Tag Archives: Kathy Kelly

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. 

See How We Live

Jamila, age 11, holds a neighbor’s newborn, photo by Henrietta Cullinan

by Kathy Kelly

Here in Kabul, I’m generally an early riser at the home of the Afghan Peace Volunteers, but I’m seldom alone. Facing exams, my young friends awaken early and then stay up late to study. Before sunrise this morning, eighteen year old Ghulamai sits in the kitchen, poring over his textbook. His efforts have made him number one in his class for the past three school terms. Now in the eleventh grade, he greatly hopes to continue his education, but his situation is precarious.

After sunrise each day Ghulamai heads out on his bicycle to the one-room home that his mother shares with four of his siblings. His bicycle has a rack above the rear wheel with a pillow fixed to it by bungee cord. His mother perches here each day as he carries her for the twenty minutes it takes to reach the three-story building where she works. Six days a week, she cooks, cleans, and launders for three well-to-do families who live here. Ghulamai will return to fetch her in the late afternoon, bringing her back to their room where her children have been waiting for her. The oldest, eleven year old Jamila, looks after them while their mother is away.

Last week, Henrietta (Voices – UK), Ali and I visited Ghulamai with his mother and siblings in this room.  Joining us in these snug quarters were two neighboring women and their small children. Ghulamai’s mother served tea to all of us as we sat together learning about the women’s experiences trying to survive in a country ravaged by war and corruption.

Ghulamai’s mother was desperate when she recently moved to Kabul from the more rural province of Bamiyan. Now, in Kabul, her earnings just barely cover rent and very simple meals for the family, but back home no amount of hard work washing other families’ clothes would earn enough for her family’s food and shelter. The cleaning work here is difficult, in no small part because one of her hands is badly mangled from a Russian air strike upon her own wedding. At the time, she was 11 years old. Shrapnel tore one of her fingers clear away, crippling her for life. Strikes at weddings and other civilian gatherings have continued under U.S. occupation, part of a daily traumatic onslaught permanently narrowing life choices for the most vulnerable people here, as war can be expected to do.

According to Brown University’s Watson Institute, approximately 111,000 people have been killed and an additional 116,000, at minimum, wounded during the 15-year U.S. war in Afghanistan.  The death toll from poverty, malnutrition, disease, and social dislocation can’t easily be neatly calculated for such a study.   Over 31,000 – nearly a third – of the people killed in fighting alone are local civilians.  The United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) counts more than 40,900 Afghan civilian injuries since January 2009.

What has the war accomplished?  In the U.S., it is hard for anyone to credit the lie that our rampage through the Middle East, begun in vengeance for the 9/11 attacks of 2001, has made anyone safer. In April 2016, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) reported to Congress only 70.5 percent of the country was in Afghan government control, and just three months later (July 30 2016), SIGAR noted that “the area under Afghan government control had declined by about 5 percent.  Violence occurs even in the areas ‘controlled’ by the government.”

Today we met with Kubra, Latifah, Shekibah and Naima, four local seamstresses struggling to get by in alarmingly simple dwellings, and I mentioned that many in the U.S. believe the war has allowed the U.S. government to help and protect women in Afghanistan. All four women disagreed, insisting that any aid from outside Afghanistan goes to people who will never share it with the needy. 

“The U.S. may help the Afghan government,” said Latifah, “but all we see are new, fancy buildings.” It is difficult to see how, in the chaos and desperation war creates, women’s lives could be expected to improve. Pious talk about Afghan women’s freedom often ignores their greatest desire which is to find food for their children. When all we in the U.S. share is talk, when we demand transformation of people’s lives but choose then to destructively transform their society with airdropped bombs and missiles, plus millions of rifles and bullets, then our most impassioned talk becomes ridiculous and hurtful.

The APVs help the seamstresses provide for their children by giving them rice, beans and cooking oil once a month, but the women say no one else helps them. Two of these women are married to men who are disabled and the other two say their husbands can’t find work anywhere. During part of the year, the women do paid seamstress work in the APV duvet project and the blue scarf project.

