All posts by Maya Evans

Maya Evans is a UK peace activist with focuses around Afghanistan, civil liberties, Islamphobia and drones. She is also a freelance journalist and campaigns organiser. She received Liberty's campaigner of the Year award in 2007.

Without Due Process: From Mass Incarceration to Assassination

How the U.S. has stopped using due process, from mass incarceration and weaponised drones, to police shootings

VCNV 150 mile peace walk from Chicago to Thomson Prison, superman federal facility

VCNV organised a 150 mile peace walk between 28th May to 10th June, from downtown Chicago to Thomson Prison, a new supermax federal facility due to open next summer with 1,900 solitary confinement cells.

The U.S. currently incarcerates 2.3 million people, that’s 10% of the population, or 25% of world prisoners.

Nationally, Blacks and Latinos are 5 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, and in Illinois it’s 15 times more likely.

Our walk started in downtown Chicago outside the Metropolitan Correctional Centre on Van Buren and State. By coincidence the full brunt of the Memorial Day Parades started to decamp along our street, a mass of young people congregated to unknowingly rest in the shade of an ominous urban concrete prison. Some 6,000 teenagers in military uniform, many brandishing model artillery, others marching in blocks and a lucky few in drum and brass bands. Looking across the sea of young and promising faces it was revealing to note that the majority of the teenagers were black or Latino.

It was as if these kids were marching straight out of the parade and into the military or prison.

Memorial Day Parade in downtown Chicago
Memorial Day Parade in downtown Chicago

47% percent of 20- to 24-year-old black men in Chicago, and 44% in Illinois, were out of school and out of work in 2014, compared with 20 percent of Hispanic men and 10 percent of white men in the same age group, the national average is 32%.

The walk traced a roughly westerly direction out of Chicago, across a semi rural corn belt, through some obscure towns and into Thomson which has a population of 600.

When we walked the predominantly black area of West Chicago people immediately understood the purpose of our walk and the placard messages such as “Schools Not Prisons”, children cheered, some folks stopped us to say they agreed or to thank us. One of our key messages was that money spent on prisons should be allocated to community projects which stops the root causes of crime; instead of locking people up with lengthy sentences, cementing that individual within a sector of crime and poverty. A day later we were walking through white middle class suburbs with perfect lawns and picket fences, where mass incarceration is a far away danger for ‘other people’; segregation is stark, Westside Chicago may as well be another country.

In the town of De Kalb we met members of a black congregation who told us their personal stories. One woman said her main worry in life was keeping her three black grandsons out of prison. The eldest one had already been picked up twice for the ‘scent of marijuana’ in his car. He had been hauled into police custody and remanded on bail without a crumb of evidence. Raising the $1200 bail was a massive toll on family finances, as well as continued involvement with police.

95% of prisoners in the U.S. never receive a trial, the vast majority plea guilty in the hope of receiving a reduced sentence.

Some of the older members of the congregation reflected on how the situation for black people in the US had actually worsened in the last few decades, a direct result of the 1994 Crime Bill, the ‘tough on crime’ policy started by Reagan and accelerated under Bill Clinton where incarceration rates jumped by 673,000 inmates within just two terms.

An older black father in the congregation reflected that having a black President was good for young Africa American aspirations, but in terms of noticeable improvements for black civil rights, there haven’t been any noticeable gains.

It’s now commonly documented by academics and activists that the US system of mass incarceration is the modern day form of slavery for blacks and Latinos. Prisons are being likened to slave ships with cells densely stacked on top of one another: police officers like slave overseers, legally endorsed to operate freely within black communities, shooting and terrorising people without being held to account, without scrutiny.

58% of all prisoners in the US are black or Latino, yet they make up only 1/4 of the national population.

Within privately owned penitentiaries inmates are put to work with jobs that range from making military equipment, blue jeans and baseball caps to fighting fires, clearing trees and harvesting corn, soybeans and cotton (sometimes on former slave plantation lands). Manual labour on average can earn a prisoner between 70 cents and $1.70 per day. Personal overheads for a prisoner include things like making phone calls. A prison phone contract is leased out to a private company which can charge up to 50 cents a minute, just a small part of the prison industrial complex which is now a multi billion dollar industry.

When you look at how the US treats its own citizens, it’s less surprising that it is now the central power which terrorises other nations with war and weaponised drones. Using the same demographics to incarcerate black and brown people, the US military uses skin colour, clothing, age, gender and area to assassinate individuals with drones – without due process (evidence or trail), but with the vague justification of “imminent threat” to the security of the US. My thoughts turn to Tamir Rice, the innocent 12 year old boy in Cleveland, Ohio, shot dead within seconds of police arriving at the scene.

Young black men in the U.S. are 9 times more likely to be shot by police, there were 1,134 police shootings of black men in 2015.

Solitary confinement consists of being locked in a cell 23 out of 24 hours, without human contact, without a TV. Inmates who are illiterate are deprived of the only available form of escapism – books. During the walk we were joined by Brian Nelson who had spent 23 years in solitary confinement. He said the only thing which kept him going was receiving books from his mother and becoming a ‘jailhouse lawyer’. Brian now works with a prisoner support organisation but struggles everyday with anxiety and depression. Public transport is impossible, as are crowded spaces and driving can bring on panic attacks. Prior to entering solitary confinement he had no mental health issues, within 9 months he was on medication to cope with depression.

Today he’s still trying to get an answer as to why he was actually placed in solitary. “I went from an open prison in New Mexico to being strapped to a stretcher and transported to a supermax. My lawyers can’t get an answer”. The desire to continue living is a struggle, he’s still on medication and needs to see a psychiatrist every week. Brian now prefers to spend time alone: “I first went into solitary when I was 14. They said it was for my own ‘protection’ as I was little. Now it’s like my social skills stopped developing at that age. Socially I’m still 14”.

Nobody knows how many people are currently in solitary confinement. With the massive scale of privately run prisons, the government is unable to keep a track on who’s actually in solitary and where. However it’s been estimated that upwards of 80 thousand are in some sort of segregated incarceration. The statement I repeatedly heard was, “You might not have mental health issues when you enter solitary, but by the time you get out you will”.

The UN has classified solitary confinement for more than 10 days as torture. Human rights activists are currently pushing for House Bill 5417 which proposes to limit the use of solitary confinement to 5 days.

