There are more than two million orphaned children in Afghanistan. Why so many?
There are a number of reasons, although I’d say predominantly the 30 years of war. But it’s not always that both parents are dead. A lot of the children in the orphanage I’m working with, their father has been killed and, because men are predominantly the breadwinners of the family, the females just can’t support the children, so they have to give them up. Another girl was given up because the mother lost the father to the Taliban, she re-married and the new man didn’t want this child who was not his. So she had to give the child away. Had she not, she wouldn’t be abiding by the entrenched traditions of that particular community.
How did you get the idea for Kids Being Kids?
I just don’t know what to do on the weekends (laughs). I’d always had an interest in Afghanistan and what’s happening over there, and I just said to a friend of mine, ‘Fancy a long weekend in Afghanistan?’ She said, ‘Yeah, sure, why not?’ My initial plan didn’t involve visiting an orphanage. It was another friend of mine who suggested it. So we went to some colleagues and said, ‘Hey, if you’ve got any old clothes…’ and literally piles of stuff came in. So we ended up going over with five giant suitcases – nothing for ourselves, we just took an abaya and a backpack (laughs). We wanted all the room in the suit-cases for these donations.
So setting up a charitable organisation was an accident?
Yeah. I did an interview about it on Dubai Eye when I got back and people basically just started calling. It manifested itself, really.
What was it about that first visit that made you want to do more, though?
One thing that struck a chord with me was that these kids have been through so much, yet they’re laughing, they’re playing, they’ve got these giant smiles on their faces. They’re just regular children, but with unfortunate circumstances. That’s why I’ve called the organisation Kids Being Kids, because I just want to give them the things that allow them to be children.
We hear you’re going back to Afghanistan over Ramadan.
At the orphanage I’m connected with at the moment every child is sponsored, so they actually live a very nice life, they live in a beautiful villa, they’re all fed, they all go to school, they all have beds to sleep in, which is definitely not the norm in orphanages across the country. This Ramadan I’ll be working with an orphanage in the east of the country where the children are in greater need. I don’t know whether these children will be laughing and smiling.
Is it true you’re making a TV documentary too?
Yes, I’m going to take a couple of months off and make a documentary about Afghan kids. So many stories come out of Afghanistan, but it’s all about war and the billions and billions of international dollars that are going into reconstructing the country, and nothing is ever said about the children. So it’s just investigating that.
What do you hope it will achieve?
If it gets four or five more children sponsored, if it gets another child going to school, brilliant. It’s solely to get the word out there.
What do you hope for the future of Kids Being Kids?
I would love to connect with more orphanages around Afghanistan, but of course that takes a lot of sponsor-ship dollars. Right now, just because it’s me and a couple of friends, I can only attempt it one orphanage at a time. There’s a lot more that can be done, it’s just a matter of time. When I first went to Afghanistan, I came back looking at Dubai a different way. Instead of constantly criticising the opulence and the wealth here, now I think it can work to the advantage of those in Afghanistan. So I would love for that to be a reality, to help as many kids as possible.
How can the people of Dubai help out with your venture?
Anyone who has any skills that could contribute to spreading the word, the logistics, people to sort through donations, companies willing to ship donations over, even a company that might have a storage facility we can leave donations in until we’re finished sorting – great. That’s one element of the equation that I don’t have to go knocking on doors for.
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