 2001 with the Patriot Act, which paved the way for other such abhorrent laws which allows the US to detain people without trial. Bagram prison was officially handed over to the Afghan government in March of 2013, however this turnover is theoretical, with the reality being that the U.S. is still in control. A few weeks ago, the Afghan government announced that they were releasing 650 prisoners from Bagram prison. The U.S. government considers 88 of those prisoners (who have never been on trial) ‘dangerous’ and demanded that they not be released.  The Afghan Government appointed a review board which decided to release 76 prisoners. As I write announcements are being made that 37 prisoners are due to be released, much to the outrage and protest of the US government. The recent wave of activity around the prisoner release is the first real awareness or knowledge many Afghan are having about Bagram.

Abdulhai reading up on Gandhi
Abdulhai reading up on Gandhi

Abdulhai, an astute 17  year old boy who lost his Father to the Taliban 12 years ago, said: “I feel the U.S. is playing power games.  Afghans need a greater awareness of what is going on .  They don’t have much information.  Maybe more awareness will be raised in the controversy over releasing prisoners from Bagram.”

Faiz, a sensitive 22 year old Tajik training to be a journalist said: “It’s not only the general public that lacks awareness, the prisoners themselves are also clueless about what is happening.  People need to understand the roots of the problem, understand U.S. support for the Mujahideen who eventually became the Taliban, and understand how it is that they are caught and stuck in prison.”

Ghulama: “It’s unknown as to whether the 3,000 prisoners are innocent or not, but based on what is known about Guantanamo it could be that the majority are innocent.”

Ghulamai in the Panjshir
Ghulamai in the Panjshir

I asked Ghulamai what he thought about Bagram as a result of his research. He said: “I think due process of law should be applied to any person arrested.  A person should be charged and tried in court, even during this war on terrorism.  The court process should follow gathering of evidence.  Lawyers should be provided for prisoners that cannot hire their own lawyers.  The case should be determined along the course of law by a judge who would then pass a sentence.  The situation for the 3,000 now involves detention without trial, no access to lawyers, and uncertainty about whether any charges have been made against them.”

Abdulhai : “The U.S. government is demonstrating that they are not subject to anyone else’s laws.  They are powerful.”

Peace volunteer Raz Mohammed, a 21 year old twinkly eyed engineering student from the volatile province of Wardak, talked about his first hand experience. His home province is an area populated mainly by Pashtoons, the ethnic group which mostly make up the Taliban. Raz explained how his neighbour Alam Gul in the Nakh district of Wardak was taken to Bagram a year ago. Alam is around 33 years old and married with children. Last year American soldiers came to his house and took him in the middle of the night. He was asleep with his family in a room when the door was broken in by soldiers shouting not to move. They searched the house and took him away, and he was sent to Bagram for 3 months. For his family it was very hard as for a month they had no idea where he was, until finally they found out he was in Bagram. After 3 months Alam Gul was released with his arrest being described by American forces as a “mistake”. Thankfully this man didn’t experience torture.

Raz Mohammed in the Panjshir
Raz Mohammed

Raz Mohammed also talked about his Uncles’ daughter’s husband Bashir, from the village of Dadal in Wardak province. It was 2 years ago and Bashir was around 26. Like Alam Gul he was taken at midnight by American soldiers but in his case there was also the assistance of local Afghan soldiers. At first he was taken to Logar province prison and tortured, before being transferred to Bagram where he was tortured further with sleep deprivation and weekly interrogations by American soldiers. This lasted for a month before he was released without charge. Bashir described Bagram as being much harder than Logar prison because of the sleep deprivation and interrogations. He was also kept in isolation and on occasions saw some people who had been held for 7 to 8 years without trial.

I asked Ghulamai if people in Afghanistan feel safer or more angry because of Bagram, he paused and calmly responded: “People are more angry.  I would be angry if I saw or experienced torture or rape, and for what? If I got sent to Bagram prison I would invite Obama to go with me.”

Read more:

UK resistance to Guantanamo: http://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.com

37 Bagram prisoners are going to be released: http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2014/01/27/22465065-afghanistan-to-free-37-bagram-inmates-despite-us-protests?lite

Ewa with refugee kids

Kabul on a Key Meter

Ewa Jasiewicz at VCNV financed aid drop
Ewa Jasiewicz at VCNV aid drop

by Ewa Jasiewicz

I’ve been in Kabul a week now, living in the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteer (APV) house on the border of District 3. The area is a mish-mash of wealthy mirror-windowed mansions fronted by surly gun-on-the-lap security guards, crumbling mudhuts, open sewers, children in ragged clothes warming themselves on burning rubbish, a fake McDonalds and Subway with directly lifted logos, and Kabul’s sole waterpark, for men only and 500 Afghanis a dip. One disc of naan bread is 10 Afghanis (around 10p) and the women working on the APV’s duvet-making project get 150 Afghani’s per duvet, a two hour job, and make 3 per day, earning £4.50 per day in total – a relatively decent wage compared to most people in the precarious work sector who earn between $1-5 per day.