The closing of Guantanamo was one of Obama’s key election promises when he came to office. Two terms later and he’s still struggling to make good on the promise. At one point Thomson prison was considered a likely facility to transfer the remaining 91 detainees, many of them have been incarcerated and tortured for 14 years, without trial and without substantial evidence to justify their continued imprisonment. In total 779 people have been kept at Guantanamo, 23 of which were juveniles, detained indefinitely in a blackspot, immune from international laws, devoid of human rights.  It’s unlikely their state will improve if transferred to Thomson where they will almost definitely be deprived the rights of other US prisoners (under the justification of being an “imminent threat”), and will have to also cope with solitary confinement, one of the few things Guantanamo doesn’t impose as a long term condition.

During the walk we invited Senator Dick Durbin and President Obama to spend a week in solitary confinement by way of a small qualification required before having the power to incarcerate other individuals. Our invitation went unanswered, though we did receive police surveillance and a massive presence (18 cop cars) when our group of 15 walkers arrived in Thomson. Perhaps coincidentally there was also a police helicopter circling overhead, and Thomson locals had been informed that “a riot from Chicago was heading into town”.

The US has now dispensed with due process, whether you be a brown skinned person in the Middle East targeted by a US drone, a young African American man shot on the streets by police, or part of the 95% of US prisoners incarcerated without trial. This is reinforced by US policy abroad, the CIA’s extraordinary rendition and detention program, symbolised internationally by notorious black site secret prisons and 14 years of  Guantanamo Bay has left the global image of the U.S. shattered. At the time of writing, within just two days, there have been separate incidents where US police shot have dead 2 black US citizens, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Never mind guilty before charged, the current status quo is assassination without evidence, charge or trial, guilt is decided by the colour of your skin.

Social change from the grassroots

Kabul Street Kids at the Borderfree Peace Centre enjoying their weekly lessons
Kabul Street Kids at the Borderfree Peace Centre enjoying their weekly lessons

Voices for Creative Non Violence UK are very excited to announce that we’ve received funding to undertake projects in activist skill sharing with 5 refugee groups in the UK, plus 20 Fly Kites Not Drones workshops with young people.

Both projects will link closely with the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul, either connecting with them directly, or using them as inspiration or an example of activism in a difficult environment.

Working with refugees in the UK, we hope to empower and develop confidence and campaigning skills with some of the most vulnerable currently living in UK society. The project aims to enable refugees to share their stories, while also harnessing activist skills to counter animosity and explain the difficulties involved in gaining leave to remain.

Donate to the Afghan Peace Volunteers ‘Non-Violence Football Team’ – to hire a pitch for weekly practices costs £16.25
The football team comprises of mixed ethnic players who are combining the message of peace and co-operation amongst the different ethnic groups.
The Co-operative Bank
Account: 65583025
Sort: 08 92 99
Reference: Football Team
Captain Amir & Midfield player Hoor looking at the Clapton Ultras website, while brainstorming campaigning ideas for the APV non-violence football team
Captain Amir & Midfield player Hoor looking at the Clapton Ultras website, while brainstorming campaigning ideas for the APV non-violence football team

“Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite” Abandoned for Forced Asylum

Makeshift dwellings on fire as French authorities close down part of the camp

This month, French authorities (supported and funded by the UK government to the current balance of £62 million) have been demolishing the Jungle, a toxic wasteland on the edge of Calais. Formerly a landfill site, 4 km² it is now populated by approximately 5,000 refugees who have been pushed there over the past year. A remarkable community of 15 nationalities adhering to various faiths comprises the Calais Jungle. Residents have formed a network of shops and restaurants which, along with hamams and barber shops contribute to a micro-economy within the encampment.  Community infrastructure now includes schools, mosques, churches and clinics.

Afghans, numbering approximately 1,000, constitute the largest national group. Among this group are people from each of the main ethnicities in Afghanistan:  Pashtoons, Hazaras, Uzbeks and Tajiks. The Jungle is an impressive example of how people from different nationalities and ethnicities can live together in relative harmony, despite oppressive hardship and infringement of universal rights and civil liberties. Arguments and scuffles sometimes break out, but they’re normally catalysed by French authorities or traffickers.

Earlier this month Teresa May won a significant battle to restart flights deporting Afghans back to Kabul, on the grounds that it is now safe to return to the capital city.

Just 3 months ago I sat in the Kabul office of ‘Stop Deportation to Afghanistan.’ Sunlight poured through the window like golden syrup on a top floor apartment, the city of Kabul shrouded in dust splayed out like a postcard. The organisation is a support group run by Abdul Ghafoor, a Pakistan-born Afghan who spent 5 years in Norway, only to be deported to Afghanistan, a country he had previously never visited. Ghafoor told me about a meeting he had recently attended with Afghan government ministers and NGOs – he laughed as he described how the non-Afghan NGO workers arrived at the armed compound wearing bullet proof vests and helmets, and yet Kabul has been deemed a safe space for returning refugees.  The hypocrisy and double standards would be a joke if the upshot was not so unfair. On one hand you have foreign embassy staff being airlifted (for security reasons) by helicopter within the city of Kabul, and on the other you have various European governments saying it’s safe for thousands of refugees to return to Kabul.

In 2015, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan documented 11,002 civilian casualties (3,545 deaths and, 7,457 injured) exceeding the previous record in 2014.

Having visited Kabul 8 times in the last 5 years, I’ve been acutely aware that security within the city has drastically declined. As a foreigner I no longer take walks longer than 5 minutes, day trips to the beautiful Panjshir Valley or the Qarga lake are now considered too risky. Word on the Kabul streets is that the Taliban are strong enough to take the city but can’t be bothered with the hassle of running it; meanwhile independent ISIS cells have established a foothold. I regularly hear that Afghan life today is less secure than it was under the Taliban, 14 years of US/NATO-backed war has been a disaster.

Back in the Jungle, north France, 21 miles from the British isles, around 1,000 Afghans dream of a safe life in Britain. Some have previously lived in Britain, others have family in the UK, many have worked with the British military or NGOs. Emotions are manipulated by traffickers who describe the streets of Britain as paved with gold.  Many refugees are discouraged by the treatment they’ve received in France where they’ve been subjected to police brutality and attacks by far-right thugs. For various reasons they feel the best chance of a peaceful life is in Britain. Deliberate exclusion from the UK just makes the prospect even more desirable. Certainly the fact that Britain has agreed to take only 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next 5 years, and overall the UK is taking 60 refugees per 1,000 of the local population who claimed asylum in 2015, compared to Germany which is taking 587, has played into the dream that Britain is the land of exclusive opportunity.

