Tag Archives: Peace group Voices for Creative Non Violence UK

Being a Peace Visitor in Kabul

by Henrietta Cullinan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mother and Child

Activists Deliver Humanitarian Aid to Refugee Camp

VCNV UK PRESS RELEASE 8th January 2014

Mother and Child - photo by Abdulhai Saferali
photo by Abdulhai Saferali

Peace group Voices for Creative Non Violence UK will this week witness £3,000 worth of aid, the total amount of funds raised by the group, delivered to Chaman-e Barbak refugee camp in Kabul, the second biggest camp in the city, home to over 700 families who are among, some of the neediest people in the world.

Representative Maya Evans, aged 34, from St Leonards on Sea, will be at the camp when aid will be distributed; flour, oil and sugar will be divided into portions to last each family through the toughest months of the year where temperatures plummet to around minus 16 degrees celsius, previous years have seen reports of children freezing to death over night (1).

Maya Evans visits refugee camp
Maya Evans visits refugee camp

Maya Evans said: “It’s extremely shocking to see that despite 13 years of a full scale international presence, where at least  £37 billion and $100 billion has been spent by the UK and US governments alone, people are still living in some of the worst conditions in the world; children walking around without adequate foot ware and clothing, open sewers running alongside homes which are basic mud huts, piles of rubbish next to homesteads, it’s so depressing.” (2)

She added: “Most of the money poured into this country has gone towards war, which hasn’t brought the country much closer to peace or improved living conditions. The Afghans I speak to say they are tired of war and want an end to foreign involvement, people are tired and war weary, it’s time to end the violence.”

Girl standing where her home burned to the ground
Girl standing where her home burned to the ground

In addition the Chaman-e Barbak refugee camp experienced a devastating fire last week (4), it left 70 people without homes during the coldest period of the year. Immediate aid was delivered to the camp in the form of duvets for all the affected families, these were  provided by the Afghan Peace Volunteers. (5)

Contact Maya Evans (in Kabul) +93 785980648

(1) http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/04/world/asia/cold-weather-kills-children-in-afghan-refugee-camps.html
(2) UK cost:  http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/30/afghanistan-war-cost-britain-37bn-book
 (3) Article of visit “Locked inWinter”: http://vcnvuk.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/locked-in-winter/
(4) Photos of the VCNV visit to the camp:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Voices-for-Creative-Non-Violence-UK/454714281232864
(5) Afghan Peace Volunteers: www.ourjourneytosmile.org
Refugee camp after the fire
Refugee camp after the fire