Monday, 24 October 2011
Afghanistan is a never ending eating experience at times….and we are whisked off from here to Ashrafia Boys School….where lunch is waiting!
Ashrafia Boys School is next to Tarusht Girls School. AC is funding a Resource Centre with Science Lab, Computer suite, library and meeting hall for the two schools to share. We saw the building nearly completed. We are also funding a new girls school and refurbishment of the old girls’ classrooms at Tarusht.
The boys and teachers were ready to greet us and we shared an incredibly lively and happy lunch with about 30 male teachers. We sat on red carpets and cushions, which the boys had brought in from home, and were served plates of local delicacies…including the baby sparrows, complete with heads on, which they had hunted in giant nets up the rocky ravines that morning . So much food. Luckily enough men there to hide the fact that we didn't eat so much!
A massive character with wild eyes and a tilted turban, came to greet us. I had met him last time. He wanted us to go and ride on his Buzkashi horse with him! The Headmaster took my photos of my family and asked to keep them for his wall so he wouldn’t forget us!
On to Tarusht Girls School. We walked through a hole in the wall and into the courtyard and were swamped by hundreds of girls, singing and throwing flowers at us and giving us scarves. The choir sang, and then there were speeches and then we were completely crushed by girls crowding around our table as we were given tea. Couldn’t see beyond the hundreds of intense faces…wondered if we would actually cause a stampede.
Fabulous to see the huge new buildings going up and the new school taking shape. V exciting . As I looked over the wall, I saw the girls going home, their burkhas billowing in the evening breeze , beside the river in this beautiful corner of the world, so very far from my home.
From Tarusht, our drivers took us even further up in to the hills, on roads made of rock and dust , with steep drops in to the valleys below. We stopped right up in the heights near the Anjoman Pass and walked up on to the peaks , from where we could look out for miles beyond. It was dusk and the cool evening was drawing in and a strong bitter wind was gusting through the mountains.
We came across a shepherd’s hut and a mother with four young children-two beautiful girls with the greenest eyes and two cheeky little boys who were playing rough and tumble in the dust. The girls were shivering in the cold. We emptied out all the warm clothes we had and gave them to the family and then watched the boys putting on layer upon layer of socks and giggling in the dust.
As we left, one of the girls came up to the car and I thought she was going to ask us for something …..but she just asked us to stay the night with them and share their supper. Drove off, watching this beautiful girl standing in that bleak place. No chance of an education…her mother was married off age 10 and never went to school and the same fate probably awaits her. It is such an impossibly tough world out here.
Our last night in the villages is spent in a poor community. We are joined by the entire village- everyone has come to pay their respects and we feel so sorry for the family, who end up feeding more than 70 people. 2 goats(whose heads lie on the ground and make us feel deep guilt!) and several guinea fowl are slaughtered .We make sure we leave a present to help.
We are so tired and the evening goes on for hours as the women are in no hurry to leave us. It is hilarious as we discuss their lives and loves and a widow tells us of all the young men she lusts after and all the old men she doesn’t want .! Nothing held back here and we hear all the village gossip.
As we all sit there , one of the girls suddenly throws herself to the floor and has an epileptic fit. It is a reminder of how tough the lives are here. I am sure she doesn’t receive the correct treatment and isn’t monitored as she would be here.
Finally we are left alone and have a hilarious time clambering over walls in the moonlight looking for a non existent latrine ! Not much sleep.
Breakfast was a feast and it made me laugh when the mother told me that she gets her recipes from the television. Though we seem to be in the furthest most primitive corner of the world, the outside world is definitely creeping in. The walnut milk is laced with sugar, the giant rounds of flat brown bread are fresh and warm, straight from the bread oven and there is local honey and bowls of walnuts to have on the bread and fresh trout plucked from the river that morning. Acts of generosity and care and it is hard to leave these very special people. Feel a very strong bond with them and find it very sad to say goodbye.