Refugees from Afghanistan, North Africa, Eritrea and watch as their temporary homes in the 'jungle' camp are destroyed
Refugees from Afghanistan, North Africa, Eritrea and watch as their temporary homes in the ‘jungle’ camp are destroyed

I spoke with Afghan community leader Sohail, who said: “I love my country, I want to go back and live there, but it’s just not safe and we have no opportunity to live. Look at all the businesses in the Jungle, we have talents, we just need the opportunity to use them”. This conversation happened in the Kabul Café, one of the social hotspots in the Jungle, just one day before the area was set ablaze, the whole south high street of shops and restaurants razed to the ground.  After the fire, I spoke with the same Afghan community leader. We stood amid the demolished ruins where we had drunk tea in the Kabul café.   He feels deeply saddened by the destruction. “Why did the authorities put us here, let us build a life and then destroy it?”

Two weeks ago the south part of the Jungle was demolished: hundreds of shelters were burnt or bulldozed leaving some 3,500 refugees with nowhere to go. The French authorise now want to move onto the north part of the camp with the aim of rehousing most refugees within white fishing crate containers, many of which are already set up in the Jungle, and currently accommodate 1,900 refugees. Each container houses 12 people, there’s little privacy, and sleeping times are determined by your ‘crate mates’ and their mobile phone habits.  More alarmingly, a refugee is required to register with French authorities. This includes having your finger prints digitally recorded; in effect, it’s the first step into forced French asylum.

The British government has consistently used the Dublin Regulations as legal grounds for not taking its equal quota of refugees. These regulations prescribe that refugees should seek asylum in the first safe country they land in. However, that regulation is now simply impractical.  If it was properly enforced, Turkey, Italy and Greece would be left to accommodate the millions of refugees.

Many refugees are requesting for a UK asylum centre within the Jungle, giving them the ability to start the process for asylum in Britain. The reality of the situation is that refugee camps like the Jungle are not stopping people from actually entering the UK. In fact these blights on human rights are reinforcing illegal and harmful industries such as trafficking, prostitution and drug smuggling. European refugee camps are playing into the hands of human traffickers; one Afghan told me that , the current going rate to be smuggled into the UK is now around €10,000, the price having doubled over the last few months. Setting up a UK asylum centre would also remove the violence which often occurs between truck drivers and refugees, as well as tragic and fatal accidents which come about during transit into the UK. It’s perfectly possible to have the same number of refugees entering the UK via legal means as there are by the ones which exist today.

The south part of the camp now stands desolate, burnt to the ground other than for a few social amenities. An icy wind whips across the expanse of littered wasteland. Debris flaps in the breeze, a sad combination of rubbish and charred personal belongings. French riot police used tear gas, water canons and rubber bullets to aid the demolition. Currently there’s a stalemate situation wherein some NGOs and volunteers are reluctant to rebuild homes and constructions which might quickly be demolished by French authorities.

The Jungle represents incredible human ingenuity and entrepreneurial energy exhibited by refugees and the volunteers who have poured their lives into making a community to be proud of; simultaneously it’s a shocking and shameful reflection of the decline in European human rights and infrastructure, where people who flee for their lives are forced to inhabit communal crate containers, a form of indefinite detention. Unofficial comments made by a representative of the French authorities indicates a possible future policy whereby refugees who choose to remain outside of the system, opting either to be homeless or not to register, could potentially face imprisonment for up to 2 years.

France and Britain are currently shaping their immigration policy. It is especially disastrous for France, with a constitution founded on “Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite”, to base that policy on demolishing temporary homes, excluding and incarcerating refugees, and forcing refugees into unwanted asylum. By giving people the right to choose their country of asylum, assisting with basic needs such as accommodation and food, responding with humanity rather than suppression, the State will be enabling the best possible practical solution, as well as complying with international human rights, laws set down to protect the safety and rights of everyone in the world today.

Afghan restaurant at the ‘jungle’ refugee camp, Calais, France

Being a Peace Visitor in Kabul

by Henrietta Cullinan

Henrietta in Kabul, visiting a refugee camp
Henrietta in Kabul, visiting a refugee camp

I had never considered that part of my own peace activism would be to visit a war torn country. I knew several people who had travelled to Gaza, Iraq and Afghanistan. I also knew people who had worked in refugee camps in Syria. It didn’t occur to me that I could undertake such a journey until about a year ago. I had been taking part in the monthly vigil against drones at RAF Waddington. One day I travelled up to Lincoln with Maya Evans of Voices for Creative Nonviolence UK. She had recently returned from three months in Kabul. On the long awkward journey, Maya told me all about the young members of the Afghan Peace Volunteers and their life in community. Eventually she said, ‘Have you ever thought of visiting Afghanistan?’

I had spent so much time praying about, discussing, protesting against UK involvement in NATO’s wars, my heart knew the true next step was to visit the site of so much suffering. At the same time I was nervous and found it difficult to work out why I was going or what I was going to do when I got there. Travelling to Afghanistan in a group, we could make the situation for our hosts potentially more dangerous. I recognised my heart was telling me to go, I recognised the Spirit was calling me to go, but my understanding had a difficult time catching up. It castigated me for causing too much bother, for spending too much money, for putting lives in danger, for missing family Christmas. It came up with a thousand excuses.

Afghanistan is a beautiful country like all countries are beautiful; the snowcapped mountain range hovers over the smog; on a clear day the sky is the most intense blue I have ever seen. Sometimes it was so cold the open sewer in the street was frozen over, but during the day kept us warm. I listened to the friendly, young Afghans as they talked about their homes in Bamyam province. I looked at their pictures of child shepherds, rivers, trees, mountains.

Once I said, ‘What a beautiful day!’ and my new friends laughed. ‘This is Afghanistan. There is a war on.’ But it was a beautiful day. The smog had been blown away. The green flag of faith on the top of the building opposite and the washing lines on the balconies were all fluttering. People were standing on street corners, gesticulating, chatting. Students were being students.

I felt excited to be in what felt like the centre of the world; Russia to the north, China and Pakistan to the east, Iran to the west.

This would be my peace message, an obvious message but one I could now hear in reality not just in theory. One I need to repeat. Countries are full of young and old, thoughtful, hopeful people just like us. We have no right to destroy their means to live, to make life so difficult, a whole country dysfunctional, a whole country traumatised, so many families having lost a father, a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister. As I was there the US army was leaving, the UK army had already left. One boy said to me, ‘Hey! Our countries are no longer at war. We can be friends!’

