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‘I was six when the Russians came’

Farzana and Zarghuna on graduation day

The story of Farzana, translated by her daughter Zarghuna and written up by Maya Evans

When I was six, life was good. I didn’t know anything outside my mother and father’s world. In the village where I lived it was possible to see the mud houses from far away. The Baba Mountains stretched forever into the distance. In spring everything was lush green, the water flowed from the mountains feeding the stream in front of our house, all the time you could hear water flowing. People worked hard on the land every day in the mountains herding sheep and goats or working in the shops at the Bazaar. Women made bread in tandoors. Life in the village of Topi was hard but people were happy.

I had just started school for maybe a month when the war started. The Russians had come to Bamiyan and it was the beginning of war for Afghanistan. When the helicopters started to drop bombs on our village the people fled to the mountains to live in caves. Sometimes two families would live in a cave for two or three months. We loaded food and blankets onto a donkey and crossed the rocky mountain paths to the safety of the caves. During the day the men would go out to cut alfalfa and the women sometimes travelled back to the farms to collect vegetables. I stayed in the cave and played with my dolls and my siblings, an older sister and two big brothers.

It took a long time for the Russian war to end, maybe two or three Presidents passed. It was hard growing up under constant pressure. People were always afraid and they couldn’t travel freely. When I was twelve I got to travel with my grandmother to Kabul when it was under the control of the Russian ‘iron fist’. Although Kabul was full of Russians then, and ‘bad men’ who would beat people, Afghan women wore short skirts and sometimes didn’t wear head scarves. I remember once being on a bus and a woman admired my handmade scarf from Bamiyan. The woman stroked it and said she had never seen a scarf like mine and asked me to bring one back from Bamiyan for her.

Kabul was clean then, not like today. The rivers, which now contain more rubbish than water, were a source of life and leisure for Afghans, with people fishing on the banks and even swimming. The streets weren’t crowded and the air was clean. I remember seeing the Russian tanks leaving to fight in the Panjsheer valley. When the soldiers left they were happy but when they returned they were beaten, carrying their dead and wounded from a battle. This victory made the Tajik Commander Ahmed Sheer Mahsood’s name, forever glorified in Afghan history as ‘The Lion of the Panjsheer’.

After the war people were very poor and there wasn’t much food. Many Afghans became refugees in Iran including my two brothers. One of my brothers travelled on foot in women’s clothing to avoid being forced to become a fighter. Those still living in the village returned to work on their farms, growing potatoes and wheat, and keeping cows. My grandmother and I planned to follow my brothers but my older sister, who had recently married in Kabul, fell pregnant so my grandmother stayed to help her with the baby.

By the time that war ended I was thirteen and it was decided that I should marry. It was autumn when I married. It was an exciting day and although it wasn’t my decision, I realised I had to accept it. My husband Rahmony was around nineteen years old and was handsome and kind. We had grown up in the same village so I already knew him. Everyone knew everyone in the village as there were only around 32 families.

My mother and father-in-law brought candies to the wedding and threw them in the air like confetti. The women played the doryha drum and danced, while they sang a special coming of age song. When I went to live with her husband’s family it was very difficult as it was a big family, he had three brothers and four sisters plus grandparents. One of the brothers had already married so his wife also lived in the house. My husband was gentle and he would sweep the floor and cook. His brother would say he was not a real man but I loved him and appreciated his kindness. Unlike other husbands he never beat me.

Every day I washed the clothes, collected alfalfa off the land and milked the sheep and cows. The alfalfa naturally grew near the potatoes and wheat and we knew that the crops would grow strong if the alfalfa grew. The men were all farmers and would spend the day working on the land.

Then the fighting started again and many of the men joined the Mujahuddin, but not Rahmony, he stayed to work on the land as he didn’t like the violence.

The men would mainly fight each other in the mountains but sometimes violence came to the village. I often saw flame throwers – canisters of gas propelled through the air by a flame. The fighting was between five groups and they would fire at anyone who was walking around. The different groups were drawn up along ethnic lines and were supported by different countries. ‘Nasar’ were helped by the Americans, ‘Harakat’ and ‘Scepor’ were backed by Iran, ‘Jamyat’ were Tajik and Pashtoon and there was also ‘Shora’. They all fought in the ‘Jang-e-dohkhely’ – the ‘war inside’.

I heard from the people in my village that America was a country far away but I didn’t know where. I heard the names of other countries like Iran, Russia and Pakistan, but only when people in the village talked about where the weapons came from.

I was fifteen when my first child Khamed was born. Life was hard because of the Mujahuddin but because of my husband Rahmony I was happy. A year later my second son Lolla was born, then four years later my first daughter Zarghuna was our third blessing.

After the Mujahuddin things weren’t clear. Najibullah became President and I thought he was good for the people. I remember listening to the radio at home, being warmed by the flames of our stove. I heard Najibullah’s voice crackling through the radio, with his message urging for peace and asking the fighters in the mountains to come down, to have peace and life. But they did not listen. I didn’t understand why they continued to fight, maybe it had something to do with the business of weapons, but I don’t know.

By this point my second daughter Karima had arrived, and then my younger sons Abdul and Arif making six. Life for me was the same, I still went out to collect alfalfa for the cows, washed clothes and looked after my family. My eldest daughter Zarghuna adored her father and never liked to be separated from him. Sometimes he liked to sleep outside under the stars and although she was afraid of the worms in the ground, she would insist on sleeping next to him, lulled to sleep by the sound of the stream running past their home. Rahmony was keen for his daughters to attend school. It was he who enrolled Zarghuna at age six and it was him who often fetched her from school.

And then the Taliban came to Kabul.

I had heard from others in the village that the Taliban killed everyone, especially the Hazaras, but I did not believe these stories. Then one day men from the Mujahuddin returned to the village and said the Taliban were coming, and that even they were afraid. At first the Talibs arrived by car and then on horseback. They carried guns and long knives. I realised then that the stories I had heard were true.

There was no time, it was chaos. Rahmony and I collected up all our children, except for Khamed and Abdul who were missing. But the family had to flee for their lives – immediately. During the day we crossed mountains, and that night we saw the smoke of burning houses which the Taliban had set alight. We had nearly escaped to the safety of the mountain tops where the Taliban would not find us.

We were not the only family who were fleeing. In our group were Rahmony’s brother and his family plus two other men. We walked for nearly a day when we became aware of the voices of Talibs close by so we crouched in the shady shadows under an overhanging cliff. Everyone was frozen to their hiding space. Karima said that she was thirsty but still we didn’t move as we could sense danger was near. The women were praying that the Taliban would not see them; we needed to stay hidden for just a few more hours and then dusk would hide our escape into the mountains where we would not be found.

