All posts by Kathy Kelly

Borderfree community centre of Nonviolence

Borderfree

Borderfree community centre of Nonviolenceby Kathy Kelly

August 15, 2014

Here in Kabul, Sherri Maurin and I are guests of the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ recently formed live-in community for young women.  Hollyhocks in the garden reach as high as the second floor of our living space.  Rose bushes, morning glories and four-o-clocks have bloomed, and each day we eat tomatoes, mint and green onions plucked from the well-cared for garden. The water source is a hose and tank outside, (there’s no indoor plumbing) so dishes and clothes are cleaned outside. The latrine is also outside, –and unfortunately we’re sharing it with playful kitties, but otherwise  Zarghuna, Zahidi and Zahro have managed to efficiently manage almost every detail of housekeeping, each day, by 7:00 a.m.

A group of local seamstresses also have two rooms here, but lately they have been with their families as Ramadan came to a close followed by Eid celebrations.

The men’s community, separate now from the newly launched “Borderfree Community Center of Nonviolence,”where projects and programs take place, also has a fine garden and similar room arrangements.  An added plus, – their yard has four trees!

Going and coming from our communities to “the center” is a 35 minute walk through village-like streets if you take the back ways.  The Borderfree Community Center, when it was first rented, needed considerable rehab and repairs. Hakim, Faiz, Zekerullah and Abdulhai worked very hard to shape it up.  Now, guests enter an attractive space, neatly painted, with plenty of classroom and meeting space.  Plants, curtains, photo exhibits, and choices for rugs and carpets have all been carefully chosen.  Sadaf, one of the APV women who has been very active Borderfree scarf production, organized art students from local Universities to paint images on the walls of a children’s classroom as well as the reception area.  Painted on a wall inside the center’s gate is a playful graffiti with lots of floating bubbles. Letters floating in some of the bubbles spell out “We love Peace,” although certain bubbles have wafted up and down, making it a challenge for linear thinkers.  Another artist, a well-known cartoonist, painted an image on the outside wall of the Borderfree Community Center, (a wall that can be seen by anyone passing by), of a figure shooting a slingshot at a drone, but instead of a rock, a red heart breaks the drone in half. 

Love Will End Drone Attacks

The graffiti, ‘We Love Peace’, on the wall of Borderfree Community Centre of Nonviolence

Classes and programs keep the center lively.  Earlier this week, the center invited a small group of people to the first session of a four week course orienting people to better understand nonviolence and the APV history and goals.  We also gathered for the weekly Global Awareness sessions which focus on a wide range of topics related to militarism, environmental concerns, and socioeconomic inequalities.  Hamidullah Natiq, a seasoned practitioner of conflict resolution in Afghanistan, meets with the group once a week. Local children who are part of a “street kids” project come once a week for Dari and math classes, guided by Hadisa and Farzana, two capable young volunteer teachers.  And, once a month, the “street kids” receive, for their families, large sacks of rice and containers of cooking oil. These donations allow them to attend school rather than work as vendors on the streets of Kabul.

Rent for the center costs $500 per month. The APVs hope that by selling the borderfree sky blue scarves they can help cover this cost. Sherri, I and other internationals will encourage people in our home locales to assist with the center’s expenses. 

During a recent visit to the Emergency Surgical Center for Victims of War, here in Kabul, the staff shared with us news that they get about what’s happening around the country.  They rely on reports from staff working at several dozen clinics and the two main hospitals they run in two additional provinces.  Much of our conversation pointed to the reality that Kabul is “a bubble.”  Full scale wars are being fought by heavily armed sides in eastern and southern Afghanistan, but generally the only news coverage that goes beyond Afghanistan pertains to Kabul.  The groups fighting the Afghan government include various warlords, the Taliban, drug kingpins, and foreign fighters, some of whom may be strategizing ways to cut off the roads to Kabul. Clearly, the Kabul “bubble” can be quite vulnerable. 