Another message I held close to my heart is one inspired by scripture but also a practical one. Our trip wasn’t going to be very long, only three weeks. What could I do in three weeks? What skills could I possibly bring? I’m a literacy teacher, but only in English, not Dari. I’m not a journalist. I know nothing of aid work.

On the Sunday of Christ the Kind I sat in my local church searching and searching for an answer. Why was I going to Kabul? I went through the works of mercy, the gospel reading for that day. Separate the sheep from the goats. Feed the hungry. It’s not helpful the other members of my group said, to take food to the refugee camps. We could cause a riot. Clothe me when I am naked. As westerners, our group had a dim view of that too. Gloves and socks and pants? We hadn’t raised money to buy food or clothes. I’m not a journalist so I can’t add an eye witness account. ‘Absorb!’ the rest of the group told me.

I was thirsty and you gave me drink. There was fantastic hospitality in Kabul. Everywhere we went, a large pot of green tea came out, hot, steaming, weak and left on top of the wood stove to keep warm. It was served with a thermos of hot water, sometimes flavoured with cardamom. You could drink the plain hot water or use it to top up your glass of tea. In the morning our young hostess came rushing in to put glasses of tea by our beds. After the first night I woke up with my throat sore and feeling as if it was full of gravel. Our hosts said, ‘You’re not drinking enough.’ Fumes from the wood, coal and diesel that people burn to keep warm, fills the atmosphere with a strange yellow smell, which burns the throat and nostrils.

Going through the works of mercy, I came to the last one. I was sick and in prison and you visited me. I was all those things. But this was something I could do. I do know how to do this. Hospitals are full of visitors. I have sat beside the beds of elderly relatives often enough, felt embarrassed, been told to go away. When someone is sick, they’re not polite. All I can do is sit there. There is not much I can do except stay a while. And just be.

That was what I could do in Afghanistan. I was visiting; nothing grand. The country is sick, from lack of infrastructure, from the effects of one war piled upon another war, from lack of manufacturing base, from pollution. And the young people are imprisoned by lack of opportunity, unemployment, uncertainty, the unpredictable security situation. So this was the  main reason to go, to be a person who visited.

It gave me great courage, while I was in Kabul, to obey these words of encouragement from scripture.

Being a Woman in Afghanistan

Darulaman Refugee Camp 2014, photo by Mary Dobbing
Darulaman Refugee Camp 2014, photo by Mary Dobbing

by Henrietta Cullinan

On International Women’s Day, we should question whether conditions for women in Afghanistan have improved after thirteen years of the presence of US/ NATO troops in the country. When I travelled to Kabul recently I was able to glimpse first hand how entrenched cultural practices make women’s lives doubly hard, lives that are already made hard by the lack of security.

We hear that even people in power support restrictions on women’s ability to move and act freely in public, that they support to the custom that means that women should only travel when accompanied by a male relative.

This can be interpreted as not being able to take a plane, cross a border, but for some households this means not going out at all.  There are many consequences to not going out, that are dangerous and even life threatening, not just humiliating and unjust. Not going out is not just an issue of inequality but also a barrier to young women’s  livelihoods. I spoke to young Afghan women at the Borderfree Centre talk about the barriers put in their way and to Latifa Ahmadi, founder of Organisation  for the Promotion of Women’s Capabilities.

Latifa Amadi says “The way women in Afghanistan are treated badly puts pressure on us all.’ Her demand is that we campaign for Afghan women’s rights from all over the world”.

Women from the APV co-ordinate the duvet distribution
Women from the APV co-ordinate the duvet distribution

For a short time I was a woman in Kabul. I listened to female members  of the Afghan Peace Volunteers and at the APV’s Borderfree centre talk about the restrictions to their movements. The young women I met took on responsibilities in the  humanitarian and educational projects run from the Borderfree Centre. One young woman organized duvet handouts at Darulaman refugee camp. I saw her confidently arrive in the truck, call out names from a clip board as women from a refugee camp came rushing up to collect their duvets. I witnessed another couple of teenage girls organising the local seamstresses who embroider the Borderfree scarves, and checking their work for accuracy. Two young women teach the street children literacy and maths. Another takes charge of the community budget, organising currency exchange and banking the donations.

Travel restrictions had other effects on the young women beside making life awkward. While I was in Kabul, I had my own experience of not being able to go out. In my case the reason was because I was a foreigner. The hazards of not going out were realised one day, when by chance all the young people left us four guests alone. I felt like a child again. I wasn’t even sure how to call a cab.

I hardly knew where I was. It was only when, to avoid the traffic, the taxi driver took a circular route home I worked out the relationship between the river, the mountains, the main roads and our house. I slowly built a mental map of main roads, the market stalls, a  flyover and offices.

We asked the young women at the Borderfree Centre about restrictions on their movements, on not going out. They said under the Taliban it had been much worse; no girl over the age of nine could leave the house. There are still some families that don’t allow their daughters to go out. An example they gave was of a family who spoilt their daughter, loved her very much bought her all sorts of beautiful clothes and expensive treats, but wouldn’t allow her to go out or use a phone. This made her very unhappy. She told them, ‘I don’t care about the clothes or the food.’

Many women live their entire lives in the home
Many women live their entire lives in the home

The girls experienced varying degrees of restrictions. Some were allowed out but had to be back before their father came home. One said she was often hassled in the street, being asked where she was going, what was she doing, does her father know. A relative might see her and tell her father. Another reports not being able to go out if there are men in the house, if their father’s at home. If a woman is not used to going out into society, one girl said, when she does she will not know how to behave and then might put herself in danger. She might behave inappropriately, and be called a prostitute.

If girls cannot go out their education suffers. The girls said confidently 50% of girls in Kabul could have an education if they want to. These particular girls were attending classes, university or school in the city. Whizzing around in our delegation taxi, we often saw crowds of teenage girls outside schools, collecting their exam results, carrying their files and books, rushing to lectures.

Some girls seem to be getting an education. How good an education was a different matter; our friends complained of out of date text books from Iran, a teacher who kept them waiting in the cold, who talked about himself instead of teaching the class. The girls in our community were university students studying for their first year exams. We were told to help as much as possible with the housework and the cooking. They must study hard; they had to do twice as well as the boys to be taken seriously.