Men wait for work on the ‘Red Bridge’, a 10 minute walk from us. It crosses the Kabul River, once free flowing but now a stagnant mud swamp, flanked with bags of rotting rubbish and opium addicts crouching in the shallows. Child workers take their breaks in chip shops and at Bolani stands (Bolani is a deep fried pastry filled with potato, green chilies and squash) swaggery and manly like mini 40-year-olds.

APV left over spaghetti surprise
APV left over spaghetti surprise

Everything feels on the brink here. The unemployment rate (stats apply to men only) is officially 30% but unofficially twice as high. Most work is precarious: street vending, cart pushing, tailoring and shop work – the main ones seem to cater for just-in-time-survival – car spare parts, all manner of appliance and home repairs and replacements, wood for home heating by stove, food, and gas sold not by the canister but by the kilogram. Catering for 10 (the number in our ‘family’ right now) involving boiling tea to have with all meals and a few times between for guests plus a hot lunch and dinner of simple rice and beans or okra or fried eggs, amounts to 15kg or 4 cannisters amoutning to 1200 Afghanis or £12.92 per month. Many families can’t count on a regular income and there’s no system of social security from the government despite the $100 billion given by the USA and the £37 billion by the UK for ‘reconstruction’ pumped into the country since 2001.

Formidable female camp elder
Formidable female camp elder

Aid drops – I’ve been to four so far – can turn desperate and hectic with those not registered with APV or refugee camp authorities being turned away empty outstretched-handed. At a recent drop in Charman-e-Hozuri, by Voices for Creative Non Violence we met camp elders, who uniquely for Afghanistan, were women. Strong, commanding, faces uncovered, and steely eyed, they shouted into a crowd slipping and clamouring in ice and mud to get hold of 500 tins of high quality cooking oil being doled out at one per family. The women stood between armed police and the crowd, gesticulating assertively and shouting orders to the men around them. The police facilitated the drop, even facilitating themselves to 3 canisters of the oil. Corruption, militarised and violent, is rife here. Police real wages seem to be bribes. Afghanistan ranks as the third most corrupt country in the world after Somalia and North Korea.

Chaman-e Barbak refugee camp
Chaman-e Barbak refugee camp

Most people seem to be surviving on handouts, money sent by family from abroad and precarious work. At one refugee camp opposite the gleaming Paris Hotel, home to 700 families from all ethnic backgrounds who were returnees from decades of exile in Pakistan and Iran, the main work seems to be cart-pushing and washing the clothes of wealthy NGO workers. The displaced live in mud-brick shelters and fortified tents, everything caked in the ubiquitous Kabul dust in part due to the unpaved, rocky and disintegrating roads. The fact they can’t afford secure housing is also due to the Aid Industry and corporate influx over the past decade which has seen rents rise to higher than in London. I was told of one apartment in the City Centre on Flower Street that was costing a German freelance journalist and her two co-sharers $2700 per month (with a maid thrown in). Maya Evans here, a good old friend and Voices for Creative Non-Violence co-ordinator put it well – she said it’s like the whole city’s running on a keymeter. It’s a metaphor borrowed from the Fuel Poverty Action work I’m doing in the UK, organising around the scandal of those on pre-payment meters, always on the brink of d

arkness, struggling to top-up and when they can’t, being regularly plunged into the cold and dark because of poverty and profiteering companies. Here we’re cut off every other day and the freezing, dank, dusty cold envelopes everything.

Where’s the way out of this systemic and violently enforced powerlessness? According to UNESCO 82% of women and 50% of men are illiterate, rising to 90% of women and 60% of men in rural areas which is where most people live. At least 2500

APV school
APV school

Afghan women committed suicide in 2012. 60% of the population is under 25 and 60% of children are malnourished. Accessible free education is a thing of the distant past. State schools are few and far between with many teachers having left the country. If they can afford it, parents put their children through private schools but most can’t. Religious schools and further education can still be found for free but the education is narrow in its’ scope. Universities charge on average 50,000 Afghanis ($1000) per year of study. I met one Economics student from Kandahar who said he wasn’t really learning anything at University. They lacked books, good teachers, materials and up-to-date information in Dari. NGOs and Aid are big business, grooming an English-speaking elite, many of whom squat the upper rungs of the socio-economic ladder before making a break for the ultimate destination; up and out of the country.