I asked Faiz what he most appreciates about the center.  He immediately spoke of the graffiti outside, saying that it gives him hope and suggests a sense of freedom.  The heart of love that breaks apart the drone, propelled by a slingshot converted into a peace-making tool, points all of us in a direction, sorely needed, that aims to abolish war. I hope the Bordefree Centre, like the live-in community’s gardens, will flourish.

Bare Foot College

‘After 3,000 Years of Pain’: Women’s Liberation at Barefoot College

Women's Liberation at Barefoot College

by Kathy Kelly

TILONIA, India — A few months ago, the Afghan Peace Volunteers began planning to send a small delegation of young women to India as guests of Barefoot College, a renowned initiative that uses village wisdom, local knowledge and practical skills available in the rural areas to improve villagers’ lives. After several suspenseful weeks wondering if families and governments would give permission for travel, we were finally able to tell hosts at the Barefoot College that we would soon be on our way. Now we are beginning the last day of our brief but rewarding visit to Tilonia, the small village in India’s Rajasthan State, where two Barefoot College campuses are thriving.

Ram Niwas, Kathy Kelly and dentist
Ram Niwas, Kathy Kelly and dentist

One of the villagers, Ram Niwas, has helped us learn about Barefoot College by telling us parts of his own life story and introducing us to people who have become barefoot dentists, accountants, solar engineers, radio broadcasters, teachers, water treatment specialists and puppeteers. Over the past 27 years, Ram Niwas has taken on many of these roles himself. As a ‘Dalit’, an ‘untouchable,’ he is not allowed to enter the local Hindu temple. But in his long association with Bunker Roy, a founder of Barefoot College, he has entered many places and gained experiences he never thought possible.

“The caste system gave us 3,000 years of pain,” Ram Niwas told us. “But slowly, slowly, we are moving beyond it.” He then began to tell me about women who are still subjected to the manual labor of cleaning dry toilets. They load slop from the village latrines and toilets into jars which they then carry, on their heads, to a dumping ground outside the village. The job is as dangerous as it is demeaning. People who do this work suffer infections and other illnesses. From age 13 – 15, this was how Ram Niwas earned a living.

Bila, grandmother and puppeteer
Bila, grandmother and puppeteer

Eventually, he heard about Barefoot College. Knowing that many Dalits worked there, he submitted an application. Bunker Roy asked if he could do accounting. Ram Niwas assured him he couldn’t but that he would be willing to work as a peon. “We have no peons here,” Bunker said. “Just be sure to keep yourself honest, and try to learn accounting.” Ram Niwas had never seen 10,000 Rupees. He had no idea how to do basic math. But after a six month training, he became a capable accountant and a volunteer, working for a living wage, at Barefoot College. At first his family was unhappy because they felt he could make more money elsewhere. Over time, however, they realized that he had gained many experiences that aren’t directly linked to gaining money. He has become an artist, specializing in Puppet Theater. He also developed the Barefoot College community radio station. He has traveled beyond India and has participated in “yatras” in India, the long walks that campaign for fulfillment of basic human rights. Now his work in communication includes many responsibilities, one of which is to help educate visitors like ourselves.

accountant
Jarina, grandmother and accountant

We were grateful for his translation as he introduced us to various women. Jarina does much of the accounting for Barefoot College, using a computerized excel program. Battacharya is a “barefoot dentist” who can do many procedures as long as full anesthesia isn’t required. Bila decided to learn puppetry even though the caste system despises theater work as an activity relegated to members of the untouchable class. Bila is now an accomplished puppeteer, bringing delight to many audiences and also facilitating theater workshops. Raju organizes a solar energy shop, and Magankowar teaches women to assemble solar circuit boards.