We are visiting another Community Based School which AC is funding and like all these schools, it is remote. There is a small doorway in an adobe wall, which we clamber through. We are greeted by teachers with presents of scarves and flowers and garlands. This school is thriving and already has classes up to grade 6 and will soon be recognized by the Ministry of Education as an official Primary School. They need a building . There are 300 children attending and only 2 classrooms. These are dark and small and when you step outside of them , you enter a courtyard full of children studying under the Autumnal trees in the soft morning sunshine. Above the courtyard are 2 more levels, and on each level there are more open air classrooms. Everywhere the chant of children. Alphabets, poems and the Qu’ran. We visit every classroom. The teachers then present us with a letter, signed with signatures and thumbprints, asking for official recognition and a proper building .
This will be a priority for 2013.
Woke to another beautiful day, more walnut milk and trout! Said fond farewells and walked into the village square to await the drivers. Spent a wonderful half hour talking to the villagers, watching life go by and looking at the incredible scenery. The village mosque is very old and has beautiful carved wooden balconies. Opposite is a tiny shop, also of wood, the typical Afghan double doored, lock up spaces , with no room to stand, and all jammed high with wares. Outside the shop an old man hugs his grandchildren, 5 turbaned men stand by their truck loaded high with potatoes and a farmer walks by with his goat. I could have stayed there happily, but with the arrival of the drivers, all the men of the village came up to us and shook our hands and wished us goodbye and we sped off down the valley.
We drove to Annoy School, which is our priority build for 2012. Over 700 children are studying outside or in ruined classrooms. I am determined to raise the funds to build this school. Then on to Khadeja Kubretal, the girls school I visited with our donor last year. A huge building project is now underway thanks to some wonderful funding we received and so exciting to see a new school going up. 1100 girls will have a school by the Spring time. I went and met the girls who are all thrilled.
Khadeja Kubretal School
The others went ahead to interview the girl for the film. Mukhtar and I drove another beautiful route to a Community Based School we are running. So remote and set up so that children from this area could go to school. All the main schools are too far away for them to walk to. We left the cars and walked down a steep hill through a quiet mud brick village and down into a flat area shaded by blazing golden sycamores. There, on the wooden balcony of the village mosque, was the Community Based School we are funding . The village provides either rooms in the mosque or in a local home to act as the base for the community school. AC then funds the teacher salary and the books and admin and provides teacher training and for a cost to us of just £35 a year for each child, these children can go to school. And there they sat, chanting the alphabet in one class and drawing in another.
Community based School on the wooden balcony of the Mosque
We went on afterwards to another CBS, far away from this one beside the river , over a very worrying wooden bridge. Climbed through a wooden doorway and came to Viruf CBS and more classes of children. It is so rewarding to see the project in action.
On again to another AC School in Worsaj, where we went to watch a teacher training programme we are funding, which is run by SCA. 27 primary school teachers, including teachers from the CBSs had come along for training . They were all busy making teaching aids for their schools. The room was buzzing with activity and the walls were cluttered with drawings, teaching aids and posters on the Millennium Development Goals . Again really good to see the project in action and to meet some of the teachers benefiting from the funding.
We were given lunch in the school, made by all the teachers—more rice and huge chunks of meat and so generous but oh how I longed for vegetables!
The girls finished the filming in the afternoon. They had their story and had managed to film without ever showing the face of our girl. Night was closing in and it was getting really cold. Began to feel rather bleak, but we were in for a fantastic evening . Drove off to stay in a village with the security chief of the area. The family were so lovely and the house immaculate and cosy. They were the most beautiful looking family with 9 children . The mother had such a serene face and when we talked to her, she told us how she had been so lucky in her life. She had had a love marriage, not an arranged one and had married at 16, when her husband was 18. She said she still loved him and he was a wonderful husband to her . I cannot tell you how good it was to hear this after all the tragic stories we had listened to! We were looked after so well and had the most delicious supper of fresh pumpkin cooked in sugar and yoghurt, huge bowls brimming with hot noodles and beans, chutneys, rice and for pudding , pistachio milk pudding , fresh watermelon and pears. All so spoiling . Wonderful talks in the light of the hurricaine lamp and felt so close to them all.
