Afghanistan is as a far away from most people’s experience as you can imagine – most of what you know will be from the TV or from what you have read – those of us who have been lucky enough to visit or work there have experienced the highs and lows of working in such a complex and constantly changing environment.
To really get under the surface of what is happening in Afghanistan, you have to get out into the field – if its safe to do so, the summer sky was blue and it was early start to avoid the strong winds and the air traffic, our small one propeller 6 seater is really the best way to get to Nilli, the provincial town of Dai Kundi. The landscape on the journey from Kabul is dramatic, its mountains, desert, with occasional green valley. Settlements are small and scattered, there are very few tarmac roads, many places look totally inaccessible.
Landing in Nilli on the newly finished landing strip, I see someone I know waiting for the plane to land. Sadillqar Fahim used to run the Oxfam programme in Kandahar and has been helping us with a drought assessment in the area. It’s always good to see old friends. We leave Fahim to travel back to Kabul and get into the Oxfam vehicle to the office, Nilli is the proud owner of a number of new government buildings. The office sits on a large rock, and is made of mud with wall 3 feet thick – warm in winter and cool in winter.
The Nilli governor is passionate about serving his constituents – it’s a difficult, he has little money (those provinces that have conflict attract more money!) , he certainly respects the work of Oxfam – there are only 2 INGOs working in Dai Kundi. The head of the department of women’s affairs, Hawar, is optimistic and pleased with the progress which is being made in the province – she is a great role model – but its clear that she has to lead all the work herself with little help from the central government.
We set off early the next morning to visit the village of Eskan, it is one of the nearest communities we work with the National Solidarity Programme (NSP) which aims to support communities to develop local suras or committees to help make community development decisions. The scattered village covers 30,000 households. There is no basic health care – no hospital or doctor near by.
We drive for over an hour to cover 10km up into the mountains, villagers come from far away and join us in the local mosque – teachers, sura leaders,community leaders . Women and men sit together – women are vocal (when asked!). Education is very important to the community – they have recently finished building a school – 4 rooms, 400 pupils, 4 teachers – not enough school books. The women clearly understand the benefits of education for their children and for themselves – some of the women had benefited from adult literacy classes which have enabled to learn to sign their names.
Life is tough up in the mountains – women walk 3km every day to collect water – up to 6 times a day collecting 30 litres each time. The drought is making things worse – many expect to loose some of this year’s harvest, many of the fruit trees are already dead (the area is renown for almonds). They might not have enough food for the winter, food prices are rising. Some young people are leaving the village to find work in Iran and Pakistan. The roads have been constructed by the villagers – they are rough but makes access much easier.
The women’s dreams for the future are to educate their children – so they can increase their knowledge and get better jobs, maybe with the government – perhaps they can become doctors or engineers. And what do they need? they want to know their rights and develop their own economic opportunities – so there’s the next challenge for Oxfam.