Afghan Children
by Kevin Chiu, Chief Executive Officer of World Vision Hong Kong

The only thing I know about Afghanistan, on top of what is read in the news, is from the novel "Kite Runner".

"You need to come to see to understand the Afghan people and what they are facing!" repeated Jim, World Vision's national director in Afghanistan, every time I ran into him.

Afghans have not stopped fighting battles in the past 40 years - war with the Soviet, the Taliban, the U.S., the ISIS, etc. Civilians, especially women and children, have not stopped fleeing for survival. Globally, it has always been a top country exporting refugees. It is hard to be an Afghan!

The journey took more than a day: we flew to Dubai, then Kabul, and arrived in Herat, the west part of the country bordering Iran. Many Afghans go to work in Iran as cheap labour and they speak the same language. The hotel we stayed was heavily guarded with four sets of steel doors before we reached the lobby. Guards carried machine guns. "It is very safe here, but if anything happens, you run up to the safe room on the top floor. You will be very safe there," the hotel manager briefed us.

Our Afghan colleagues took us to visit our work - street children centre, education centre for pre-school children and their mothers, and internally displaced people (IDP) community.

Because of conflicts, poverty, and unemployment, many children became breadwinners for the families by collecting garbage, being shoe-shiners or coolies, or engaging in whatever they got paid. Many children never went to school, like their parents. In the street children centre, we met some 12- and 13-year-olds who learnt to read for the first time, played soccer, and painted. They even had a soccer team and won some games already. They were learning to be children again.

The IDP community was most needy and touching. It was in the out-skirt of the city, winds blowing and without much facility. People fled conflicts and the Taliban from other provinces. Weather is extreme - from 40〫C in the summer to -10C in the winter. No toilet. No water supply. No doctor.  We saw malnourished children. World Vision set up a temporary clinic with woman doctors. We saw a long queue. "We see about 50 patients a day," the doctor told us, " they suffered diarrhoea, cold, fever mostly." World Vision is also teaching young mothers basic hygiene and how to prepare simple nutritious meals for their babies and children. It was a depressing place but there were smiles on many faces. I guess this is much safer and better off than where they came from.

Fortunately, our stay was brief and safe. The few months after we left though, we learnt there were bombings by the U.S. on the rebel groups, suicide bombers against the U.S. and government soldiers and the general public, attacks against soldiers base. Thousands of lives were lost. It was barely reported in our local news.

There is one unsettling line in the "Kite Runner" - "Afghanistan has many children, but not many have childhood."

World Vision started working in Afghanistan in 2001. From distributing emergency relief items to providing basic health care and education, we focus on serving the most vulnerable groups in the community - internally displaced people, street children, young mothers and their children, etc.

The dream of World Vision is that every child has life in all its fullness, including the Afghan children.

Thank you for dreaming with us.

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