A man whom we didn’t know happened to wander past, he wasn’t a Talib and he did not sense the imminent danger. He could see the group sheltering under the rock and called them to come out. His voice cut the silence of the mountains.

I had dressed my young son Lolla in my own clothing so he looked like a girl, but there was no disguising Rahmony, his brother and the two other men. Zarghuna clung to her father as the Talibs ordered the men out of our hiding place. Rahmony took his scarf and wrapped it around seven year old Zarghuna, his daughter who never liked to be away from him, he told her not to be afraid and that he would always be with her.

Five minutes later we heard the sound of gunfire.

The Taliban told the women and children to return home. The shock left me unable talk and my legs stopped working. I had to go down the mountain by dragging myself along the ground. The next day we decided to try and find Rahmony but it was snowing and very cold. We searched but did not find him.

Rahmony’s Mother realised that the men had been killed so she went out to find the bodies. She discovered them not far from where we had been separated, holes were dug and they were buried at the spot that they had been killed.

Rahmony, my kind and handsome husband was gone.

Now I had to think about the lives of my six children. At first I didn’t want to tell Arif and Karima that the Taliban had killed their father, plus I still had no news about my eldest son Khamed and four year old Abdul. We asked the people returning from the mountains if they had seen them, but they had not. After twenty days the people in the village said that they must have been killed by the Taliban, but finally after forty long days a cousin came to say that they were safe and at an aunt’s house.

Life was nearly impossible without Rahmony. Two of his brothers and his father had also been killed. I asked his remaining family if I could have his share of the land, one of the brothers agreed but the other did not. But I was now the head of a family and like an Afghan man I claimed my piece of land. Security was still bad, the threat of the Taliban still loomed heavily so we sold our remaining livestock and planned to leave. We bought two sacks of flour for bread and loaded up our donkey. I lead my young family as we travelled for weeks; sleeping on hilltops and under the stars, dodging Talibs. Abdul was still a slow walker and Arif had to be carried, but still I kept my family together and safe.

Finally we reached the outskirts of Kabul and found a kind woman who wanted to share her large house with a family which did not have any men. Her husband and father had both left for Pakistan leaving her with three children and the house to look after. The room which we were given was beautiful as the kind woman’s father was rich. Lolla, now eleven, managed to get a job in a local shop and also went to the mountains with Khamed to collect bushes to fuel the tandoor and sell to other families.

We stayed in that house for six months until relatives in Bamiyan told us it was safe to return, that the Taliban had gone. We made the long journey back to our village, though by now it was winter so the journey was extra arduous. We collected wood and bushes during the day to burn at night.

When we returned to our house we found that someone else had been there. The pictures on the wall had been burnt, a box of clothes which we left in the corner had been thrown outside, and on the floor were bullets. My grandmother told stories of becoming a cook for the Taliban. They would call her ‘mother’ and bring chicken for her to cook or flour to make bread. The Talibs who occupied the village were different from the Talibs who first came and killed and beat women for not wearing socks. These Talibs accepted my grandmother and even gave her a new scarf because the one she wore was thread bare.

When the Americans came the Taliban left in cars with camouflage netting stretched across the roofs.

I remember food parcels being dropped from the sky and one of my neighbours running out into the field, unaware of a land mine which someone had planted during one of the many wars. Then foreign soldiers came but the village people did not ask questions. It was a time of peace even though everyone was poor and many people had been killed or had left.

Things were expensive. Khamed worked on the land and Lolla sold things on the street like bubblegum, socks, matches and walnuts – a walnut in its shell was 2 Afghanis (around 2p). Karima and Zarghuna worked at home washing clothes and collecting water from the spring, they also returned to school.

After so much travel and being hungry and scared, we found hope to be alive.

This interview took place when Farzana travelled from Bamiyan to Kabul for Zarghuna’s graduation ceremony. Today the roads from Bamiyan are extremely unsafe as they’re patrolled by the Taliban, ISIS and criminals. If a bus is stopped people say they are travelling to see family or for hospital, if students or government workers are found they are likely to be executed. If foreigners are discovered they will be kidnapped or killed. A white flag on a house signals the Taliban.

Zarghuna is a member of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, she is the first person in her family to become a college graduate, the first woman in her village and one of the first APVs. She translated her mother’s story and added details from her own recollections. Farzana was extremely proud to see her daughter graduate.

This was also written the week a UNAMA report was published stated that a record number of 3,948 civilians were killed in 2016 and 7,920 injured. Since 2009, the armed conflict in Afghanistan has claimed the lives of 24,841 civilians and injured 45,347 others.

Silas Marner in Afghanistan

Henrietta in Kabul refugee camp
Henrietta in Kabul refugee camp

by Henrietta Cullinan

From London to Kabul to Raveloe, we cling to our ‘way of life’ even though it makes us sick, obsessive and lonely. Governments cling to policies that cause harm to ordinary people. In this article, begun while staying in Kabul, Henrietta Cullinan asks what George Elliott’s Silas Marner has to tell us about our own ‘pile of gold’.

I recently travelled to Kabul, where I teamed up with the Afghan Peace Volunteers and Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence. I took with me, to read under the covers when I couldn’t sleep, Silas Marner by George Elliott. Marner, estranged from his home town, sets up as a weaver in the small village of Raveloe. Through weaving he accumulates a pile of gold coins which he counts obsessively every night, until one day it is stolen. The plot turns when he adopts a small girl, the daughter of a drug addict, who wanders into his house. He mistakes her gold curls for his gold coins, miraculously returned to him. As he determines to look after the child he has to ask others in the community for help and so his life is transformed.

As a group of women in one Kabul refugee camp recounted their experiences of war, their injuries, the indignities they have suffered since being forced to leave their homes, Kathy Kelly asked at one point, ‘Did you know that the US has just committed 617 billion US dollars to military spending?’ The women implied by their gestures, ‘What do we care?’ One woman said, ‘I wouldn’t know the difference between one side of a dollar and the other, whether a dollar is black or white.’ It was at this moment the image of Silas Marner counting out his pile of gold coins, popped into my head. As well as a literal analogy with the ‘pile of gold coins’ devoted to military spending, there are lessons for us on western governments’ migration policies, that cause suffering amongst refugees.