As part of the APV effort to help people facing hunger, cold and little to no income. Ghulamai now coordinates their Food Bank. This project provides the monthly food ration the seamstresses mentioned, chiefly to families enrolled in the APV’s “Street Kids School.” By offering a food ration, the APVs allow these families to forgo the income their children could earn as child street workers and instead send them to government schools for half the day, no longer sacrificing their futures to their immediate survival.  It’s a fine project, and now some of the older street kids volunteer time on the APV’s other main project, “the Duvet Project,” through which women of no income can earn a wage sewing heavy blankets for distribution, free of charge, to families with little or no protection from the harsh winter. 

Ghulamai once told me about an encounter he had with very young trash collectors who asked him if they could go through the trash bags he was wheeling to the local dump.  He agreed, and they salvaged a few scraps of bread and some paper that could be used for fuel. Then they sat down to talk with him. Pointing to a large new home, of the type referred to as a “poppy palace” since opium plays such a great role in building new fortunes here, one of the children said, “Look at that castle and at how those people live, and see how we live.”

In a way the child is pointing at those of us who live in the relatively comfortable castles in the west. An impossible gap exists between our demands for infinite security and the nightmare precarity suffered in those countries from which our wars rip that security away. It cannot be sustained, and our shaky existence in this poppy palace can only end with our finally waking up. We cannot remain high above the poorest abroad or the poorest here at home.  It’s much wiser to invoke the Golden Rule, to find satisfaction in living simply and sharing resources, and to become enlightened by truthful and altruistic youngsters who point us toward a better world.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org), co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence. While in Kabul, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.com)

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

Bare Foot College

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

Women's Liberation at Barefoot College

by Kathy Kelly

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

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

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

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

Bila, grandmother and puppeteer
Bila, grandmother and puppeteer

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

accountant
Jarina, grandmother and accountant

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

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

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

Brick Laying

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

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

Kathy and solar panel engineers
Kathy and solar panel engineers

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

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

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

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

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

Women

Martin Luther King day

For Whom the Bell Tolls

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

by Kathy Kelly 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They read:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

kathy and shoba

Locked in Winter

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

by Kathy Kelly

Photo credits:  Abdulai Safarali

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

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

Zakia with bruised cheeks
Zakia with bruised cheeks

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

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

girls

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

View of the camp
View of the camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope, circle of peace
Hope, circle of peace
Street kids visiting to APV compound

Afghan Street Children Beg for Change

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

by Kathy Kelly

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

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

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

Kathy and Safar
Kathy and Safar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raz Mohammed

Drones Bury Beautiful Lives

Raz Mohammed

Afghan Peace Volunteer, Raz Mohammad, speaks out on drones

By Dr Hakim and the Afghan Peace Volunteers

11th Jan 2013

Below is a transcript of an interview of Raz Mohammad, an Afghan Peace Volunteer, with questions prepared by Maya Evans of Voices for Creative Non Nonviolence UK.

Raz Mohammad : Salam ‘aleikum. I am Raz Mohammad. I’m from Maidan Wardak province and I’m Pashtun.

Kathy Kelly : Raz Mohmmad, what do you think about drones?

Raz Mohammad : I think drones are not good. I remember how, in my village, a drone attack killed my brother-in-law and four of his friends. It was truly sad. A beautiful life was buried and the sound of crying and sorrow arose from peaceful homes. I say that this is inhumane. Today, the idea of humanity has been forgotten. Why do we spend money like this? Why don’t we use an alternative way? The international community says that drones are used to kill the Taliban. This is not true. We should see the truth. Today, it’s hard to find the truth and no one listens to the people.

Kathy Kelly : How have drones impacted Wardak Afghanistan?

Raz Mohammad : Drones have a negative impact on the lives of the people of Wardak and other provinces in Afghanistan, because drones don’t bring peace. They kill human beings. Drones bring nothing but bombs. They burn the lives of the people. People can’t move around freely. In the nights, people are afraid. Drones don’t improve people’s lives, they limit the people’s lives. The people are not happy with drones. When they hear the sound of drones, they feel sad. Those who live in Kabul and those who live in the provinces especially in Pashtun areas feel differently about drones.  Those in Kabul don’t feel the pain of those in the provinces where there’s war and family members are being killed. It is those families of victims who should be asked and whose voices should be heard.