Yesterday, our delegation met with Bunker Roy. Zarghuna asked Bunker what motivated him to devote forty years of his life to creating the impressive campuses and projects that now constitute Barefoot College. Bunker Roy said that when he sees a grandmother who has lost all hope become, in six months, a gutsy and courageous woman who has learned how to be a solar engineer, he feels motivated to continue.

When we had arrived, the first college members we met were a team of people mixing, shoveling and carrying cement for a new construction project. Most of the workers were grandmothers.

Brick Laying

Over the years, Barefoot College members have realized that young men who learn new skills often want a certificate which will enable them to take those skills elsewhere, giving them a chance to earn what Bunker calls a market wage. Grandmothers, on the other hand, have no intention of leaving their villages and families, yet they have enormous incentive to become skilled workers, improve their villages, and earn a living wage. Barefoot College welcomes them exuberantly. Now, village grandmothers are training women from other countries to follow similar paths.

Ram Niwas took us to a large workshop where 37 women, all over 35 years of age, from 11 different countries were learning to become solar engineers. Magankowar has been using sign language to teach the women, all of whom are illiterate. Seated at a long table covered with tools, circuit board components and colorful illustrated instruction manuals, the women worked with care and precision.

Kathy and solar panel engineers
Kathy and solar panel engineers

Many had covered their heads with wooly hats or elaborate scarves from their own countries; almost all wore glasses, and many were dressed in the bright clothing typically worn by Indian village women.

I joined several women as they took a brief break from assembling circuit boards. One of the women had begun to tell me that her two sons are working in Arizona, but that they are hoping that the U.S. government won’t deport them. We were interrupted when Ram Niwas clapped his hands, called everyone to attention and asked them to sing a song together. Suddenly, I realized that each woman was singing, in her own language, verses to “We Shall Overcome.”

APV Zarguna and solar panel engineers
APV Zarguna and solar panel engineers

The young members of our team flew to India on an airliner. Nearly every aspect of modern travel awed them. But the common sense messages taught at Barefoot College, delivered amid a campus dedicated to simplicity, service, sharing of resources and a firm declaration of equality among all people, transported our young friends into yet another realm.

“With simple resources available to all, the sun and the rain, we can create a world in which we free our potential,” said Zarghuna. “Or, we can artificially limit ourselves by fixing in our minds one way of doing things. It’s like locking our minds in a prison. If we open our minds, we can think of many possibilities.

Women

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.”

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
Street kids visiting to APV compound

Afghan Street Children Beg for Change

Street kids visiting to APV compound
Street kids visiting the APV compound

by Kathy Kelly

Kabul, Afghanistan is “home” to hundreds of thousands of children who have no home. Many of them live in squalid refugee camps with families that have been displaced by violence and war. Bereft of any income in a city already burdened by high rates of unemployment, families struggle to survive without adequate shelter, clothing, food or fuel. Winter is especially hard for refugee families. Survival sometimes means sending their children to work on the streets, as vendors, where they often become vulnerable to well organized gangs that lure them into drug and other criminal rings.

Last year, the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV), a group of young Afghans who host me and other internationals when we visit their home in Kabul, began a program to help street children enrol in schools. They befriend small groups of children, get to know the children’s families and circumstances, and then reach agreements with the families that if the children are allowed to attend school and reduce their working hours on the streets, the APVs will compensate the families, supplying them with oil and rice. Next, the APVs buy warm clothes for each child and invite them to attend regular classes at the APV home to learn the alphabet and math.

Yesterday, Abdulhai and Hakim met a young boy, Safar, age 13, who was working as a boot polisher on a street near the APV home. Abdulhai asked to shake Safar’s hand, but the child refused. Understandably, Safar may have feared Abdulhai. But when Abdulhai and Hakim told Safar there were foreigners at the APV office who were keen to help, he followed them into our yard.