Henrietta talking to young women at the Borderfree Centre
Henrietta talking to young women at the Borderfree Centre

At the Borderfree Centre, the girls explained that fathers don’t want their daughters to ‘show the whites of their eyes’, an Afghan expression. That is intelligent women become bad women by rolling their eyes, being disrespectful towards their fathers and male relatives. So fathers don’t allow their girls to go to school.

Some fathers believe universities are bad for girls, because there are mixed classes and male lecturers.  The fathers don’t allow the girls to come to the Borderfree Centre, for the same reason: girls and boys are mixed together. Some girls come to the centre in secret they said. Others have discussed it with their their father and he’s given permission so they don’t care what the other relatives think. More enlightened fathers are happy to discuss things while others insist the female members of the families are home when he gets home.

Latifa Ahmadi, Director of OPAWC
Latifa Ahmadi, Director of OPAWC

Not being able  to go out makes education hard for older women too. Latifa Ahmadi runs an education project at the OPAWC, offering literacy and numeracy classes. The students progress to learning ‘handicrafts’ such as tailoring, chicken farming and jam making so they can earn a living. We met some of the women upstairs in the freezing classroom, everyone in their coats. They held up their text books. I asked them what made literacy hard, expecting the usual answer, spelling. No spelling wasn’t hard. The thing that was hard, was not being able to leave the house. One said she had to lock her children into the apartment. One woman has to come in a burkha.

OPAWC has even had to move its literacy centre because the local ‘warlord’ has created a problem for them. The ‘warlord’ spread propaganda, saying the literacy classes were teaching Christianity. He told the Mullah to tell the women not to come. When she found

Craftwork by women at the OPAWC centre
Craftwork by women at the OPAWC centre

out, Latifa showed the Mullah the text book. The syllabus is provided by the government, and covers women’s rights, health, domestic violence, and handicraft.

All the young women at the Borderfree Centre and Latifa Ahmadi at OPAWC emphasised how important it is for Afghan women to know their rights. If women never go out they will not be able to attend classes. If women are not educated they will not know their rights. Girls and women need to know their rights to a life free from violence, to equal pay, to be able to work, to access healthcare. They talked about putting out a radio programme to help women not allowed out of the house. Women need to be able to demonstrate for their rights, to healthcare, to work, to freedom from domestic violence, even if they join a protest ‘hiding’ in a burkha.

Artwork by Afghan woman, as part of an OPAWC project
Artwork by Farida Mohammady, as part of an OPAWC project

Future in Prison

Kathy Kelly delivering bread at Whiteman Air Base
Kathy Kelly delivering bread at Whiteman Air Base

by Kathy Kelly

The Bureau of Prisons contacted me today, assigning me a prison number and a new address:  for the next 90 days, beginning tomorrow, I’ll live at FMC Lexington, in the satellite prison camp for women, adjacent to Lexington’s federal medical center for men.  Very early tomorrow morning, Buddy Bell, Cassandra Dixon, and Paco and Silver, two house guests whom we first met in protests on South Korea’s Jeju Island, will travel with me to Kentucky and deliver me to the satellite women’s prison outside the Federal Medical Center for men.

In December, 2014, Judge Matt Whitworth sentenced me to three months in federal prison after Georgia Walker and I had attempted to deliver a loaf of bread and a letter to the commander of Whiteman Air Force base, asking him to stop his troops from piloting lethal drone flights over Afghanistan from within the base.  Judge Whitworth allowed me over a month to surrender myself to prison; but whether you are a soldier or a civilian, a target or an unlucky bystander, you can’t surrender to a drone.

When I was imprisoned at Lexington prison in 1988, after a federal magistrate in Missouri sentenced me to one year in prison for planting corn on nuclear missile silo sites, other women prisoners playfully nicknamed me “Missiles.”  One of my sisters reliably made me laugh today, texting me to ask if I thought the women this time would call me “Drones.”

It’s good to laugh and feel camaraderie before heading into prison.  For someone like me, very nearly saturated in “white privilege” through much of this arrest, trial, and sentencing process, 90% (or more) of my experience  will likely depend on attitude.

But, for many of the people I’ll meet in prison, an initial arrest very likely began with something like a “night raid” staged in Iraq or Afghanistan, complete with armed police surrounding and bursting into their home to remove them from children and families, often with helicopters overhead, sequestering them in a county jail, often with very little oversight to assure that guards and wardens treat them fairly.  Some prisoners will not have had a chance to see their children before being shipped clear across the country.  Some will not have been given adequate medical care as they adjust to life in prison, possibly going without prescribed medicines and often traumatized by the sudden dissolution of ties with family and community.  Some will not have had the means to hire a lawyer and may not have learned much about their case from an overworked public defender.

In the U.S., the criminal justice system disproportionately incarcerates people of color for petty offences. Many take plea bargains under threat of excessive, punitive sentences. If I were a young black male, the U.S. penal system quite likely would not have allowed me to turn myself in to a federal prison camp.

I’ll be incarcerated in a satellite camp outside a medical facility where I expect the wards are crowded with geriatric patients. How bleak and unnecessary it is to confine people for decades. My friend Brian Terrell, who was incarcerated in Yankton, South Dakota for six months after crossing the line at Whiteman AFB, told me that while in prison he saw signs on the walls recruiting prisoners to train for medically assisting geriatric male prisoners. I shudder to think of our culture’s pervading callousness, pointlessly consigning so many aged people to languish in prison.

I will be free in three months, but our collective future is most assuredly shackled to a wrongheaded criminal justice system.  I hope this compulsively vengeful and diseased criminal justice system will change during my lifetime.  And I hope that my short sojourn inside Lexington’s prison walls will help me better understand and perhaps help shed some small light on the systems that affect other people trapped there.

During recent visits with concerned communities focused on drone warfare, many have helped me see a connection between the drone killings across Central Asia and the Middle East and the casual executions and incarceration of young black males in our own country.

In Afghanistan, where the noise of air strikes and civil war have faded to the buzz of drones and the silence of empty promises, our friends in the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs) continue their peace building efforts.  Last week, eighty street children walked from the APV center to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission office to assert their right to education.  Their signs expressed their determination to help create a school for street children.  One sign said, “We don’t want your charity.  We want dignity.”

Our young friends wish to provide a better life for the very children whose only other ways off the streets may well include joining the Taliban, criminal gangs, or some other militia.  Meanwhile, the United States’ vengeful stance as a nation, concerned with protecting its wealth and status at all costs and its safety above all considerations of equity or reason, destroys the lives of the impoverished at home as it destroys those abroad.