Kathy Kelly : Are drones making Afghanistan safer?

Raz Mohammad : No. Drones don’t protect the people of Afghanistan. Instead, drones kill the people of Afghanistan. You hear in the news and reports that every day, families, children and women are killed. Do you call this safety?

Kathy Kelly : Is there a mental impact on Afghans from the presence of drones?

Raz Mohammad : Yes, drones have a  negative impact on the mind. For me, when I go home, I recall the incident with my brother-in-law which affected me a lot and changed my life. I don’t have a peaceful mind. When I’m home and study at night, my father & mother are very worried and tell me not to stay up too late because they may make a mistake and bomb the house. When my younger brother knows of a drone incident, he says he won’t go to school or get out of bed early today because the drones may come.  See, how it affects the mind of a 5 or 8 year old child.

Kathy Kelly : What do you think about the use of drones after the 2014 withdrawal?

Raz Mohammad : I think that the use of drones today or in 2014 is inappropriate. Why has the international community sent drones to wage war in Afghanistan? Why have we forgotten the concepts of humanity and the love of humanity? War is not a solution. We can see this from the past 30 years of war in Afghanistan. Wars bring killing and enmity. Drones after 2014 will cause enmity between Pashtuns, Tajiks and Hazaras because those in government use the people for their own benefit. For their own power and lives, they drop bombs on the people, and bring division and inhumanity. As I see it now and after 2014, innocent human beings will be killed.

Kathy Kelly : Do you have any other message to give?

Raz Mohammad : My message to the ordinary people of the world is to listen, and become aware of drone warfare because what international governments say about using drones to kill terrorists is not true. Friends who come here can see that innocent people and women are killed. We should listen to the voices of Afghans and promote and defend humanity and humane relations. My message to the governments of the world is : Why have you forgotten humanity and the love of humanity? You are killing human beings for your own monetary benefit. I demand that this ( drone warfare ) be stopped, especially the spending of so much money on drones in Afghanistan and the killing of so many innocent people. Isn’t it appropriate for you to help the people in alternative ways? We are human beings and are always your friends, thank you.

APV GROUP

From Cowley Road to Kabul – The Afghan Peace Volunteers

GROUP pic 1By Susan Clarkson

We, the Voices for Creative Nonviolence UK delegation, have now returned from Afghanistan.  We spent two weeks in Kabul as guests of the Afghan Peace Volunteers.

This is a remarkable and unique community of young men who first came together in Bamiyan under the guidance of a local doctor, Hakim.  Inspired by the nonviolent spirit of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, the group first came together in 2008 to create a peace park in their locality.  Bamiyan is a mainly Hazara area of Afghanistan and the local people have suffered at the hands of the Taliban.  In March, 2001 the Taliban destroyed two ancient giant statues of the Buddah in Bamiyan.  For a more detailed background to the APV, visit their website, http://www.ourjourneytosmile.com

APV GROUP END PIC

The community relocated to Kabul and has worked closely with Voices for Creative Nonviolence over the past few years.  The dream of the community is to form a multi ethnic group, committed to nonviolence and work among the poor of their neighbourhood.

To say that the APV has a vision of being a multi ethnic community does not give the full picture of the task they have set themselves.  Ethnic divisions in Afghanistan go deep into a painful and violent history.  The community is mainly Hazara but there is a Pashtun and a Tajik among the group.  It is a privilege to be part of their sincere desire to heal old wounds and build a society for the future of Afghanistan, free from ethnic chains.  Their task is not an easy one and they don’t seem to be under the illusion that it is.  The community and the country has a long struggle ahead to build a peaceful Afghanistan.  Spending time with these young men gives one the feeling that it is possible and that a commitment to nonviolence holds the key.

APV TEA MAKING

On our arrival in Kabul after a long but uneventful journey, we were met by community members and taken to their home.  We shared their living space for two weeks and were given typical Afghan hospitality. The four of us and later two friends from the US, Kathy Kelly and Martha Hennessy, slept on cushions in the main living area where, during the day we had meals, English lessons, discussions and meetings.

