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