Afghan restaurant in Calais refugee camp
Afghan restaurant in Calais refugee camp

In Europe, chances for Afghan refugees to claim asylum have grown slim, since the EU now considers Afghanistan to be a safe country, even though there were 5,600 casualties of armed conflict in the first half of 2016 alone. The EU plans to deport 80,000 Afghan asylum seekers. At the time of writing Germany and Sweden have already started the deportations. This is at a time when Pakistan and Iran are also pressurising Afghan refugees to return.

Kabul refugee camp
Kabul refugee camp

The refugees face homelessness and destitution when they return to Kabul, where there is not the infrastructure to support them. ‘A man-made humanitarian catastrophe could be the end result of these governmental policies’ writes Ahmed Rashid, a journalist in Lahore. 

Abdul Ghafoor in his office
Abdul Ghafoor in his office

At the Borderfree Centre in Kabul, Kathy Kelly and I spoke to Abdul Gafoor, of Afghanistan Migrants Advice and Support Organisation. He says everyday twelve deportees arrive from Norway, as a result of its cruel deportation policy. Young boys call him, not knowing where to go. Very often, as soon as they have the opportunity, they will leave again, for Pakistan or Iran. They are given $1200 from the Norwegian government, so they use this money to move on as it is too difficult for them to reintegrate. There is nothing they can do in Kabul; there is no work.

Taken from a Kabul taxi
Taken from a Kabul taxi

Kathy Kelly, Nematullah Ahangosh, who is an Afghan Peace Volunteer, and I visited the ‘Police Camp’ an unofficial camp for IDPs and refugees. We took a long taxi ride, through heavy morning traffic, into an area of new development, where private hospitals with tinted curtain walling and new apartment buildings, some already clad, others just slabs and columns, lined the broad, unsurfaced road. Opposite a petrol station, where gaily painted lorries were filling up, we were let out onto the edge of an open sewer, the size of a small river, its grey white waters swirling with scraps of rubbish. Salim, from the Jesuit Refugee Service, soon fetched us and led us down a narrow path between mud shacks, to a place where we took off our shoes, stepped inside a small room, with red carpet, whitewashed walls, a stove in the middle, a plastic sheet for a window. Soon the elected camp leader, Raz Mohammed, came to tell us about the camp.

Of the 700 families resident in the camp, one third have come because of recent conflicts, such as in Kunduz in the north east of the country and one third are refugees who have been forced to return from Pakistan and Iran. Sometimes educated people, this latter group already sold all their property when they left Afghanistan, so now they are homeless and destitute. Refugees can only earn three dollars a day. Men work as porters in the market. Other jobs include washing cars, and selling boloni, pastries stuffed with potato and spinach. Others, despite the danger, send their children out to work in the street, cleaning shoes and windscreens or selling windscreen wipers, tissues and sweets.

Afghan shop keeper
Afghan shop keeper

Those who work in the market can bring home potatoes or turnips but not enough for regular meals. The rest of the time they have only bread and tea. Some don’t even have tea. For fuel they burn plastic bottles, shoes and old clothes. Every winter twenty-five people die of cold. Water has to be bought at 10 Afs (10p) for 20 litres. On the way in we saw a single pump. Raz tells us that a woman who runs a beauty parlour noticed the women walking to buy water so she donated the pump but the water is not ‘sweet’.

After speaking to Raz Mohammed we went to visit a group of women who were finishing a class. They sat round the edges of the cold classroom. A teenage daughter ran in to drop off a baby to be fed. The women told us that all ethnicities are represented at the camp. Tajiks, Uzbeks and Baluchis living together. They said they felt safe in the camp, but conditions are dangerous to health, especially in cold weather, and there is no access to health care, despite the private hospitals next door.

‘If only we had had an education we wouldn’t be in this situation,’ they said. One woman, feeding her toddler under her black scarf, says she used to have a job in Kunduz. She made boloni and her husband sold them.

Another woman told us how she had fled from Kunduz, almost leaving her child behind. Another, from Laghman province, showed us the injuries to her upper arm she had sustained when she escaped. She said that she had no food for lunch. After the class she would cover her face and go and beg at the bakery.

The leader said he gathered people together and went to the government for help. The government only provides food. He thinks they should provide education, buildings. He said the UN had been to visit the camp, even the US ambassador. But nothing has changed. Eighteen months ago, during Ramadam, the authorities attempted to clear the camp, with armed police, but the refugee inhabitants responded with stones.

Afghan refugee camp
Afghan refugee camp

Without sufficient food, fuel, education or health care, the women concluded, ‘No one cares about us. The government doesn’t care.’

Another group of women I spoke to were seamstresses at the Borderfree Centre. They embroider scarves which are sold in the US and the UK to raise funds for the centre. All having between five and seven children each, their main concern is to feed their families. Despite their husband’s disapproval, they have to go out to work outside the home. Even so the wages are not enough to pay the rent, to buy clothes for their children, food and books for school.

‘The government doesn’t care about us,’ they said, echoing the words of the the women in the refugee camp. They said, ‘If you want to help, you must give money to us poor people’. The seamstresses said they saw all the huge construction projects, and concluded the government was spending money on these projects and not on alleviating the problems of the poor.

Government ministers just use aid to buy each other ‘a cow or a hen’. I asked if they had any means of making their voices heard, which was translated literally I realised. They said their husbands wouldn’t like it if their voices were heard outside the home. Not able to read or write, their only option would be to join a protest. They didn’t dare go on a demonstration, they said, because the government might come after them, or there might be a bomb.

Back in London this week, I did my regular shift in the local winter night shelter. Many of the homeless I encounter at the shelter suffer from poor physical and mental health, and even have mobility problems, which should be reason enough for the authorities to house them without delay. Many were caught between losing their job and waiting for benefits to come through; a gap of six weeks is enough time to lose your flat. Surprisingly some guests are actually working. Holding down a job while sleeping in a shelter must be almost impossible but one man I spoke to was doing just that. His car was parked outside, he wore the uniform of a building servicing company and over breakfast he was giving his mobile phones a last minute boost, checking the location of the first job of the day.

The residents of the refugee camp in Kabul and the guests at the London night shelter are all at the mercy of government policies. Worse than that, our government is unwilling to correct the very policies that made people homeless. As John Berger wrote,
‘The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied … but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.’

Collectively, whether in the UK or Afghanistan, we must turn to the poorest, most helpless members of our society and learn, just as Silas Marner did, from experiencing community again.