The “Black Lives Matter” protests need our support, as do the March 4-6 protests to “Shut Down Creech” Air Force Base.  Our friends in the Afghan Peace Volunteers will continue to do vital work for peace and solidarity, in Kabul, that needs our support. It’s encouraging to know that thousands upon thousands of committed people seek and find work to make our world less like a prison for our neighbors and ourselves.

My address for the next three months is

Kathy Kelly with her loaf of breadKathy Kelly
Prison Number 04971-045
FMC LEXINGTON
FEDERAL MEDICAL CENTER
SATELLITE CAMP
P.O. BOX 14525
LEXINGTON, KY  40512

Street kids, plastic sweet wrappers and refugee camps

by Maya Evans

Street kids in class, photo by Maya Evans
Street kids in class, photo by Maya Evans

We’ve just got back from seeing the street kids who came for their weekly lessons at the Borderfree Non-Violence Peace Centre.

Nassim doing a pre class handstand, photo by Maya Evans
Nassim doing a pre class handstand, photo by Maya Evans

The street kids were all on fine form today, I managed to do a head count and there’s currently 23 on the programme, part of the APV’s economic justice and education equality thrust.

I got to interview Habib (which means love), the boy I wrote about last year. Since then he’s been to Farah province after his uncle told him “lets go”. As usual 12 year old Habib wears a worried face, as if he carries the weight of the world on his shoulders, probably not far from that as he’s still the main bread winner of the family, a stress for any grown man let alone a pre adolescent.

Habib, photo by Maya Evans
Habib, photo by Maya Evans

Habib has recently changed occupation, his weighing scales were not bringing in enough money so he’s moved onto shining shoes which earns him around 100 Afghanis per day, which is about £1.15

His weighing scales have been handed down to his 9 year old brother Samim who also works the streets. I asked him about his time in Farah province, one of the more volatile provinces in Afghanistan; known for it’s production of opium, prevalence of addicts and presence of Talibs. Habib shrugs and says “What’s there to like about Farah, there’s just fighting.” He expands a little and says there’s nothing much in Farah, no city, no health facilities, just countryside, and more importantly to Habib, nowhere to study. I ask him what he likes about Kabul, immediately he says

APV Zarghuna teaching street kids, photo by Maya Evans
APV Zarghuna teaching street kids, photo by Maya Evans

“study”, a testimony to the success of the APV’s project as his once a week lesson at the Border Free Centre is the only schooling he receives. I ask after his mother Maryam and his 5 brothers and sisters, again he shrugs and says “fine”, they still live in the same place, a piece of tarp stretched from the side of a building which creates one living space for the 8 members of the family.

Habib talks about his average day, work will normally start around 9 in the morning and end at 8pm. At the moment it’s getting dark at 5 and even teenage members of the APV tend not to be out later than 7 as the streets are so unsafe. He says his day is tiring as there aren’t many places to work so he must walk around a lot which is quite tiring. His biggest worry is security and the danger of being caught up in an attack. He describes how one day there was a bomb in Pul-e-Sulh, a shopping area not far from the peace centre, his mother was gripped with fear so walked the streets for hours, looking for him so as to take him home.

The memory of meeting his mother Maryam last year came back to me, she quietly wept under her burka as she described how her husband died in a sectarian suicide attack on a Shia mosque 4 years ago. I ask him if he still wants to become a doctor, he immediately answers “yes”.

Gul Jumu'ah, photo by Maya Evans
Gul Jumu’ah, photo by Maya Evans

Next I interviewed Gul Jumu’ah (meaning flower Friday), she doesn’t know her age but looks around 10. She partly caught my eye because of her already apparent stunning beauty, and then her shy smile which possesses a quiet inner joy. There are only 5 girls on the project, I’m guessing there are generally less girls working the streets as usually girls and women are expected to stay indoors and run the house. GulJumu’ah is Pashtoon and lives in Chara Kumba refugee camp. She looks timidly at me as I beam the biggest smile I can muster. Today she was dressed in a raggedy pink spangly dress which hangs off her thin frame. She sits crossed legged on the floor looking nervous, I suspect it’s the first time anyone has ever asked to speak with her, least of all a foreigner.

Gul Jumu’ah is painfully shy, she looks down and plays with her dress, her hands are weathered and filthy, she only occasionally looks up to flash a shy smile. I find out that her work involves trawling the streets for plastic to burn for fuel, this morning she collected 2 sacks of plastic. She’s been living in the refugee camp for the last 3 years, before then she lived in Sangin, Helmand province, the area of Afghanistan where British troops were based and the fighting has been most fierce. She says that her family left Helmand 3 years ago after her father was killed. She has 5 brothers but 2 of them have died in the war and 1 of her 5 sisters has also passed away. Her older brother was a cobbler but his equipment was stolen so now he can’t work. Her only memory of Sangin is war, I try to press her for more detail but again she just says “war”. The last year at the border free centre is her first experience of education, she says learning is important to her and when she’s older she’d like to become a teacher and help people. I want to know more about Gul Jamma but can sense a deep sadness which I feel is not my place to disturb. I ask her about toys, her only doll, she has black hair and wears a scarf but doesn’t help with housework.

Since being in Kabul we’ve heard whispered horror stories, one being the trafficking of young Afghans to the Middle East, mainly for slavery and even body parts, the rumours say that street children are particularly vulnerable.

This morning Obama announced that the war with Afghanistan has come to a “responsible end”.

At the end of today’s lesson we brought out a box of Quality Street chocolates which the kids excitedly gobbled down. Some of the wrappers were carelessly discarded on the floor by many of the children. I noticed Gul Jumu’ah discretely bend down and collect the wrappers, no doubt to be added to her fuel stash.

Habib, Noor Rahman & Raul, photo by Maya Evans
Habib, Noor Rahman & Raul, photo by Maya Evans

Noor Rahman, a chubby 12 year old in a filthy yellow hoddie plays with his mobile phone, he’s the kind of kid who could probably fix up anything, you name it, he can get it. He complains to Hakim that the phone company charges him 1 Afghani every time he connects to the internet, Hakim laughs and advises him to disconnect his internet service.