If this sounds dystopian, it’s because it is. But there are also a sizeable number of Afghan men, women and youth working to challenge corruption, the class system, sectarianism, misogyny and violence in all its’ forms. The APV is one such rare group. Totally grassroots and funded by likeminded grassroots peace groups from all over the world, it is independent of political parties and radical in its’ commitment to building safer spaces and anti-oppression in action. They carry a vision of a borderless world where war and economic, social, cultural and political violence can be abolished. A guiding philosophy is that the means by which we organise have to reflect the ends we want to see. They’re walking the talk and have been building integrity and trust since they emerged from Bamiyan six years ago, as a small group of Hazara youth taught by Singaporean Doctor Hakim (Wi Tek Young) gone native after 10 years in the country. They’re now composed of Hazara, Pashtun and Tajik community members and are looking for Uzbek participants in order to create the lived conditions for co-existence and co-operation between ethnic identities in a country where mixing between different groups is rare and sectarian violence and prejudice are rife.

APV strategise non violent peace
APV strategise non violent peace

The APV are hugely inspiring, and the work they do, the journeys they have been on and who they are reclaims, re-generates and re-defines the much abused, co-opted and discredited concept of ‘peace’ in a country where war has been the dominant language for decades. To respond to dystopia with an active creation of a utopia is a huge act of rebellion and one that we can all learn from as the world we live in becomes more and more oppressive. From Kabul to England, from the war we’ve exported to the ongoing class war at home – here are seeds for change that can go global.

Mother and Child

Activists Deliver Humanitarian Aid to Refugee Camp

VCNV UK PRESS RELEASE 8th January 2014

Mother and Child - photo by Abdulhai Saferali
photo by Abdulhai Saferali

Peace group Voices for Creative Non Violence UK will this week witness £3,000 worth of aid, the total amount of funds raised by the group, delivered to Chaman-e Barbak refugee camp in Kabul, the second biggest camp in the city, home to over 700 families who are among, some of the neediest people in the world.

Representative Maya Evans, aged 34, from St Leonards on Sea, will be at the camp when aid will be distributed; flour, oil and sugar will be divided into portions to last each family through the toughest months of the year where temperatures plummet to around minus 16 degrees celsius, previous years have seen reports of children freezing to death over night (1).

Maya Evans visits refugee camp
Maya Evans visits refugee camp

Maya Evans said: “It’s extremely shocking to see that despite 13 years of a full scale international presence, where at least  £37 billion and $100 billion has been spent by the UK and US governments alone, people are still living in some of the worst conditions in the world; children walking around without adequate foot ware and clothing, open sewers running alongside homes which are basic mud huts, piles of rubbish next to homesteads, it’s so depressing.” (2)

She added: “Most of the money poured into this country has gone towards war, which hasn’t brought the country much closer to peace or improved living conditions. The Afghans I speak to say they are tired of war and want an end to foreign involvement, people are tired and war weary, it’s time to end the violence.”

Girl standing where her home burned to the ground
Girl standing where her home burned to the ground

In addition the Chaman-e Barbak refugee camp experienced a devastating fire last week (4), it left 70 people without homes during the coldest period of the year. Immediate aid was delivered to the camp in the form of duvets for all the affected families, these were  provided by the Afghan Peace Volunteers. (5)

Contact Maya Evans (in Kabul) +93 785980648

(1) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/04/world/asia/cold-weather-kills-children-in-afghan-refugee-camps.html
(2) UK cost:  http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/30/afghanistan-war-cost-britain-37bn-book
 (3) Article of visit “Locked inWinter”: http://vcnvuk.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/locked-in-winter/
(4) Photos of the VCNV visit to the camp:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Voices-for-Creative-Non-Violence-UK/454714281232864
(5) Afghan Peace Volunteers: www.ourjourneytosmile.org
Refugee camp after the fire
Refugee camp after the fire
kathy and shoba

Locked in Winter

Kathy Kelly with Shuba, young girl saved from the fire
Kathy Kelly with Shuba, young girl saved from the fire

by Kathy Kelly

Photo credits:  Abdulai Safarali

Kabul–The fire in the Chaman-e Babrak camp began in Nadiai’s home shortly after noon.  She had rushed her son, who had a severe chest infection, to the hospital. She did not know that a gas bottle, used for warmth, was leaking; when the gas connected with a wood burning stove, flames engulfed the mud hut in which they lived and extended to adjacent homes, swiftly rendering nine extended families homeless and destitute in the midst of already astounding poverty. By the time seven fire trucks had arrived in response to the fire at the refugee camp, the houses were already burned to the ground.

No one was killed. When I visited the camp, three days after the disaster, that was a common refrain of relief. Nadiai’s home was on the edge of the camp, close to the entrance road. Had the fire broken out in the middle of the camp, or at night when the homes were filled with sleeping people, the disaster could have been far worse.

