‘It all began with a whim. “Let’s try something other than a five-star hotel this holiday,” I told a friend. That was on Tuesday. On Friday morning we were aboard a flight to Kabul with five suitcases of donations for kids at an orphanage. We had started our organisation, Forgotten Victims of Afghanistan. Crazy, adventurous, daring, stupid: yes, probably all of the above, but that first weekend a little over a year ago has grown into amazing relationships with some of the country’s most miraculous people – the children.
‘These are not the Afghans you see in the news. I want the world to see the country as I do, by humanising the Afghan situation. Take away the tanks and the Taliban and these are the people who are left behind.
‘I spent September living in an orphanage and filming the children’s day-to-day lives. Celia then joined me for a weekend to capture everything on camera. Here are the pictures.’
‘The children at the Mehan orphanage are serious about their studies. These girls know that without an education they could end up like many of the women before them: poor, without any options and therefore vulnerable to the oppression witnessed in the country. Four out of every five women in Afghanistan are said to be illiterate.’
‘I love this photo – I think it says a lot. This little boy has been left to find his own way in life. With no mother and father, he lives at the Kufa orphanage in Kabul. Despite all the heartache he’s already experienced, he is the most cheerful of the lot there. He’s certainly left a lasting impression on me.’
‘Every couple of months the boys at Kufa orphanage receive a parcel of goodies from US supporters. These consist of pencils, crayons, stickers and plastic jewellery. Even the boys get excited over an elastic bracelet. The irony is that these children do not have paper to make use of these writing utensils. Here the kids are waiting for the next big surprise to be passed out.’
‘Under the Taliban, girls couldn’t go to school, so many are now making up for lost time. However, with a severe lack of facilities and teachers, they only go to school for half a day. The rest of the time the girls at the Mehan orphanage study, play, cook, clean and, when they can, catch a nap. Girls in other provinces have much more to worry about when it comes to getting an education. Many opponents to the idea have burnt down schools, even going as far as to threaten teachers and the students themselves to keep them away.’
‘Even though this woman has no idea how old she is, I could tell in her eyes she couldn’t be much past my age. Latifa was in an abusive marriage. She escaped her husband by going to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, which placed her at the Kufa orphanage, where she lives cooking for the children and acting as a motherly figure.’
‘Meal time at Mehan orphanage is a lovely time. The girls take turns cooking and cleaning. Most meals consist of rice, potatoes, beans and vegetables, with meat from time to time. And there’s always traditional
naan bread. Pomegranates and other fruit are eaten for dessert, washed down with a cup of green tea. I can honestly say, the fruit and vegetables I’ve eaten in Afghanistan are the most delicious I’ve ever tasted.’
‘After meals, if time allows, it’s play time. Because they don’t have a field to run about in and it’s too dangerous outside, the girls get their exercise in a large basement. Here they are playing a game where they skip in a circle until Madina, in the middle, screams ‘stop’. The girls freeze. The first caught moving is out. The girls at the Mehan orphanage are very lucky. Most are individually sponsored, which means their housing, food, clothing, medicine and education is all covered, leaving them only to worry about their studies. Unfortunately, this is not the norm at many orphanages across the country.’
‘Many orphanages and schools across Afghanistan teach children vocational skills, predominantly to females. Thirty years of war have left many families fatherless – families who now have to rely on the income of the mothers. Here at Kufa, the girls are taught how to sew, which brings extra money into the orphanage when the items are sold at markets.’
‘I think this shot best represents life behind the scenes in Afghanistan. Here I am filming Piaman, an American Afghan who has returned to his country to help. He is doing so by helping the kids at the Kufa orphanage in any way he can. As you can see,the facilities are in urgent need of repair.’
For more information on Forgotten Victims of Afghanistan and ways you can help, go to www.afceco.org or see the Facebook group ‘Forgotten Victims – Documentary on Afghan Orphans’. Alternatively, email firstname.lastname@example.org. On December 5 there will be a stall at the Dubai Flea Market in Safa Park featuring pictures, videos and information on the children.