Raul bumps his sack of rice down the stairs, photo by Maya Evans
Raul bumps his sack of rice down the stairs, photo by Maya Evans

The teenage members of the APV then called each of the kids out of the room to collect their monthly subsidy of food, a sack of rice and a large bottle of oil. Raul, who looks around 8 drags his sack out of the centre, he expertly bumps it down the stairs and then hikes it over a shoulder while grabbing his bottle of oil and swiftly making off.

Gul Jumu'ah at the bottom of the stairs
Gul Jumu’ah at the bottom of the stairs

Gul Jumu’ah looks up at me from the bottom of the stairs and flashes me a smile, my heart melts, she then skips out of the centre to meet her brother who has come to help her with the rice and oil.

Although physically we’ve done very little today I feel quite tired. At the moment  a “dramatic sunset”  is forming outside our living room window. From where I’m sat (in the corner of the room), I can only see the razor wire on our neighbour’s wall and a few yellowing clouds. Khamed Jan has just lit a fire, the room is slightly smokey. The familiar call to prayer has just started up, the quality and emotion of the Imam’s voice is almost enough to make me want to convert, I guess that’s the idea.

The sun is forming a dramatic sunset which I’m almost tempted to photograph, Zahidi is talking about her memories from the Russian war, of waiting for hours in the freezing snow to get 2 loaves of bread to feed 6 members of her family. Her life has included many years as a refugee in Pakistan and then Iran. At 30 she is already considered too old to marry and her slight limp (maybe from Polio) also counts against her marrying chances. She says living in the community has massively changed her life, that it’s taught her how to speak with and trust people. Zarghuna says that meeting internationals  and other members of the group makes her love many people like they’re family.

This is my fourth year in Kabul, without a doubt I love these people as family.

Christmas in Kabul

by Maya Evans

cakeChristmas in Kabul is probably the least Christmasy experience on the planet, other than a mini icing rich christmas cake which got cracked out after lunch there were no signs of seasonal festivity. We’re having a stay at home day as some of our good friends have advised us not to be out on Christmas day. We’re taking ultra cautious security measures to safeguard our young friends and ourselves. The only walking we do is from our front door to the door of a waiting taxi. We only take short journeys and usually to the peace centre. When in the taxi we say nothing and usually cover our faces with scarves. What a curious group we must be, 3 women in the back of a taxi with covered faces being escorted by young men, usually wearing a Martin Luther King T Shirt. It’s definitely to our advantage that culturally women are not expected to speak, and being buried under scarves is also fairly normal. We speak in a whisper in the hall area of our home which adjoins our neighbours. It makes me think about Anne Frank and her life.

yardAt the moment there’s something of a Christmas scene. Henrietta is patiently knitting in the corner, I’m feeling snoozy after a very carb heavy lunch of rice, potatoes and bread. Golden sunlight pours through our south facing windows, some sparrow type birds roost in an apricot tree in our yard chirping a cheerful tune. The call to prayer booms out over the rooftops, children play football in the lane on the other side of the wall to our yard, a man somewhere near beats a piece of metal, the children upstairs run up and down their balcony squealing with delight. Someone lights a fire and smoke belches out of a mud chimney opposite. In the bubble of our compound the Persian charm of the city almost makes you forget that we’re in a war zone and one of the most desperate countries in the world.

Latifa
Latifa in the OPAWC office

Yesterday we visited OPAWC, Organisation to Promote Afghan Women’s Capabilities, a grassroots organisation who teach women in Kabul basic literacy, numeracy and handicraft so that they have an opportunity to gain economic independence and education. The office is located in district 5, very close to the notorious Chara Kumba refugee camp, the largest in Kabul and a no go zone for foreigners where, it’s said, gangs working for the Taliban (whoever they are these days) are currently operating. The area was also decimated by a local war lord during the civil war when hundreds of people were massacred, as a result the neighbourhood now has many widows, many of whom attend the centre for free teaching. The director of OPAWC is Latifa Ahmadi, she formed the group with some of her friends when they were teenagers living in Pakistan. Latifa and her friends were moved by the plight of Afghan refugees so initially set up a school and then a health clinic, the organisation expanded to establish orphanages around the country, but due to the economic recession and a drying up in funding the organisation has slimmed down to just a health clinic for women in Farah province and their centre of education in Kabul. Without a doubt Latifa is one of the most inspiring women I have ever met, her political analysis is alongside that of Malalai Joya, who was once part of OPAWC, and has a conviction equal to Angela Davis. She paints a grim picture of what life is like for Afghan women today, “billions of dollars spent on basic security for women and still the majority of women in Afghanistan are without access to education, healthcare and the right to not be abused”. She describes the women in government as being symbolic and the country being driven by a car which has 2 steering wheels installed by American John Kerry who steamed over from the US to decide that Abdullah Abdullah would be President, while Ashraf Afghani was Prime Minister; that’s “independent democracy” for you, she almost starts to laugh at the ridiculousness of the political situation. Despite her feelings of desperateness she still has hope in the Afghan people, the majority of which are young and clued up about the endemic corruption which grips the country.

As we leave Latifa she warns us that travelling around the city isn’t safe, and as foreigners we shouldn’t be making such trips.

The three of us had actually made a risk assessment the night before and concluded it would just be bad luck if we got caught up in an attack, and the most likely thing to happen was the taxi breaking down or getting lost. Much to our amusement, though slight alarm, both of those things actually happened. Thankfully the taxi driver managed to resuscitate the passenger laden car after we pulled to a halt on a busy road not far from the Chara Kumba camp. Our driver nonchalantly stepped out the car, in the middle of a busy highway, pulled up the bonnet, tightened something and restarted the car. Then the inevitable getting lost moment came, our pre emptying of the event meant I had Latifa’s number to hand.

These cauliflowers have not been photoshopped

The way home was wildly exciting as we inched slowly through traffic which paralleled a busy bazaar. The hustle bustle of an Afghan market is one of the most exciting sights to behold, old beaten up carts with carefully arranged towers of the sweetest oranges from Jalalabad, pomegranates from Kandahar, giant Gulpees (cauliflowers) perhaps 4 times the size of a standard British colly, potatoes from Bamiyan, apples from Wardak, piles of pine nuts still in their husks, a man cracks open some almonds piled on his cart, another Hazarra man with handsome mountain weathered Mongol feathers walks past in labourers clothes. Men sitting on the side of the road drinking tea from fine Persian style teacups, horses pulling carts, greasy bolany stalls (like a fried pancake with a potato and leek filling), people weaving in and out of traffic. The sky is bright blue, crisp sharp sunshine, a spectacular picture postcard view of the reclining Hindu Kush in the background, quite unaffected by the sprawl below.