Silas Marner, once he accepts his loss and turns to another, a helpless child, builds relationships with the other members of his village community. It is when he turns to another helpless being, and becomes helpless himself, that healing begins. Our governments, and therefore we, are addicted to unsustainable policies that keep many displaced and homeless. When we accept our own weakness, our own loss and turn to look after the poorest there is hope.

George Elliott also asks us to reflect on the nature of work. Silas Marner sits at his loom day in day out, even on Sundays, weaving linen for the well to do of the neighbourhood and collecting gold coins to no end other than to be counted and hidden. US taxpayers are paying nearly $700 million a week for the military in Afghanistan, money which the US government spends without attempting to avoid corruption.

Reading this you might ask what do all these things have to do with each other. Visiting Kabul, not somewhere people normally visit for a holiday, gives a heady ride into geo politics, but mainly the opportunity to see the effect of government policymakers on the lives of the poor. You might think it odd I would use Silas Marner as a way to reflect on lessons from Afghanistan. George Elliott chose novel writing as a medium to comment on social conditions in her time and the novel has a lot to tell us now. 

International Women’s Day in Kabul – Borderfree Action

In mark international women's day, the Afghan Peace Volunteers held a mixed gender bike ride!
In mark international women’s day, the Afghan Peace Volunteers held a mixed gender bike ride!

To mark international women’s day, the Afghan Peace Volunteers held a mixed gender bike ride!

In the UK, we were invited to join Women for Refugee Women with their campaign to support pregnant women in Yarls Wood Detention Centre – we joined Caroline Lucus, Natasha Walter and others at the Home Office.

Peace Education with Kabul Street Kids

a postcard from Ellis Brooks

Ellis Brooks leads a peace education session with the Borderfree school for street kids
Ellis Brooks leads a peace education session with the Borderfree school for street kids

With Voices for Creative Nonviolence UK, I have had the opportunity to practise peace education in Afghanistan for a few days. We are delivering workshops in conflict resolution and mediation with street children, and some ‘train the trainer’ sessions with Afghan Peace Volunteers. The APV have a team of nine young men and women who are coordinating work on conflict resolution.

The great thing about doing peace education with children and young people is that it comes naturally, no matter where you are. Young people get the need for fairness, the need to be heard, the need for justice.

That said, there are lots of challenges to doing this work compared with Britain. Translating not just the words but the ideas is not easy. A metaphor I often use is the “conflict escalator”, carrying you up out of control; as far as I can tell there’s only one escalator in Kabul (donated by a penitent of Bin Laden’s family), and the city’s street children are not so familiar with it. Gender norms, family, school and the balance between the individual and the group: all these are different. Moreover, violence is present in homes and the streets. Most if not all of the children we’ve spoken to have witnessed violence, making the idea that conflict and violence are not synonymous, hard to grant.

As a teacher, there are concepts and tools I want to convey, but the Afghan Peace Volunteers are teaching me about the conflict resolution they already do. Other Afghans have been surprised at how APV bring together Hazari, Pashtun, Tajik and Uzbeks under one roof. Afghanistan of course has an ancient tradition of conflict resolution, but I suspect Kabul’s young people have innovations of their own. So really, I’m the student.

Peace education is already happening here as well. Besides APV, we’ve been in contact with Sanayee Development Centre, the US Institute and Jesuit Relief Services, all of which are reaching young people with different elements of peace education.

Ultimately, I will be happy if we have fun together. Solidarity is a big motivation for being here. Whatever the intent, many of the interventions by my country and others have made Afghans less safe and less free. But I want to picture Afghanistan as more than the home of drone strikes, illicit poppy cultivation and the marginalization of women. The Afghan Peace Volunteers have taken me beyond these headlines, showing that nonviolence can flourish even when there seems to be no space for it.

Conflict is experienced by everyone everywhere, so educating everyone in peaceful conflict resolution is not a “special” intervention that Afghans need more than others; it is a universal right. The work of Afghan Peace Volunteers says to the world that they are not giving up on this or any other rights for their young people, and I hope I can stand with them in that.

Henoko takes on U.S. Imperialism

Japanese peace protest outside the US airbase at Henoko
Japanese peace protest outside the US airbase at Henoko, Okinawa

Henoko Town, Okinawa, around one hundred and fifty Japanese protesters gathered to stop construction trucks from entering the U.S. base ‘Camp Schwab’, after the Ministry of Land over-ruled the local Governors’ decision to revoke permission for construction plans, criticizing the “mainland-centric” Japanese Government of compromising the environmental, health and safety interests of the Islanders.

Riot police poured out of buses at six a.m., out-numbering protesters four to one, with road sitters systematically picked off in less than an hour to make way for construction vehicles.

All the mayors and government representatives of Okinawa have objected to the construction of the new coastal base, which will landfill one hundred and sixty acres of Oura Bay, for a two hundred and five hectare construction plan which will be part of a military runway.

Marine biologists describe Oura Bay as a critical habitat for the endangered ‘dugong’ (a species of manatee), which feeds in the area, as well as sea turtles and unique large coral communities.

The bay is particularly special for its extreme rich ecosystem which has developed due to six inland rivers converging into the bay, making the sea levels deep, and ideal from various types of porites coral and dependent creatures.

‘Camp Schwab’ is just one of 32 U.S. bases which occupies 17% of the Island, using various areas for military exercises from jungle training to Osprey helicopter training exercises. There are on average 50 Osprey take off and landings every day, many next to housing and built up residential areas, causing disruption to everyday life with extreme noise levels, heat and diesel smell from the engines.

'kayaktivists' canoes protest at Camp Schwab, US airbase, Okinawa
‘kayaktivists’ canoes protest at Camp Schwab, US airbase, Okinawa

Two days ago there were six arrests outside the base, as well as ‘Kayactivists’ in the sea trying to disrupt the construction. A formidable line of tethered red buoys mark out the area consigned for construction, running from the land to a group of offshore rocks, Nagashima and Hirashima, described by local shamans as the place where dragons (the source of wisdom) originated.

Protesters also have a number of speed boats which take to the waters around the cordoned area; the response of the coast guard is to use the tactic of trying to board these boats after ramming them off course.

The overwhelming feeling of the local people is that the Government on the mainland is willing to sacrifice the wishes of Okinawans in order to pursue its military defense measures against China. Bound by Article 9, Japan has not had an army since World War Two, though moves by the Government suggest a desire to scrap the Article and embark on a ‘special relationship’ with the U.S., who is already securing control of the area with over 200 bases, and thus tightening the Asia pivot with control over land and sea trade routes, particularly those routes used by China.

