Tag Archives: Pashtun

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
Refugee Camp, Shahs Palace, Hindu Kush

Kuchi Refugee Camp in the Shah’s Back Yard

refugee camp_shahs palace_hindu kush

By Maya Evans

The first day of snow is turning to slush as we pull up outside a Kuchi refugee camp on the edge of Kabul. A small heard of goats dressed in old jumpers graze on a skip of rubbish, our taxi driver pulls up over some large puddles;  I tiptoe out of the vehicle onto solid land. The refugee camp is home to around 65 Kuchi nomadic families who have spent their lives wandering the land with livestock.

Goats grazing on rubbishThe camp is set in the former Shah’s palace grounds, perhaps once the grandest building in Kabul, the decrepit palace now stands alone on a hill fort, dilapidated and riddled with bullet holes, a sad relic of a former time.

The refugee camp is in a large walled off area which seems to be an extension to the palace grounds. Ramshackle tents constructed from what appears to be bits of rags, old sacking, old mats, juxtapose with the breathtaking snow-capped mountain ranges of the Hindu Kush, more synonomous with the pages of a National Geographic than a scene of desperate poverty and deprivation.

The Kuchi are traditionally nomadic people who wander land from Pakistan to Iran grazing cattle and gaining casual work. We hear that the Kuchi are considered amongst the least respected group of people within Afghanistan with tales of thievery and low living standards connected with their image. It remindeds me of the widely held perceptions which many Britons hold of the traveller community in the UK. Although the Kuchi are technically Pashtun in ethnicity they are considered a group apart and receive little to no alleigance from other Pashtuns.

Refugee Kids

As we walk into the camp we are greeted by a gaggle of young children dressed in a patchwork of clothing styles: one small boy wearing a pair of high-heeled women’s shoes wading through the mud, another boy in an adult’s fleece top dangling around his knees, a girl in a leopard print jacket over a traditional Afghan trouser suit. It’s surprising that people at the bottom rung of society would meet and treat visitors with warmth and enthusiasm, however they did.

We walk through a bit of the camp, past a group of women huddled under a makeshift shelter, some wearing burkas, others wearing modern clothing likely donated from a western source. The children follow us every step of the way wanting to have their photos taken. The tents and shelters are tightly packed together, there’s a cow tethered to a stick, some chickens pecking the ground, the bright sun melts the snow from the day before. The ground underfoot is a mixture of slush and mud.

FridaIt seems like the camp elders are trying to work out the best tent to host us in. Eventually we were shown into a medium sized tent constructed from hardy canvas material. The muddy  floor is lined with off-cuts of carpet and small rugs, I remove my shoes and step into the tent which is large enough to stand up in. I walk to the back of the tent and sit on the floor, the bits of carpet feel cold and damp. The other delegates and some members from the Afghan Peace Volunteers also enter the tent and we are introduced to Frida, a female elder of the camp who explains she’s received training from the Ministry of Public Health to teach other women about hygiene, she holds up a badge in a plastic sleeve. Frida is immediately striking, perhaps in her 50’s, her weathered face set with deep expressive wrinkles seems to exude strength and wisdom. Her eyes are intense and you somehow know she has seen and done much in her hard life.

We learn that the camp has been there for four years, that the land belongs to the Government and the refugees live with the fear of being told to leave at any point… some sort of military helicopter flies overhead and drowns out Frida’s voice for a few seconds. Frida explains that they were in Pakistan until the UNHCR told them to return to Afghanistan and they would receive help. She tells us that so far they have received none of that promised help.

Her voice is emotional as she explains (via an interpreter): ”Guests are like the light of our lives, we are unable to have our needs heard by leaders such as Karzai – why as president can’t he find a way to look after his people.” She explains that a man standing just outside the tent had to bury his two two dead children in the street as the Government refused to give them a plot for their dead. Frida goes on: ”If we can’t bury our dead we may as well not live”.

Kuchi talks about unemploymentA man who is sat in the doorway wrapped in a classic Afghan blanket wearing a traditional Pashtoon hat explains his feelings: “We are all trampled upon, no one will speak up for us or talk about our concerns, aren’t we born here, don’t we belong to this land?” We learn that all the men are unemployed, unable to find work, the children don’t go to school. Apparently there is a German NGO who provide some basic medicines but beyond that they can not get treatment for proper medical help.

An older man also sat inside the tent, perhaps Frida’s husband is asked for his opinion: “There are so many problems I don’t know where to start, I’m an old man but I want to work, but I can only tie up donkeys, maybe if I had a few sheep it might be a way I could get by. The tents sometimes get so cold that we prefer to sleep outside.”

Kuchi refugee man who wants to keep sheep

I ask if there is a message to send the people in Britain, he replies: ”If the people of Britain could do what they can to help us get through the cold of winter, we are without work or necessities to get by, even if you can’t help us, we are grateful for you hearing this message.”

I personally would like to add to his message. The people of Britain should be speaking out against our own Government who have been central in installing the current corrupt Afghan Government who care very little for the welfare of its people. Our Government has been and continues to be central to the ongoing war which is stopping innocent people from living a life with basic human rights standards. The situation for the 350,000 internally displaced Afghans currently in the country is a symptom of a much bigger issue: it’s not working, and it will never work while Governments such as ours  continue to prop up and maintain corruption and inequality.