Monthly Archives: December 2011

Christmas in Afghanistan

A few days ago, I wrote this nice blog about how I like Christmas here. None of that has changed but yesterday, as mourners participated in the remembrance known as the Day of Ashura (or 10thof Muharram), many were killed.  Children have been left without fathers, including two girls who attend our kids’ school. 

http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/A/AS_AFGHANISTAN?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT#

Streets are decorated for Muharram

I feel so sad today, so not like celebrating anything.  Today is a day of grief and sadness.  There will be families for whom this time of year will never be the same.  We have personally known so many now who have died in this country, local and expatriate and today I question will it ever stop. When will people be able to mourn/celebrate in peace and safety? But here is what I wrote before I felt so sad…

I like Christmas in this country. In our home country of New Zealand, there are crazy numbers of end of school and end of year functions, as well as Christmas hype.  There is so much commercialism and pressure, that it seems like the object is to survive the Christmas season. 

Here in Afghanistan, the only pressure to shop and consume comes directly from our children and they don’t have the constant “You need one of these…” type advertising in their faces.  Here the object is to make Christmas special and memorable in some way. It does take some effort and some time, and we often have little reserves of energy and time, but the investment is always rewarding.  I can always remember who we spent Christmas day with and what was special, who we gathered with to sing carols and what we learnt about how other cultures/sub-cultures remember the birth of their Lord.  How different families relate the stories around Christmas to their children and what items on their trees are symbolic or special in some way.

As winter closes in, I am reminded of how special it is to live in the northern hemisphere where Christmas lights in our houses actually have time to be enjoyed before children go off to bed, while remembering happily that the Christmas break should at some point always include the beach and some tennis (neither of which we get here!).

As this year comes to an end, I am looking back and thinking of the hard things for our families at home and those we know or have known here in this country, and yet, acknowledging that God has plans that He can bring to pass through hard times.  I pray for the ability of Hagar to impact more lives in this country, that women and children who have suffered so much will find wholeness and fulfillment in the year to come and that we can play a small part in this transformation.  As our accountant recently said, “Many organizations work to make a small difference to many lives but I want to part of something that makes huge differences in the lives of the people we assist”.

This Christmas I invite you to put some light in to the lives of women and children who have suffered in darkness and isolation.  http://hagarinternational.org/making-donation

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Boys

Earlier this year a boy was killed in the Juvenile Detention Centre in Kabul. His father alleged that older boys wanted him to engage in sexual activities and when he refused they beat him to death. You can read more at http://iwpr.net/report-news/grave-abuse-alleged-kabul-juvenile-centre Prior to this our staff had interviewed boys who reported being victimized while in detention.

Just days before this news, I had sat with the director of the facility. She had explained that the facility was already beyond its capacity and that many of the boys needed counseling that was not able to be provided. They have boys from all kinds of backgrounds, those who have been trained as suicide bombers, as well as boys who have been exploited.

When questioned about the sexual abuse of boys, Afghans acknowledge that it occurs in this country – always far from where you are standing. Responses like “It happens in the South” or “It happens with the warlords in the North” are the most common. But the more questions you ask, the more widespread it seems to be. Whether it is bacha baazi, where boys are bought and sold and used to entertain guests (by being dressed in women’s clothes and dancing) which then leads to sexual exploitation, or boys being abused as they try to earn money by assisting truck drivers or working in hotels and those trafficked for labor or in debt bondage are also often sexually assaulted at night. There is an absolutely amazing (and frightening) lack of acknowledgement of the harm it may cause to these young lives. No-one in Afghanistan seems to want to discuss it as a problem that should be addressed and hence, no one is providing adequate services for these boys. As I think of the suffering of these boys, who come from poverty stricken families, I have a mixture of feelings – sadness and grief, a desire to act, tiredness (as there is so much to do), anger at a culture that wants to bury its head in the sand, and frustration that I don’t have a bag full of money, and a pocket full of well trained professionals, that would enable us to act immediately. But Hagar has begun the process of looking for funds. We want to initially do some research specifically about the problem of boys being trafficked in this country and then to develop a pilot that would trial culturally acceptable ways of assisting these boys through a period of recovery and on to giving them education and skills that would enable them to contribute to their families without exploitation. We would love to educate the communities where these boys came from about this problem and help to prevent more boys from poor villages suffering trauma that in this country remains unacceptable to ever talk about.

Whenever I talk or interact with the young of this country, I see such potential, such energy and enthusiasm. When you consider the young potential suicide bombers that have been arrested, I see commitment (albeit misguided) that I rarely see in other places. I believe we need to help them to tap into that potential – to give them access to education or skills. But please, don’t think that we view Afghan people as helpless or hopeless, but they will be able to help themselves so much more with access to some resources. I feel called to play apart in that process but anything I do would be so worthless if it wasn’t for all the God-given resources these people already hold.

Feel free to also contribute by donating at http://hagarinternational.org/making-donation or write to us if you would like to know if your skills can be used here.

Hagar pursues the highest degree of care and protection for each of its clients. To protect the identity of our clients, names have been changed and pictures do not necessarily represent the individual profiled.