Meanwhile, Japan is footing 75% of the bill for accommodating the U.S., with each soldier costing the Japanese Government 200 million yen per year, that’s $4. 4 billion a year for the 53,082 U.S. soldiers currently in Japan, with around half (26, 460) based in Okinawa. The new base at Henoko is also expected to cost the Japanese Government a tidy sum with the current price tag calculated to be at least 5 trillion yen.
Okinawa suffered devastating losses during the second world war, with a quarter of the population killed within the 3-month-long ‘Battle of Okinawa’ which claimed 200,000 lives in total. Hilltops are said to have changed shape due to the sheer bombardment of ammunition.

Local activist Hiroshi Ashitomi has been protesting at Camp Schwab since the expansion was announced 11 years ago, he said: “We want an island of peace and the ability to make our own decisions, if this doesn’t happen then maybe we might need to start talking about independence.”

Thousands of peace groups come from the Japanese mainland each weekend to protest against the US airbases
Thousands of peace groups come from the Japanese mainland each weekend to protest against the US airbases

Bombing a Hospital is a War Crime

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National Action 7th October Hospital Vigil

14 year anniversary of the US/NATO led war in Afghanistan we urge everyone to vigil outside their local hospital in remembrance of the 22 people killed during the attack on the Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, North Afghanistan.

Support Médecins Sans Frontières who are calling the attack a war crime and are demanding for an independent investigation.

The US have described the attack as “collateral damage” but keep changing their story daily.

Suggested sign for vigil: “Bombing a hospital is a war crime, the same is true in Afghanistan”.

Stand in solidarity with Afghans who have endured 35 years of war, who say they have had ENOUGH of violence, who say that life now is more insecure than under the taliban.

Take photos and send a press release to your local newspaper.

Social media: @MSF #Kunduz #WarCrime @We_Say_Enough @vcnvuk #MSF #IndependentInvestigation

22 People Killed by US Airstrike on Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan 
by Kathy Kelly
October 5, 2015

Before the 2003 Shock and Awe bombing in Iraq, a group of activists living in Baghdad would regularly go to city sites that were crucial for maintaining health and well-being in Baghdad, such as hospitals, electrical facilities, water purification plants, and schools, and string large vinyl banners between the trees outside these buildings which read: “To Bomb This Site Would Be A War Crime.”  We encouraged people in U.S. cities to do the same, trying to build empathy for people trapped in Iraq, anticipating a terrible aerial bombing.

Tragically, sadly, the banners must again condemn war crimes, this time echoing international outcry because in an hour of airstrikes this past Saturday morning, the U.S. repeatedly bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, a facility that served the fifth largest city in Afghanistan and the surrounding region.

 U.S./NATO forces carried out the airstrike at about 2AM on October 3rd.  Doctors Without Borders had already notified the U.S., NATO and Afghan forces of their geographical coordinates to clarify that their compound, the size of a football field, was a hospital.  When the first bombs hit, medical staff immediately phoned NATO headquarters to report the strike on its facility, and yet strikes continued, at 15 minute intervals, until 3:15 a.m., killing 22 people. 12 of the dead were medical staff; ten were patients, and three of the patients were children. At least 37 more people were injured.  One survivor said that the first section of the hospital to be hit was the Intensive Care Unit.

“Patients were burning in their beds,” said one nurse, an eyewitness to the ICU attack.”There are no words for how terrible it was.”  The U.S. airstrikes continued, even after the Doctors Without Borders officials had notified the U.S., NATO and Afghan military that the warplanes were attacking the hospital.

 Taliban forces do not have air power, and the Afghan Air Force fleet is subordinate to the U.S., so it was patently clear that the U.S. had committed a war crime.

The U.S. military has said that the matter is under investigation.  Yet another in an endless train of somber apologies; feeling families’ pain but excusing all involved decision makers seems inevitable. Doctors Without Borders has demanded a transparent, independent investigation, assembled by a legitimate international body and without direct involvement by the U.S. or by any other warring party in the Afghan conflict.  If such an investigation occurs, and is able to confirm that this was a deliberate, or else a murderously neglectful war crime, how many Americans will ever learn of the verdict?

War crimes can be acknowledged when carried out by official U.S. enemies, when they are useful in justifying invasions and efforts at regime change.

 One investigation the U.S. has signally failed to carry out would tell it how much Kunduz needed this hospital. The U.S. could investigate SIGAR reports (“Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction”) numbering Afghanistan’s “U.S. funded health care facilities,” allegedly funded through USAID, which cannot even be located, 189 alleged locations at whose coordinates there are demonstrably no buildings within 400 feet. In their June 25th letter they astoundingly write, “My office’s initial analysis of USAID data and geospatial imagery has led us to question whether USAID has accurate location information for 510—nearly 80 percent—of the 641 health care facilities funded by the PCH program.” It notes that six of the Afghan facilities are actually located in Pakistan, six in Tajikstan, and one in the Mediterranean Sea.

Now it seems we’ve created yet another ghost hospital, not out of thin air this time but from the walls of a desperately needed facility which are now charred rubble, from which the bodies of staff and patients have been exhumed. And with the hospital lost to a terrified community, the ghosts of this attack are, again, beyond anyone’s ability to number.  But in the week leading up to this attack, its staff had treated 345 wounded people, 59 of them children.

The U.S. has long shown itself the most formidable warlord fighting in Afghanistan, setting an example of brute force that frightens rural people who wonder to whom they can turn for protection.  In July of 2015, U.S. bomber jets attacked an Afghan army facility in the Logar Province, killing ten soldiers. The Pentagon said this incident would likewise be under investigation.  No public conclusion of the investigation seems ever to have been issued.  There isn’t always even an apology.

This was a massacre, whether one of carelessness or of hate.   One way to join the outcry against it, demanding not just an inquiry but a final end to all U.S. war crimes in Afghanistan, would be to assemble in front of health care facilities, hospitals or trauma units, carrying signage which says, “To Bomb This Place Would Be a War Crime.” Invite hospital personnel to join the assembly, notify local media, and hold an additional sign which says: “The Same Is True in Afghanistan.”

We should affirm the Afghans’ right to medical care and safety. The U.S. should offer investigators unimpeded access to the decision makers in this attack and pay to reconstruct the hospital with reparations for suffering caused throughout these fourteen years of war and cruelly manufactured chaos. Finally, and for the sake of future generations, we should take hold of our runaway empire and make it a nation we can restrain from committing the fathomlessly obscene atrocity that is war.

