Day 11, Thursday March 24

Hope House: Last night we were told that ‘active people with vision’ are needed in Afghanistan. Well that’s exactly the type of people we met today at Hope House, an orphanage and centre for helping widows and poor families, run by Australian NGO Mahboba’s Promise, see http://www.mahbobaspromise.org/

The work began with Mahboba Rawi an Afghan woman living in Australia, who has committed her life to helping the widows and children of Afghanistan. Supported by grass-roots fundraising activity in Australia and small grants, it manages dozens of excellent projects led by ordinary Afghans with big hearts.

Hope House entrance

“We have many problems here,” Sadiq, the manager told us when we visited Hope House in Kabul’s outer suburbs today. “But we are here to solve the problems.”

This ‘can-do’ attitude permeates the whole organisation which runs three orphanages, a community centre, outreach program providing groceries for widows, handicrafts program, permaculture, health and education programs and many more projects that aim to keep families together. “We aim to keep the children with the mother, even though she has no income,” Sadiq explained. “So we rent houses and provide food, shelter and education for the widow and children.”

As we chatted with Sadiq over tea, the topic inevitably moved to the political and security situation in Afghanistan, as it often does. In Sadiq’s opinion the situation in Afghanistan is getting worse. “When we arrived in 2003 the plan was to do this work for five years,” he said. “Then we expected the projects would not be needed because things would improve. Extended families were once able to look after widows, but now it’s so hard for everyone to survive. Now we are planning the work to continue for 20 years.”

Sadiq said the people are disillusioned by promises from the international community. “The foreign forces promised to end the terror and bring security,” he said. “And once there is security the economy will pick up. But the international community did not fulfil their promises despite its massive aid program. It’s going to the wrong people or going back to foreign countries through the high wages of foreign staff, and the wrong people are in charge like Karzai and the warlords in the Parliament.”

The essential problem, Sadiq said is that: “Good people have no power.”

“And the bad people, the warlords, no one can move them,” he said. “The criminals are going up, and the ordinary people are going down, the poor are poorer and the rich, richer. There is nothing left for civil society. The billions of dollars of aid – where is it? The promises have not been fulfilled.”

Sadiq said the people are looking to the western forces for security, “but they cannot deliver.” “Now we have Generals from all different countries who don’t know what to do,” he said. “If they keep going on like this they had better leave. “More Australian troops are just going to get killed. Why do young people come here and die for nothing? In Oruzgan Province, the Taliban goes there only because the Australian troops are there, otherwise they would not be there!

 “A lot of things are so messy; people are asking lots of questions. Why can’t such a mighty force provide security? At least the Russians kept the mujahedeen in the mountains, but they can’t even do that. We ask many questions.”

Sadiq said people are just looking to find food, “their only wish is to find a job and find food for the children.”

He said international NGO’s are increasingly coming under suspicion as people become cynical about the high levels of corruption. “The people are confused. Why after nine years are things getting worse? The ordinary people have no power.”

Good questions, these are the questions from the people on the street, Sadiq says. A lot to think about.

After our discussion we went for a tour around Hope House and met some of the staff. The women showed us their handicrafts and sewing room, we saw a dental clinic and a large room where the children do Tae Kwon Do – and we learnt there are a few Tae Kwon Do champions amongst the children! Then we met the children and saw where they lived, a large, airy, two-story building with several rooms with bunk beds, TV room and bathrooms. The boys are downstairs and the girls are upstairs. The girls dragged me upstairs and proudly showed off their bright, well-kept rooms.

Martin & myself with some of the kids

There were plenty of wide smiles that belied the stories behind why these children are here. Some have no family at all, others have uncles and aunts, and some have a mother but one who is not able to keep them at home. Life has been hard for these children, but here at Hope House they receive good care, education and the chance to go on to further study, job training and to find employment. This had been the story for many children who have passed through the orphanage and went on to study and find good jobs and get married. This place is a family for these children, a caring, reliable family.

Mahboba’s Promise relies on grass-roots donations to continue this wonderful work. But with all the competing needs coming from the natural disasters this year, Mahboba has told me that fundraising has been difficult. She is worried about the sustainability of the projects. Perhaps you could help? http://www.mahbobaspromise.org/

a girls room

the playground

 

some of the girls

some of the boys

Tonight we visited the German Brothers, a Lutheran religious order that have lived and worked in Afghanistan for about 60 years. Each week the three brothers open their home to visitors (mostly German) for a meal and fellowship, and Martin was a regular attender during his various stints working in Kabul.

It was quite a large crowd tonight and Martin enjoyed catching up with some old faces and meeting new ones. These were German people working with international NGO’s in Kabul. I noticed a certain phrase that some of them were using: “after the war…” this happened or “after the war…” that happened. I found this curious and wondered what war they were referring to as having finished. I realised they were talking about the current war, and so felt obliged to make the point that the war is still raging as we speak: civilians are being killed (a large number this month, mostly children), and young soldiers are going home in body bags. So for the people of Kunduz, Kandahar and Oruzgan, the war is every-present, right outside their front doors.

Interesting how there can be so many differing perspectives depending on where you sit.

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