Afghan Scouts TV Day

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PARSA’s Afghan Scouts had the opportunity last week to head out on a fun-filled field trip. They were invited by Khorshid TV to join in the audience of their Nowruz (Persian New Year) special programing. All our Scouts had a great time, and lots of new memories were made. Another great day for Scouting in Afghanistan! Check out Reese’s video slideshow!

Two of our own Announce their Engagement!

Aryan Najeeb

It’s a happy day at PARSA – two of our own have announced their engagement!! Congratulations to Najeeb and Aryan for giving us a wonderful start to our first day back at the office after Nowruz. Both Najeeb and Aryan, along with Aryan’s father Gul Ahmad Mustafa, are a big part of the PARSA family. We are very happy for them and wish them all the best in the future.

The Women of Dost-e-Barchi

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Getting to Dost-e-Barchi was a challenge. It is located in a far off part of Kabul that I had never visited before and after we left the main paved road it took the better part of an hour navigating through muddy lanes to reach our destination. The four days of torrential rains that we had received in Kabul certainly didn’t help the mud situation very much.

Upon arrival, however, our moods were immediately uplifted by the group of welcoming women whom we had come to visit. They were in the middle of a literacy class yet were happy to take a break to welcome their visitors with tea and chocolates.

We spoke to them for a while about what their goals are and how they would like assistance from PARSA. These women are a unique group because they have formed their own cooperative with minimal involvement from outsiders – PARSA’s role is simply to ask them what they require for their programs and to try and support them with their goals. This could include anything from paying a teacher’s salary for literary classes like the one we had come to visit, providing transportation so the women can travel to Marastoon to take part in PARSA farming courses, or supplying sewing machines so they can reach their goal of making clothing and embroidery and opening their own small business.

We hung around for some time chatting and taking pictures – the women had lots of questions and laughed at my budding Dari. They passed on more requests and suggestions to Saliyah, my colleague with whom I had come. Then it was time to say goodbye – I look forward to visiting them again and seeing their successes. It’s great to see Afghan women taking such initiative!

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Enlightening Visit to a Kabul Girls’ Orphanage

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Even after living in Afghanistan for nearly 2 years there are still eye-openers around every corner. Yesterday I paid my first visit to the Alluaddin Girl’s Orphanage, one of two government funded orphanages in Kabul. The purpose of my visit was to photograph the weekly Girl Scout meeting, but what I came away with was a clearer understanding of the life of a young girl growing up in Afghanistan.

Although I have worked at PARSA for a year and have spent plenty of time around Afghan girls and women, yesterday was a rare opportunity to see a group of girls completely comfortable, in their element, just having fun. I was initially struck by their beauty, openness, cleverness and energy, but then it hit me how normal it all felt. I might as well have been with a group of Girl Scouts back home in Toronto, or anywhere else.

Reading this from anywhere but Afghanistan you would probably say “Of course, children all over the world are the same!”, but here it doesn’t feel like that sometimes, especially with girls. Cultural restrictions don’t allow girls to laugh and play in public, and when they hit puberty many are encouraged to don the burqa and are hidden completely. So seeing a group of young teenage girls laugh and sing and enjoy themselves so immensely was a very rare and rewarding experience.

Leaving the orphanage I felt like I had reconnected with my work at PARSA, and it made me want to redouble my efforts in helping women and girls like the ones at Alluaddin. Because in the back of my head I know that although today they are laughing and carrying on happily, those girls and others like them need as much help as they can to prepare for their futures. The fact is that for a young orphaned woman here in Afghanistan, options for life are bleak at best.  It all reminded me of how important our work here at PARSA is.

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Abdullah – The Youngest Taliban

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Abdullah was brought to the Marastoon Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) by the police in 2009.  He had been caught by Afghan National Police in Kabul with a complete vest of explosives attempting to blow up a target – his handlers had escaped. Abdullah was originally from a village on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. His mother had died, which had compelled his father to enroll Abdullah and three of his siblings into a local extremest “madrassa” in the tribal region, where he had been groomed to become a suicide bomber. He was 11 years old.

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PARSA staff offered to take Abdullah from the ARCS staff during the day time so he would have something productive to do while he waited for the authorities to make a decision regarding his future.  We made him a “volunteer” and gave him little jobs, an old computer and he spent the day “working” at PARSA.  And we fell in love with him.  He was sweet, helpful and busy.

Abdullah loved hanging out with our international staff and we spoiled him as much as we could.  He only spoke Pashtu so communication was a challenge, but we did our best.  One day he came to Yasin and said “I have a problem! Teach me English because some of these Afghans only speak English and I want to talk to them.” Even though he was indoctrinated at his madrassa with the message that foreigners are “Kaffir” and bad, he had never met a foreigner so for him we were just strange Afghans.

On a day when he was bored by his tasks, I gave him my camera and told him to go out to play and to take pictures of what he saw and loved.  His pictures say more about his life and thoughts than he could ever explain to us.

See Abdullah’s Photo Slideshow:

He was doing well, however every once in awhile an unforeseen trigger would send him back to his previous mentality. One day this occurred when Abdullah brought me some fresh apricots from the orchard. He leaned over my shoulder trying to understand what I was doing on my computer and then noticed my earrings. He became very agitated – “Only an infidel wears earrings Marnie!  Take them out!” he told me.

He was very lonely, even with the attention all of us gave him.  He asked me for a puppy (he already had a little bird for a pet) and I told him couldn’t give him one – so he found his own little black dog and I gave him a collar and lead.

One day, I saw him slowly walking up the hill with his little puppy on the lead.  It was the last I saw of him.  He disappeared.  We think he managed to get to a phone to call his “handlers” and they came and took him away. He touched our hearts and a hole was left when he went.  For me, seeing the chance at life that this beautiful young boy had stolen from him – by adults using him and turning him in to a killing machine in an incomprehensible war – was one of the saddest experiences I have faced in Afghanistan.

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