 

Mary, Maya & Henrietta outside

2015 Delegation

2015 Delegation
2015 Delegation

As foreign troops exit Afghanistan and violence across the country rages on, three women peace activists Mary Dobbing, Henrietta Cullinan and Maya Evans have headed to Kabul to spend Christmas with young Afghan peace makers.

Afghanistan is still one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women, with little improvements made by the NATO/ US led offensive. Iliteracy, access to medical health, forced marriages, and domestic violence still remain amongst the highest rates of any country today (1), despite British taxpayers funding the war effort to the tune of £37 billion (2).

Mary Dobbing aged 58 from Bristol, Henrietta Cullinan, 53, from London, and Maya Evans, 35, from St Leonards on Sea, are part of the peace group Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK, which has been visiting and working with the youth group The Afghan Peace Volunteers for over 4 years. (3)

Mary & MountainsDrone researcher Mary Dobbing said: “Britain has spent at least £37 billion on the disastrous Afghan war, including millions on keeping out and deporting Afghan refugees and on British drone development. Despite this austerity for Britain continues and the 13 year war hasn’t made Afghans or Brits any safer.”

In the last 13 years 453 British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan, 1,819 American soldiers and tens of thousands of uncounted Afghans, at least 21,000 of which were civilians (4), yet still the Taliban are present in most of the country (5), people can not move safely from one province to another, drones dominate and poverty, illiteracy and violence are rife.

Henrietta CullinanFormer school teacher Henrietta Cullinan said: “This year Britain has focused on remembering the first world war. Today in Afghanistan, people have endured 13 years of British backed war – longer than the first and second world wars combined. Afghans are trying to reconstruct their lives in a country shattered by war, poverty and corruption. It shames me that my country has played a significant part in making life for Afghans so difficult.”

The US and NATO have officially declared Operation Enduring Freedom over, however at least 12,000 foreign special operation forces will remain in the country as well as private security contractors for the next phase “Operation Enduring Support.”

Maya Evans, Mary Dobbing, Henrietta Cullinan
Maya Evans, Mary Dobbing, Henrietta Cullinan

Maya Evans said: “If one thing is certain, it’s that violence and military action is not helping the Afghan people. My friends in Kabul asked me to send a message to our government; “Stop killing us”. Drone strikes, night raids, aerial bombing, illegal imprisonment and torture of Afghans has not won ‘hearts and minds’. In order for life to improve for Afghans all violence must stop.”

(1) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-26747712

(2)http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/30/afghanistan-war-cost-britain-37bn-book

(3) http://ourjourneytosmile.com/blog/

(4) http://costsofwar.org/article/afghan-civilians

(5)http://www.ibtimes.com/could-taliban-retake-control- afghanistan-1695833

 

Fly Kites Not Drones at RAF Waddington 2014

Fly Kites Not Drones for Nao Roz 2014

Afghan Peace Volunteers say: Fly Kites Not Drones
Afghan Peace Volunteers say: Fly Kites Not Drones

FKND was inspired by the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul:
Watch the APV fly kites in Kabul

FKND campaign video with the APV

FLY KITES NOT DRONES across the UK:

RAF Waddington:

Outside RAF Waddington
Outside drone base RAF Waddington

Woman Flying KiteRAF WADDINGTON: UK drone base 1-3pm Friday 21st March Nao Roz, 35 activists came on coaches from Norwich and Sheffield with others coming from: Oxford, Coventry, Croughton, London, St Leonards on Sea and Hull. They gathered outside RAF Waddington and flew kites in solidarity with Afghans who have to live with the threat of UK drone strikes which are remote controlled and fired from the UK base. The UK protestors crowded around an amplified laptop rigged up in the back of a car which allowed them to Skype the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul. The group of 35 spoke with Afghan youth from outside the base that bombs Afghanistan using drones, they talked aboutthe importance of international solidarity and how drones impact their lives:

One Afghan youth commented:”by your very stand, your witness, you give us strength” One of the youth who has lost Fly Kites Not Dronesfamily members to a drone strike said “As you make your stand, we will make our stand with you.”

They also discussed their thoughts on the upcoming Afghan elections, wished one another Happy Nao Roz and talked about what they were having for dinner!

The event attracted media coverage from the Lincolnshire Echo and local BBC. Drone Campaign Network and VCNV UK organized the event.

Bristol:

Every Afghan Has A Name, War is Not a Video Game
Bristol Fly Kites Not Drones Stall

BRISTOL: a pre kite flying workshop took place the weekend before at the Kebele Social Centre where local activists mixed with concerned families to talk about: the legality of drones; the threat of surveillance drones in the UK and the situation for Afghans who have to live with the impact of looming remote controlled killer robots.  The kite flying event attracted many young people with a flood of messages to the APV. Fine and colourful kite flying conditions and fun had by all. The event was organized by Bristol Against the Arms Trade, Bristol Stop the War Coalition, Bristol Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Child Victims of War and VCNV UK

Littlehampton:

Littlehampton Young Quakers
Littlehampton Young Quakers

LITTLEHAMPTON: 22 Young Quakers (aged 11-16), and 8 Quaker adults, took part in a short interactive workshop on drones finding out: what they are; discussing concerns; plus reading the stories of a former US drone pilot who was traumatised by his experience; as well as about the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ critical stance on drones. They made around ten homemade kites and took them to the beach. They also made a banner with the message ‘Kites Not Drones’, and some them watched the “excellent short film” of the APVs talking about the Kite Not Drones action. Organized by the Young Quakers.

Hastings:

Hastings fly kites on West Hill overlooking the sea
Hastings fly kites on West Hill overlooking the South Coast

Maya EvansHASTINGS: a pre kite making workshop was held at their local Friends Meeting House where exquisite peace doves and traditional handmade kites were crafted. A group of kite runners met on  Saturday and Sunday 10am on West Hill during which around 50 people took part in a weekend of kite flying Afghan solidarity. Genuine Afghan kites were flown on a sea breeze- borderfree. The event received local support from: Woodcraft Folk, Hastings Independent as well as a splash in the Hastings Observer. FKND Hastings was organized by Hastings Against War and VCNV UK.