Autumn in the Hindu Kush with all its colours and the wintry light on the mountains. We went to see a girl in her home to hear about her education and what it has done for her. Many girls gathered and each wanted to tell their stories and there we sat, listening to tales of early marriage, being pulled out of school, becoming mothers so very young. One girl had to get married at 14 when her father died leaving no male relative to look after her, her mother and her sister. She was never able to go back to school. She had her first child at 16 and has had 3 more since and now she says, because of the children, her husband is beginning to show her some love. Her mother was with us in the house and I tried to imagine what a dreadful decision it must be to make your daughter marry so young . No choice in it, she had to do it to save the family.
Tuesday, 18 October 2011
Monday, 17 October 2011
Thursday, 13 October 2011
Tuesday, 11 October 2011
I am here with Amy who is here from the States .We arrived here yesterday, tired and bedraggled after delayed flights, as dusk and drizzle descended on Kabul. Received a rapturous welcome from the Afghan drivers and guards and Gul Noor, the wonder cook , whom I have known for 10 years and who fed me up after my first food deprived visit to Afghanistan in 2002. Immediately whisked off by Jorgen, Olympia and Rafat, who all work for Swedish Committee and taken for a lavish buffet at the Serena Hotel. Built by the Aga Khan and now a 5 star hotel, the Serena lies behind blocks of concrete, massive iron doors, layer upon layer of security gates and checkpoints. A haven for expats in a city of fear, despite all its protective layers, it has been the target of several murderous attacks and rpg (rocket propelled grenade) attacks. It offers luxury and has a gym, swimming pool and countless other facilities. Some business men who come to Afghanistan never leave its walls, they arrive in Kabul, hold all their meetings in the Serena and then leave. (probably very sensible!)
Amy and I had meetings all morning. Heard about progress at SCA....women now sharing the same dining room as the men—though they still sit fairly separately....and the first group of female school consultants ever to go out of Kabul without being accompanied by male relatives went all the way to Karachi. This is a massive step forward and when I met the women, they seemed so happy to have had the opportunity and so unlike some of the many women you meet, who are too timid to speak to men or strangers.
On to the cricket camp
The MCC Foundation has sponsored us to hold the first ever cricket camp to train men and women to be professional coaches. There is not a single professional cricket coach in Afghanistan. After some massive organisational headaches and some interesting last minute panics, it all came together today. Ten teachers from all over Afghanistan, from schools where we have built MCC funded pitches, came to Kabul for the 3 day coaching. 14 men and women chosen by the Afghan Cricket Board also joined the camp.
Four coaches from Cricket 4Change UK came over to do the coaching. The weather messed up the first day! The rain had made the new cricket stadium ground too wet for play. So instead, they all met at the Afghan Cricket Board where they had theory lessons all morning and then went out on to the roof to practice their new skills.
We went to watch. It was a small moment of history. The first ever camp to train coaches and, as was pointed out, probably the first ever camp in any sport to create professional coaches in Afghanistan. An emotional moment!
The enthusiasm was remarkable and so heartening and they all got dressed into kit provided by the MCC . There were 3 women there, who I have met before and they are all part of the Afghanistan Women’s Team and one is the founder of female cricket in Afghanistan. They were so delighted to be part of the group of first ever pro coaches in Afghanistan.
The aim is for them all to pass ICC Level 1 coaching this time round and then to go onto Level 2 next year. The teachers will return to their communities able to teach their school children as well as the local people. It was a fantastic afternoon! Tomorrow they will be at the Stadium for another day of coaching and I will be heading up to the North of Afghanistan.