Wednesday, 30 April 2008

29th April - Kunduz RAD and Toot Mazar

Posted by Paula - no photos yet, but will upload as soon as they are available...

I was a little afraid for the first time today. Until then I can honestly say that I have not worried about our security since I arrived. I have not felt threatened or remotely worried. Even now I don’t understand what really happened, but anyway, we are all fine and nothing came of it.

We had a wonderful morning in Kunduz at the RAD – (The rehabilitation of Afghans with disabilities Centre) I have been there 3 times since last March and when I arrived, the girls threw down their books and threw their arms around me. It was a fantastic welcome.

There are 45 boys and girls at the centre and it is a place of miracles. Children who are deaf, blind and mentally disabled, and who would have had little chance of an education or a life outside their homes, come to school by bus every day. Girls and boys studying under the same roof. It is a simple building but well equipped and the teachers are very gentle with the children.
The first class we visited was a class of the younger boys. None of them can hear or speak. The time we spent with them was all conducted in sign language and laughter. I showed them photos of their twin school – Arbour Vale in Slough and all the photos of them I took at my last visit - they loved them, couldn’t get over their photos and pointed very excitedly at whoever in the room was featuring. They studied all the pictures of life in England sent to them by the English students and the maps of where the school is and where I come from. The girls were overjoyed to have us back in their classroom and we had an amazing time showing them photos of a special needs school in England and the facilities they have there and showing them on my laptop, all the photos I took of them last time.

Once we had visited all the classes, we rushed off to the bazaar and bought sports clothes for all the school children. They all changed into it when we arrived back and came outside together and held a volleyball match, got out all the skipping ropes, did cartwheels and played ball. I have never seen girls and boys in Afghanistan playing in the same playground, attending school together ...and here were these children all playing together and all so happy. There was no talking---because they cannot speak, just the sound of happines.

They really love you —the teacher translated for us with a big smile....and we certainly felt loved as they left for home, hugging us goodbye and waving and blowing kisses from the car, hanging out of the windows for final waves as their bus took them off home.

On to Khanabad and Toot Mazar School, twinned to Bradfield College. We crossed rivers and mud tracks to reach the school. It was all very dusty and remote and not renowned as the safest area.

We visited the year 9 group as they are twinned to yr 9 Bradfield. The ages in the class vary hugely - from 13-20 I would guess, depending on how many years of schooling the boys had missed. We decided to interview the class about their day and their lives. They all started very quietly and it seemed very hard work. But as we progressed, they all started to join in and it was fascinating. They are all awake at 4.30am to pray, then do home work and help in the house until school at noon. Some walk over an hour and a half to reach school and then they just have 4 hours schooling. In the school holidays they are expected to work on the land, ploughing and helping sow the crops or harvesting or looking after the animals.

We left the classroom and the whole school gathered in the school yard, supervised by a splendid English speaking Afghan with a long beard, who had been a refugee in Canada for many years. We talked about the twin school project and then handed out the sports clothes and the computers ...given by the students at Bradfield. The team put on their strips and we all gathered on the football pitch to watch the match.

It was then that our driver came up and begged us to leave. We said our farewells and the children gathered round the car and waved us goodbye. Ally, our driver—an ever cheerful, ebullient joker, was sweating and anxious and told us we had to go back by a different route because the Taliban were present and could have laid a remote controlled explosives device on the road.

Just weeks earlier, the Mullah, one of 5 in the area, had gone into the school with a gun and told the teachers it was unislamic to have the children at school. Then a device had been used to blow up a car which was similar to the headmaster’s car. The wrong person had been targeted and the headmaster had survived.

Ally was panic stricken as we drove through high walled dusty tracks between villages. We saw a motorbike with 2 turbaned men in white and he put his foot towards the main road. We crossed the river at high speed, the water washing over the vehicle and the tyres lurching over the rocks.

I didn’t really know what to think...just as I always reflect - it is like swimming on the surface of the sea—you never quite know what lies beneath. I do not know what was or wasn’t true about the stories of the Taliban. What I do know is that it didn’t feel great - there was an atmosphere. But the school is what matters and they will make sure that they can keep functioning ....there may be some bargaining with the Taliban elements, but it will stay open and education will go on.
Ollie, (our camerman) suddenly announced he had left something at the school.
Ally’s response ..."you can go back by taxi - I no go! “

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