Books and learning offer a powerful coping mechanism for Afghanistan’s orphans
Children are suffering the worst consequences of Afghanistan’s collapse and for those without families, the outlook is particularly bleak. As the country descends into chaos, children are among those most at-risk from the pressures piling onto a population already traumatized by conflict and now facing rising poverty and starvation as food prices spiral beyond the reach of ordinary Afghans.
“A lot of children are at risk in Afghanistan at the moment, but those living out on the streets day and night with no one to take care of them are especially vulnerable,” says Diana, a child psychologist, citing forced labor, sexual abuse and drug trafficking among the threats they face.
Meanwhile, malnutrition is rising at an alarming rate, threatening the physical and mental wellbeing of Afghan children while undermining their ability to learn and build better futures. “If we want to have children that can think for themselves, with a good future, who won’t be misused, then we have to start investing in them and providing them with a proper education to change the landscape of future Afghanistan,” says Diana, who works with at-risk children in the country and is concealing her full name for security purposes.
Afghan orphans and children are going hungry every day
Almost 10 million children are going hungry every day in Afghanistan, according to a recent report by Save the Children, which cited a combination of economic collapse, the impacts of the war in Ukraine and ongoing drought. The report also pointed to the international community’s decision to freeze foreign aid to Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover last August, claiming children have borne the brunt of rising unemployment and spiraling food prices as the country plunges deeper into poverty.
“Every single day our frontline health workers are treating children who are wasting away in front of our eyes because they’re only eating bread once a day – and those are the lucky ones. Children in Afghanistan have never known a life without conflict and if action is not taken soon, they will not know a world without gnawing hunger and empty stomachs,” said Save the Children’s Director of Advocacy, Communications and Media, Athena Rayburn.
Diana sees the impact on the children she works with and has taken on voluntary work in an orphanage to provide more support for young people facing a deeply uncertain future under Taliban rule. As part of this work, she has facilitated funding by Ideas Beyond Borders to build a library at the orphanage, which will provide 200 books and regular reading sessions to the children in its care. “The children are stressed. There are so many issues affecting this generation,” she says. “A child with access to books and education is less likely to be exploited or brainwashed and will more likely become a useful addition to the country.”
There are 130 children at the orphanage in Kabul, a mix of boys and girls from provinces all over Afghanistan. Until recently, they all lived together with host families in an apartment complex, but under Taliban rule the older boys and girls have been separated. Finding an orphanage able to accept IBB’s donation in the current climate was a challenge, Diana says, with many fearing Taliban reprisals if they accepted aid from a foreign organization.
But this orphanage jumped at the change to create a library that would give children somewhere to learn independently while also participating in group reading sessions as part of a three-month programme to inspire their love of books. A questionnaire will be handed out before the books are ordered to find out which they want to read and ensure the shelves are stocked with the most in-demand volumes. “They are really excited, they can’t wait for the program to begin,” Diana says.
“I am so glad that Ideas Beyond Borders is able to ease and empower even by a little the suffering that Afghan children are dealing with and remind them that they are not forgotten.” says Faisal Saeed Al Mutar, founder and president of Ideas Beyond Borders.
The funding will also cover hygiene packages for girls in the orphanage as part of IBB’s mission to remove barriers to learning and create positive educational environments for young Afghan women.