Human Rights Day A Call to Care
December 10, 2016
by Kathy Kelly
December 10th marks the U.N. Human Rights Day, celebrating and upholding the indispensable and crucial declaration of universal human rights.On the eve of this event, I visited a refugee camp housing 700 families in Kabul. Conditions in refugee camps can be deplorable, intolerable. Here, the situation is best described as surreal. As I approach the entrance to the camp with my friends Nematullah, Zarghuna and Henrietta, we are overcome by the stench emanating from an open sewer filled with filth. I ask myself, “Can this be real?”
Inside the camp, primitive mud huts are separated by narrow walkways. When the inevitable snow comes, the ground inside and outside the homes will be muddy until the mud freezes. Plastic has been placed over some of the doors and roofs, in hopes of providing insulation from the coming cold. Mothers in the camp tell us winter months are unbearably hard. Children become sick at the onset of winter and they don’t recover until spring arrives. People burn plastic, boots, clothing, and water bottles for fuel, but when those resources are depleted, they rely solely on heavy blankets to protect them from the cold.
A single water pump serves all 700 families, and the water isn’t even potable. It needs to be boiled for twenty minutes before use.
Latrines here are the “traditional type,” simple holes dug in the ground.
Our visit was arranged by Nematullah, an Afghan Peace Volunteer. A friend of his teaches informal language and math classes to children at the camp. Nematullah leaned over and asked me to jot down the rights listed in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. I quickly scribbled food, water, shelter, health care, employment and security in my notebook. As we listened to the mothers describe their daily lives, we checked off the rights they have been denied.
“Some days we get food from the market if our children work there,” said Nazar Bibi. “They bring back potatoes or turnips. Otherwise we eat bread and tea. Sometimes we have no tea, and sometimes we don’t even have bread.”
We were told, “If someone becomes sick there is no clinic, no first aid. And we have no hospitals nearby that will help us. We can’t afford to travel to hospitals that might accept us. (Six hospitals serving “better off” people are within walking distance of the camp, but none of them accept the camp residents, who have no means to pay hospital bills, as patients.)
We don’t want to send our children to work on the streets. We’re afraid they’ll be hit by a car or blown up by a suicide bomber. But we are desperate for food and fuel and there is no work for men and women here in the camp. Sometimes the children return home and there is no bread for them. They wake up after midnight, begging for food because they are so hungry, and there is nothing for them.”
“If we had education, perhaps we wouldn’t be here,” said Nazar Bibi. “We want our children to learn, but even government schools cost money. We have no income.” One woman managed to laugh. “We don’t even know what a dollar looks like! What color is it? Is it black, or white?” said Shukria. “If America sends dollars here, we never see them. No one cares about us.”