London:

Illegal Protest- FKND Civil Disobedience in Hyde Park
Afghan kite commits Civil Disobedience in Hyde Park

LONDON: Saturday 22nd March saw 10 kite flyers and 4 professional photographers in Hyde Park Speakers Corner at 2pm. The group which included: The Activettes, Kingston Peace Council and Putney UNA did not comply with the legal process of seeking police permission to hold a kite flying anti drone protest in a Royal Park. The London Kite runners were adamant they would carry on despite police warnings. Leaflets were given out while banners and placards were visible to those passing-by. The event was organized by The Activettes and VCNV UK.

Bright kites, banners and placards mark the event in London
Bright kites, banners and placards mark the event in London

Chicago:

Volunteers at the Voices office in Chicago
Volunteers at the Voices office in Chicago

Community members and students met at the Voices house to celebrate Now RozCHICAGO: Saturday afternoon, community members and students met at the Voices house to celebrate Now Roz, the Persian new year, and to participate in the APV call to “Fly Kites, Not Drones.” We crafted our own kites and marched to the lake to fly them.  It was a perfect, windy day for kites. On the shore, we spent a moment in silence, mindful of all those victimized by drone warfare: the deceased, their families, the soldiers ordered to kill, and the children who live under fear of surveillance and unexpected attack. Then, we lifted our kites to the wind. Full grown women and men were running around and laughing like children. It was mostly the store bought ones that actually flew. Even still, we giggled and teased trying to get our home-made kites to fly if only for a second. Earlier, my friend Samah showed me videos of the Now Roz Fly Kites, Not Drones - Chicagocelebration in Iraq, where a thousand balloons lit up with candles are released into the air. In the video, the crowd cheered and waved. Samah told me that when people saw this, they cried. In times of surveillance, of fear, it is an act of bravery to gather in public and celebrate. The power of such communal creative acts is unquantifiable. Its threat to the stifling power of fear is undetectable, safely stored in the hearts of those who are uplifted by it. We would do well to learn from the people of the world, the people of Iraq and the Afghan peace volunteers, who refuse to stop celebrating even in times of great duress, and bravely let their kites soar. Organized by VNCV US, report by Sarah Stockdale.

HMP Wandsworth:

Fr Martin Newell in HMP Wandsworth
Fr Martin Newell in HMP Wandsworth

Fr Martin Newell (part of the Waddington 6) sends messages of support from HMP Wandsworth, he’s current imprisoned for non payment for 29 days for unpaid fines relating to protests against the Iraq & Afghan wars as well as Trident.

West Wales

Fly Kites, Not Drones - West Wales

WEST WALES: On a very windy kite-flying day in West Wales, preceded by a hail storm while we put the kite together. Although we were close to habitation, we felt exposed and pretty much at the mercy of what the skies chose to thrown down on us, so we held in mind and in our prayers those people in Afghanistan and elsewhere who live with this sense as a daily reality.  Julia Lim, West Wales

Cardiff

CARDIFF: Around 40 people gathered in central Cardiff in solidarity of those who have to live under the constant threat of drones. The action was organized by Palestine Solidarity Coalition and they made an outstanding short video (above) about their action.

Taunton

Fly Kites, Not Drones - Taunton

St Michael’s Mount- near Penzance

Fly Kites, Not Drones - St Michaels Mount

St Michael’s Mount: Banners and kites made by Wool not Weapons and a special Fly Kites Not Drones for Nao Roz art work was created. Over 30 people attended the event with fantastic Cornish flying conditions.

Oxford

Kite flying Bonn Square 22 March

OXFORD Bonn Street town centre, members of Fellowship for Reconciliation and CND Oxford

Edinburgh

Fly Kites, Not Drones - Edinburgh

EDINBURGH: ‘Fly Kites Not Drones’ event on Saturday 22nd March proved to be a massive success for raising awareness about those living under the threat of drones. It was a fun-filled day that included: crafting and flying kites, face painting, storytelling, a live samba band and a dazzling fire display.  About 150 people including many families and children gathered in the Meadows to take part in ‘The Day of Action’ that was called for by Afghan Peace Volunteers and Voices for Creative Nonviolence UK. Fifty kites were made on the day and many people brought their own kites. It was one of several events around the UK that was campaigning for the abolition of drones. Significantly, this included a demonstration at RAF Waddington – the UK base from which Drones in Afghanistan are operated. Organized by the Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre.

Leicester

Fly Kites, Not Drones - Leicester

 

Fly Kites, Not Drones - Leicester 2Leicester: flew kites on Saturday 22nd March as part of the Greenlight festival. We gathered at the CND stall with a variety of hand made and bought kites and then went to nearby Bede Park. Local children joined in and we all had a great time.

 

Photos of all the events have been posted on Facebook

OTHER EVENTS: Norwich,  TavistockEdinburghLeicesterCardiffCoventryOxford,  BrightonBlackheathBurlingtonSouthamptonRochester, Littlehampton, Taunton, Lewes, Bournemouth will be sending photos soon.

SUPPORTERS of the event included: Drone Campaign NetworkNetwork for PeaceSmash EDOSTWCNDFoRCAAT, plus the WikiLeaks Party and many more.

Fly Kites Not Drones

Press Release: Fly Kites Not Drones

another boy with a kite

PRESS RELEASE

The biggest national UK anti drone action will be taking place this weekend when over 20 peace groups will be showing solidarity with Afghan peace makers who urge everyone to Fly Kites Not Drones for Nao Roz (Afghan New Year).

There will be a kite flying vigil at UK drone base RAF Waddington on Friday 1pm, and a London event at Speakers Corner Saturday 2pm, where activists will show solidarity with Afghans by joining in with the well loved Afghan  pastime of kite flying.

Maya Evans, anti drone activist, said: “I’ve just returned from living in Afghanistan for 3 months where I personally witnessed the destruction and havoc caused by drones, not only are they killing innocent civilians but they’re also degrading the fabric of Afghan society as they cause mistrust and enmity.”

The issue of drones has been heightened in the last few months when Pakistani drone witness Kareem Khan was kidnapped and tortured- he was set to give evidence in the European Court; in addition a Yemeni drones witness was also harassed. Meanwhile British courts threw out the case of Noor Khan with worries of causing bad relations with the US, while new drone bases are set to open if not in Afghanistan then elsewhere in Asia.

Britain has also been exposed for infringing rules of combat by co-operating directly with the US on launching drone strikes. Currently the cost of life caused by drone strikes is unknown as the MoD refuse to release names and numbers due to “national security”.

Evans added: “These robot killers are fuelling resentment towards foreign occupation as well as making security worse for the ordinary Afghan. The message I heard over and over again was that Afghans do not want drones, they want an end to foreign interference which has brought endless violence, moreover, they want peace.”