Zakia with bruised cheeks
Zakia with bruised cheeks

Even so, Zakia, age 54, said this is the worst catastrophe she has seen in her life, and already their situation was desperate. Zakia had slapped her own face over and over again to calm and focus herself as she searched for several missing children while the fire initially raged. Now, three days later, her cheeks are quite bruised, but she is relieved that the children were found.

Standing amid piles of ashes near what once was her home, a young mother smiled as she introduced her three little children, Shuba, age 3 ½, and Medinah and Monawra, twin girls, age 1 ½.   They were trapped in one of the homes, but their uncle rescued them.

girls

Now the nine families have squeezed in with their neighbors. “We are left with only the clothes on our body,” said Maragul. She added that all of the victims feel very grateful to their neighbors. “We cook together,” she said, “and they offer us shelter at night.” Three or four families will sleep together in one room. Asked if their neighbors were all from the same clan, Maragul, Nadiai and Zakia immediately began naming the different ethnic groups that are among their neighbors. Some are Turkman, some Uzbek, some from Herat or Kabul, others are Pashtun, and some are Kuchi. The women said that they begin to feel like brothers and sisters, living together in these adverse circumstances.

View of the camp
View of the camp

The Chaman-e Babrak refugee camp spills over the grounds of a large field formerly used for sporting events. With 720 families crowded into the camp, it is second in density and size only to the Charahi Qambar refugee camp, on the outskirts of Kabul, which is twice as large and more than twice as full as the Chaman-e Babrak camp.

Years ago, before the Taliban originally captured Kabul, some of the families in this camp had rented homes in the area. They had fled to Pakistan to escape the fighting, hoping to find a future with security and work. After the U.S. invasion, with President Karzai’s accession to power, they’d been urged to return, told that it was safe to go back. But upon their return they’d learned their old homes and land now belonged to victorious warlords, and they learned again that safety is painfully elusive in conditions of poverty and the social disintegration that follows years, and in their case decades, of war.

Asked about prospects for their husbands to find work, the women shook their heads. Nadiai said that her husband has occasional work as a porter, carrying materials in a wheelbarrow from one site to another. Sometimes construction projects will hire him, but in the winter months construction projects are closed and already scarce work vanishes altogether. And war, in a sense, brings its own winter along with it: Next to the camp is a construction project that has been dormant since 2008. It had been intended to become an apartment building.

Refugees who lost their homes, standing among the burnt debris
Refugees who lost their homes, standing among the burnt debris

There was never any plan announced to house these families, even before the fire. And since the fire, there has been no offer of aid aside from those seven fire trucks, rushing in to contain an immediate threat not only to the camp but of course to neighboring businesses, several wedding halls and a plastic surgery hospital, up against which, in a city no stranger to glaring contrasts of wealth, the camp finds itself pressed. I came to the camp with young activists of the Afghan Peace Volunteers there to distribute heavy coverlets, (duvets), manufactured with foreign donations by local seamstresses, precisely for distribution free of charge to Kabul’s neediest people in the winter months.  This week VCNV UK will be present when £3,200 worth of aid will be delivered to the camp in the form of flour, oil and sugar. Funds have been raised by UK peace groups and fundraising activities, the supplies will see families at the camp through the toughest months of the year.

Kathy Kelly and Maya Evans with new friends at the camp
Kathy Kelly and Maya Evans with new friends at the camp

We’ll never know who the fire might have killed, because when the old or the young die from the pressures of poverty, of homelessness, of war, we can’t know which disaster tipped the balance.  We won’t know which catastrophe, specifically, will have taken any lives lost here to this dreadful winter.  Many will be consumed by the slow conflagration of widespread poverty, corruption, inequality and neglect.

As many as 35,000 displaced persons are now living in the slum areas in Kabul alone.  “Conflict affects more Afghans now than at any point in the last decade,” according to Amnesty International’s 2012 report, Fleeing War, Finding Misery. “The conflict has intensified in many areas, and fighting has spread to parts of the country previously deemed relatively peaceful. The surge in hostilities has many obvious consequences, among them that families and even entire communities flee their homes in search of greater security. Four hundred people a day are displaced in Afghanistan, on average, bringing the total displaced population to 500,000 by January 2012.”

The vast expenditures of the U.S. government and its client here simply can’t be designated as contributions toward “security.” These funds have contributed to insecurity and danger while failing to address basic human needs. The realpolitik of an imperial power, as utterly disinterested in security here as it seems to be in its own people’s safety at home, will not notice this camp. As we pull together in our communities to enkindle concern, compassion, and respect for creative nonviolence, we are in deep winter hoping for a spring.  We are right to work and to hope, but faced with the spectacle of winter in Chaman-e Babrak I can’t help remembering Barbara Deming’s lines:  “Locked in winter, summer lies; gather your bones together. Rise!”

Hope, circle of peace
Hope, circle of peace