Martha, Susan and Beth
Martha, Susan and Beth

Kathy is the founder and co-ordinator of Voices and Martha is part of the New York Catholic Worker community.  She is also the granddaughter of Dorothy Day who co-founded the Catholic Worker movement.

Through its connection with Voices the APV have played host to several delegations of international visitors over the past year or so.

Susan, Beth, Maya and Mary
Susan, Beth, Maya and Mary

Delegates share fully in the life of the community and during our stay we were present at many community meetings during which a wide range of subjects was discussed,

APV in group discussion
APV in group discussion

from practicalities of daily communal living to deep philosophical reflections on the nature of nonviolence and its implications in a country reeling and bowed down by thirty years of war and conflict.

The APV as a community are involved in the life of their neighbourhood.  The house has a constant stream of visitors, young and old and all receive a warm welcome.  Each morning there is an English class, attended by some of the APV and other local young people, both boys and girls.  Hakim conducts the class and often emphasises that the reason for learning a language is to communicate.  During the lessons, which some of us attended, there was often a sharing of ideas and feelings about the future of Afghanistan and the aspirations of the students.  Teaching PicIt was very moving to be present as these thoughtful young people expressed their hopes and fears and also posed searching questions to us about our role in the future of their country. In the afternooons the APV themselves, along with other volunteer teachers, hold classes for local children, teaching Dari and maths. The community is also home to a sewing project for women.

Group Woman Duvet

At present this project focuses on making duvets for poor local families as the bitter cold of winter approaches. Financial help from Voices means that women can earn money by sewing the duvets, either at home or on the APV premises.  The sharing out of the materials to be made up into the completed products is carried out by the young men of the community.

APV Loading Van The duvets are then distributed by the APV.  There is a video clip on the website showing the most recent distribution on 21 December.

    Other duvets were also given to a nearby refugee camp during our stay.

Duvet Van Pic

As we’ll as living community life and working on these projects, some of the community members attend school or university.  The overall atmosphere of the community is of generous hospitality, cheerful enthusiasm, hard work in difficult conditions and, above all, a belief that they are living out a model of the society they wish to see for a future Afghanistan.  This model has at its heart a true desire for people of all ethnicities to live together and to work together for a better life for the poorest and most vulnerable.  These young men really do think globally and act locally.

APV distributing duvets to Kuchi refugee camp
APV distributing duvets to Kuchi refugee camp
Maya Evans, Mary Dobbing, Susan Clarkson & Beth Tichborne, Kabul 2012

The Importance of protest for Afghans

group 1

By Susan Clarkson

On 21 October our delegation met in the Peace News office for further planning and to talk to our friends, the Afghan Peace Volunteers on Skype…

On the 21 of each month the APV hold a Global Day of Listening when they are connected by the internet to friends and supporters all over the world.  We had booked a half hour slot and once again it was very exciting to hear the greetings of the people we will be visiting in December.  Hakim once again did a sterling job of interpretation and the session was moderated by Kathy Kelly of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

After the greetings Kathy, who is always aware of what is going on, asked us to talk about the demonstration we had been on in London the day before against the Government cuts to services.  We told our friends about the reason for the demonstration and how it felt to be there.  We asked them about demonstrations in Afghanistan and soon realised that the treatment we receive from police on such events is mild compared to what the Afghan people face.

During our conversation we talked about the demonstration in 2003 against the invasion of Iraq, attended by a million people.  Our young friends responded with a poignant question: why had there been no such demonstration against the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001?

After reflection we offered the explanation, but not the excuse, that in 2001 things happened very quickly.  We had been told by our leaders that Osama Bin Laden was being protected in Afghanistan and immediate invasion was necessary.  We pointed out tentatively that less than a month passed between the attacks of 11 September and the invasion on 7 October, whereas there had been a protracted build up to the invasion of Iraq during which we had been fed more and more lies.

This brief exchange brought home to us how little we, the British people, have, over the years, let down the people of Afghanistan by allowing this war to continue.  It makes us even more resolved to make the most of our short visit and to be resolute in carrying the messages we hear in Afghanistan on our return.

Reflections on a Journey in Faith http://susanclarksondotcom.wordpress.com