The action was inspired by the Afghan Peace Volunteers who want an end to war and the use of drones which currently plague their skies.

Contact: 07973 484 202

Duvet Project 2014

Duvet Project

Karte Sahi Distribution

  •  This year VCNV UK contributed £3,000 to the duvet project, most of those funds were raised by Mary Dobbing and Susan Clarkson who took collections after talks given to peace and Quaker groups.
  • The APV’s projected budget was $30,000- which they have nearly reached, the bulk of the funds come from VCNV US, and Quakers in Australia.

Duvet Porthole

  • The project is run entirely by APV’s on a voluntary basis, the lead co-ordinator is 22 year old Khalida, other members of the co-ordinating group are Ali (aged 17), Marzia, Meena, Zainab and Zorah- all teenage women between the ages of 16 and 18.
  • 60 women are involved in the making of the duvets (20 from each ethnic group Tajik, Hazara, Pashtoon), the seamstresses are assessed at the beginning of the project to check they fulfil a criteria of being in need.
  • There will be 4 rounds of duvet making and distributing, each woman makes 10 duvets per round, which means 2,400 duvets will be made and distributed within the 4 month project.
  • Seamstresses arrive and take away material enough to make 10 duvets, on average a seamstress can make 3 duvets per day, it takes 2 hours to make a duvet, they are paid $1.50 per duvet, the average Afghan wage per day is between $3-$5

Material being weighed

  • Duvets are distributed to the very poor and in need, the APV select community leaders or organisers who draw up a list of needy individuals in their area.
  • Distributions have been at: refugee camps, a school for the blind, a number of mosques, Bobor gardens and disabled groups including the Afghan Landmine Survivors Organization.

Landmine Distribution

  • Between 120-200 duvets are loaded up into a truck for each distribution run.

Truck Departs

  • At a distribution point each recipient (usually a woman) receives 2 duvets, their name is ticked off a list while they hand in an APV receipt.

Seamstresses take material

Khalida Co-ordinator of the project, age 23 This is Khalida’s first job, she’s semi literate and really happy to be working on the project. Her role is as the overall co-ordinator, she works as a volunteer and her responsibilities include purchasing the materials, distributing them to the seamstresses, assessing seamstresses using an eligibility criteria, paying wages to the seamstresses and organising the distribution teams. Her family members support of her work.

Shakila age 14, Co-ordinators assistant – She says she does the job because it helps the poor by helping their daily needs. When they visit the homes of seamstresses some of the ladies don’t even have carpets so they lay cloth on the floor to sleep on.

Feedback from Seamstresses on the Duvet Project

Seamstresses: Freyba, Nafaz, Kid, Soraya

Freyba Her husband was killed around 3 years ago during a suicide bombing at a Shia Hazara Mosque in Kabul. She says in place of unemployment this is a good project, she was hoping for something more on a long term basis but the money she receives is helpful for buying coal and flour.

Nafaz Gul Her husband was sent to prison for 15 years over a land dispute, he was also a drug user which perhaps contributed to his imprisonment, she is alone at home bringing up 4 children. Nafaz says what she gets from the duvet making helps to buy salt, oil and flour for her family, she is grateful that she is able to receive materials to sow.

Zorah Her body aches all over constantly and she usually feels tired. She was widowed during the communist period, for ages she struggled to get ID papers from her home province, this is required in order to receive an annual allowance from the Department of Martyrs. Zorah wants to get on the duvet project as a seamstress.

Soraya She was widowed last year when there was a mini bus attack by a suicide bomber, her husband was on the bus. She is now bringing up 5 children alone. As well as making duvets she also washes clothes and cleans in people’s homes. She says that when the project ends she hope another one will start so she can continue to earn money. The project is good for her as she prefers to work from home. She is keen to receive duvets as well.

Nassima Her husband works as a labourer, she has 4 children. She says the project is some help but hopes work will continue.

Duvets in snowProblems within the project A few of the seamstresses commented that transport costs are a bit of a problem for women who live far away. A taxi to transport the materials home and then the duvets back can be around 800 Afghanis, this is over half the amount (1500 Afghani’s) they receive in wages per duvet batch. Ali (a coordinator of the project)  explained that when they selected the women they had a set budget which didn’t include transport costs. He also pointed out that if they started giving subsidies to women who live far away then all the women should receive something for travel, then there might be accusation that the group had extra funds all along which they were keeping (apparently a common practice with NGOs). Also the issue of whether they refund past travel expenses. We came up with the proposal for Ali to work out an estimation of how much a travel subsidy would cost, we would then try to raise funds to provide a  grant, we hope for all the women.

Feedback from Duvet Recipients Karte Sahi duvet distributionKarte Sahi duvet distribution

Najeeba has four children, one son and three daughters aged 2-14. Sat in the pale sunlight of a cold January morning, she tells me that the duvets she will receive from the APV will be of vital help: “This is a very good thing, there are a lot of poor people in this area”.

We’re in District Five, at the foot of a mountain, in the courtyard of a mosque filled with women in burkas waiting to collect their two puffy, warming duvets, made by women from backgrounds as impoverished as theirs. A cemetery of basic, barely marked graves on uneven ground is just beyond us, and in the distance, a stunningly beautiful blue domed mosque catches the light before giving way to hundreds of homes built into the rock of the mountain. It’s a beautiful sight.Mosque

I ask Najeeba whether her husband works. “My husband pushes a cart for a living, he carries things for other people – rice and oil, to the market. He earns 150 Afghani or just 50 per day, it depends on who hires him”. 150 Afghani is about £1.50.

“I also taking on some needle work from shops which I can sew at home in between looking after my children. I sew scarves and dresses. For embroidering a dress, which can take me two months, I get 2000 Afghani (£20) This involves very hard, detailed work. I sew after I have finished the housework of cleaning and sweeping. I spend three hours a day sewing”.

“Many women are in the same situation as me. I have a lot of hopes for the future though. I hope we can afford to buy our own house and that my husband will find a better job”.

NajeebaNajeeba lives in a simple two room house with no kitchen. They cook their meals and make tea on a simple stove. The rent sets them back 3000 Afghani a month – a large part of her and her husband’s joint income.

“I have high hopes for my children, that they will study and get a good education. Both myself and my husband are illiterate but I hope also to study. Simple things, like understanding phone numbers and names”. I ask her what she feels about the forthcoming elections? “I still have hope. I will vote this year. I believe change will come”.

Other women were asked to participate in an interview but declined