The throng is thrilling.

First Impressions

by Henrietta Cullinan

View

My way of getting to know a new city is to set out on foot, see where my feet will take me, stop for coffee. In Kabul, this will not be possible. At the moment, it is too dangerous for foreigners to walk anywhere; all trips will be by taxi. We will disguise our presence, heads down, keep silent in front of strangers.

Stepping off the plane, into the bright yellow light, there is a sweet smell, partly diesel fumes partly something chemical. Pale yellow, grey dust covers the roses, trees, soil, in the small airport garden. The dust and the smell are the same painful yellow gray.

From the airport, the taxi noses round pot holes, round pedestrians and cyclists. Men in the street, gather in small groups, drink tea. Young women walk in small groups, girls gather around a school gates.

We pass garages, exhaust pipe and tyre shops, bumper shops, bodywork shops. Men crouch on the kerb, selling petrol from a long tank. The road passes marble shops, cement stores, concrete mixers, carpet shops, signs of a construction boom. There are new houses, with tinted glass and ornate balconies that look as if they have already seen better days or waiting for better days to come.

living room
Henrietta Culinan & Mary Dobbing

 

The atmosphere, the bright yellow light and the strange smell of diesel fumes and wood smoke, seems personified and in my jet lagged state seem to follow us into Kabul, into the flat where we’ll be staying. After a good sleep, the bright yellow light streaming across the carpeted floor, I soon grow accustomed to our inside life.  In the day I pick up sound clues, the neighbour’s ringtone, the neighbour’s children. I can hear the thud of a football against the wall and scuffling feet in sandals. I distinguish the street cries from the muezzin. The silent gap between our garden wall and the next building is the Kabul river bed.

Best of all I get to know our hosts, the young men and women of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, sitting round the beaten metal stove, eating the Celebrations we’ve brought. After a few days I start to hear their stories how the war has affected their lives and their families.

Mother Mariam and Habib

Mother Mariam and Habib

Habib

Watch Habib’s video

by Maya Evans

We are sitting on the floor in a simple outhouse room attached to the Afghan Peace Volunteer’s compound, the unheated space is normally used for teaching local children various classes. Habib and his mother Mariam sit in front of us motionless, Mariam wears the burqa so it is not possible to read her face and ascertain how she might be feeling, the tentative expression on Habib’s face tells us that their life is hard.

It was around 2 months ago when I first met 12 year old Habib, he arrived on the doorstep with some of his friends wanting to join the Street Kids Project being run by the APV- an effort to help some of the 60,000 street kids of Kabul. Habib’s face looked concerned as he clutched his weighing scales- the tool of his trade- 5 Afghanis a go, around 5p.

Habib arrives for the Street Kids Project
Habib (left) arrives for the Street Kids Project

Since then I have bumped into him a few times. Once outside our local bank- it was the first day of snow and he sat in the doorway shivering, his scales by his side, his ragged thread bare clothes offered small benefits to the freezing cold. I then saw him a few weeks later with his friends, who also work the streets, they were playing tag by the river, their faces beamed with exhilaration as they ran up and down a small unpaved road.

Habib is the oldest of 5 children, he’s around 12 years old and in 6th grade, he has 3 brothers and one sister, one of the younger brothers also works the streets.

As the breadwinner of the family he starts work with his scales at 8am and finishes around 12 noon, on average he earns around 100 Afghanis a day, though sometimes it’s less.  After work he returns home to help with household chores, sometimes he helps his neighbours and whenever he gets the chance, he studies.

Habib’s Mother bought the scales for him, initially they borrowed a set from a friend who suggested that line of work for Habib, when it proved to be a good income she bought him his own scales for 350 Afghanis.

Habib sits next to his mother Mariam, his face combines sorrow and concern, understandable for a 12 year old who is the main provider for the family.

His mother Mariam is 26, a widow of 3 years after a bombing at the local Shia Mosque killed her husband. He was pushing a cart of oranges when he momentarily stopped outside the Abdul Fazal Mosque and a suicide bomber detonated deadly explosives, over a hundred people were killed. He was rushed to hospital but died after 3 days.

The outline of Mariam under a burqa is barely recognisable as a person, the all covering indigo cloth makes her human figure almost alien, the only visual human characteristic are her eyelashes which i can faintly see blinking rapidly behind the gauze. It is just her sorrowful voice which allows us to connect as humans.

She explains that her brother has a bad temper and doesn’t allow her to work as to do so would be indecent for a young woman, however he himself does not provide for the family, 12 year old Habib does. Thankfully her mother also lives with them, she helps out financially by washing clothes.

Mariam was also at the Mosque on that fateful day, she endured injuries which have yet to heal- she requests the men in the room turn away as she lifts up her burqa to show a scar on the left side of her chest. It’s strange to suddenly see a flash of intimate human flesh when I haven’t even seen her face. She doesn’t go into detail but her health is bad and she lives with daily pain.

Habib with his scales
Habib with his scales

I ask Habib if he had one wish in the world what would it be? With his scales resting on his lap and a thoughtful gaze he replies that when he grows up he wants to become a doctor.

We ask Mariam the same question; she wishes for peace and security to come to Afghanistan so her children can be educated and nurtured. She says that living in Kabul the current main dangers are suicide bombings.

She then explained how she lost 2 brothers, one during fighting at the time of Naji Bula and the other, who was a casual labourer, mysteriously went missing- he was out walking the streets of Kabul one night when he suddenly disappeared. The family looked for him, they even searched the prisons but he had vanished, they never received word or news of him again.

Mariam’s mother lives with the daily sorrow of her two lost sons, there isn’t a day that passes where she doesn’t feel distressed. She would like to locate her son’s body and lay his soul to rest.

I hear more about the lives of 26 year old mother Mariam and her 5 children who exist under a piece of tarp attached to the side of a building, their homestead is amongst the most humble of any in Afghanistan, no running water, no heating, the most basic of cooking facilities.

Mariam ends by saying she is grateful that Habib is on the APV Street kids project- a scheme which is helping 21 local street children by providing each family with a 25kg sack of rice and a tin of oil every month for a year. The children also attend a weekly class which provide basic literacy and numeracy skills, all led by teenage members of the APV.

Mariam says she feels frustrated that she can not offer her son more opportunities in life so is thankful that this project gives him the chance to learn.

Habib 2