A Thanksgiving Challenge…
I had my first ever thanksgiving yesterday, joining many of my American friends for wonderful food, games and good company… though I admit to bailing out just before the charades started! It felt a bit like Christmas, with Christmas carols playing in the background, a sparkling tree and lots of Turkey.
It was lovely to have been invited despite being a Brit! I hope it will be one of many thanksgiving meals to come… But my feelings on this day were somewhat mixed. It’s a day of abundance and joy, yet earlier in the day I had seen quite a different picture.
Just before heading out to join the festivities, I went with an Afghan colleague to a small home for children with physical and intellectual disabilities. I wanted to meet the Director and to spend some time with the children, one of whom had been in our own shelter for some time.
Run by a 19 year old girl with physical disabilities of her own, I couldn’t help but feel impressed that she was managing this place by herself, bar a couple of house mothers who took shifts in caring for the children. But at the same time I felt incredibly sad. She was quite alone in her work, getting a lot of pressure from the community to take children in, but with little support or encouragement offered. From the 10 children aged between 4 and 16, two were able to go to school and were now in grade 4, three were in bed full time, where they’ve been for the past 9 years, and five others were able to walk around and help feed themselves, but little else was available to them. When our little boy recognized us his face lit up and he showed us his new walking skills since having supports attached to his legs. It was a pleasure to meet him again and to shower him with affection.
The manager’s own story was one of loss and immense grief, being orphaned and disabled from 6 months old. Many questions were raised in my mind as to what support was being made available for such a centre as this, where there is so much potential for good work, and where a young girl has given so much of herself to see severely disabled abandoned or orphaned children cared for. It would be so easy to walk in and criticize, but how would that be helpful? Instead we chose to encourage and to love, and to commit to connecting the centre with the right resources and skills necessary to give each of those children a positive future, and to simply be a friend and a support.
In Afghanistan there are few services available for those with severe physical and intellectual disabilities. When a child is rejected and abandoned, with no relatives to give a home, it’s a challenge to find good reintegration options – there just aren’t places and resources in place to help them. Finding this little centre tucked away in the back streets of Kabul gave me a glimmer of hope. If we can invest in what is already available, while also building the capacity of staff, more doors can be opened to serve those most in need – It’s hard to care for someone with these severe disabilities, but perhaps along this journey, attitudes will be challenged and transformed.
Leaving the centre, my colleague and I sat in the car in silence. Our eyes filled with tears. It wasn’t a feeling of hopelessness, but a feeling of disappointment that the support for this centre was not in place. I turned to my colleague and told her “it’s when our hearts break that the challenge to push for something better is born in us.” This is our challenge, and also the challenge of the community.