Kathy and Safar
Kathy and Safar

Sitting next to me, indoors, Safar continued shaking from the cold. We noticed that he had an angry red welt across his right cheek. Safar said that the previous day he had tried to warm his hands over an outdoor bar-b-que grill, and the cook hit him across the face with a red hot skewer to shoo him away. Safar clutched a half- filled small plastic Coca-Cola bottle in his hands. Asked why he was drinking cold soda on such a cold day, he said that he had a headache.

He was wearing a hoodie, light pants, and plastic slippers. He had no socks or gloves– hardly adequate attire for working outside in the bitter cold all day. On a “good” day, Safar can earn 150 Afghanis, a sum that amounts to $3.00 and could purchase enough bread for a family of seven and perhaps have some left over to purchase clothes.

Abdulhai and Hakim asked Safar to come back the next day with some of his friends. One hour later, he arrived with five friends, two Pashto boys and three Tajiks, ranging in age from 13 to 5. The children promised to return the next day with more youngsters.

Street kid Abi, aged 5
Street kid Abi, aged 5

And so this morning seven street children filed into the APV home. None of them wore socks and all were shivering. Their eyes were gleaming as they nodded their heads, assuring us that they want to join APV’s street kids program.

Here in Kabul, a city relatively better off than most places in Afghanistan, we have electricity every other day. When the pipes freeze and there’s no electricity, we have no water. Imagine the hardships endured by people living with far less. Even in the United States, thousands of children’s basic needs aren’t met. The New York Times recently reported that there are 22,000 homeless children living in New York City.

Thinking of how the U.S. has used its resources here in Afghanistan, where more than a trillion has been spent on maintaining war and occupation, I feel deep shame. In 2014, the U.S. will spend 2.1 million dollars for every U.S. soldier stationed in Afghanistan. Convoys travel constantly between US military bases, transporting large amounts of fuel, food and clean water—luxury items to people living in refugee camps along their routes—often paying transportation tolls to corrupt officials, some of whom are known to head up criminal gangs.

While the U.S. lacks funds to guarantee basic human rights for hundreds of thousands of U.S. children, and while U.S. wars displace and destroy families in Afghanistan, the U.S. consistently meets the needs of weapon makers and war profiteers.

A duvet distribution on the first day of snow if Kabul
A duvet distribution on the first day of snow if Kabul

Even so, the inspiring activities of my young Afghan friends fuel a persistent hope. Heavy coverlets, called duvets, are bulging out of several storage rooms in the APV home. Talented young women have coordinated “the duvet project,” now in its second year, involving 60 women who produce a total of 600 duvets every two weeks for distribution to impoverished families. The seamstresses are paid for each duvet they make. In a society where women have few if any economic opportunities, this money can help women put food on the table and shoes on their children’s feet. The women equally represent three of the main ethnic divisions here in Kabul, –Hazara, Pashto, and Tajik — an example that people can work together toward common goals. The young people work hard to develop similarly equal distribution amongst the neediest of families. Today they delivered 200 duvets to a school for blind children. Later in the day they will hike up the mountainside to visit widows who have no income.

This afternoon, 2 dozen young girls will be compensated for embroidering 144 blue scarves that proclaim “Borderfree” in Dari and English. The blue scarves, which are now being distributed in various parts of the world, symbolize the reality that there’s one blue sky above us. Activists in numerous peace and justice campaigns have been wearing the blue scarves.

Here in Kabul, our young friends gathered together on the evening of the winter solstice for music and celebration. At one point, they sat quietly, their faces illuminated by candle light, as each person in the circle said what they hoped would change, in the coming year, to help bring the world closer to peace. The visions danced – I hope children will be fed… I hope we won’t buy or sell weapons… I hope for forgiveness.

Young girls collecting scraps of rubbish in a Kabul cemetery
Young girls collecting scraps of rubbish in a Kabul cemetery

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The collective yearning and longing of children who deserve a better world may yet affect hearts and minds all over the world, prompting people to ask why do we make wars? Why should people who already have so much amass weapons that protect their ability to gain more?

I hope we will join Afghanistan’s children in begging for change.