KABUL: Bibi Roagoal is busy preparing her children for school. She is one of more than 50,000 Afghan widows struggling against the effects of war. The mother-of-four, who is 28, lives in a house on the outskirts of the capital, Kabul. She recently had a special visitor to extend a helping hand – and not just your average foreign aid worker.
He was Farhad Darya, one of Afghanistan’s most popular singers and a household name. Mr Darya, who had been living in exile, was one of the first singers to return to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2001. Now, the 46-year-old celebrity runs a charity named Kochah, meaning street in Dari, to supplement the incomes of Kabul widows and their children.
Kochah provides widows with $50 a month to keep their children off the street and help them receive education.” My daughter used to collect bread from other families and my son gathered rubbish from a nearby American base for firewood,” says Bibi Roagoal, who lost her first husband to a suicide attack four years ago.
“Only a few months ago, this would not have been possible,” says the widow. Her smile and excitement refuse to leave her face. “My children go to school now so they won’t be illiterate like me.” Thousands of widows and orphans are a legacy of Afghanistan’s many wars which have claimed countless lives, among them many husbands and fathers.
According to the United Nations, there are 37,000 street children in Afghanistan’s capital. Nearly all are fatherless. In an almost exclusively male-dominated society with little opportunity for women to find employment, many fatherless children are the main bread-winners for their families.
They work year-round – under burning sun or in freezing snow – instead of going to school. And most of them are engaged in odd jobs. Ajmal – a witty 13-year-old who enthusiastically sells gum on the outskirts of Kabul – says his biggest wish is that he could attend school.
“My family relies on my work,” he says. “So I try to sell as much as I can. I wish I could focus more on my school, but I can’t afford to.” There are also many who do not work and provide for their mothers and siblings by begging. Like Hussain, 14, for whom begging is an accepted fact of life. He would attend school if he could, but instead spends 10 hours a day begging on the streets of Kabul.
“I tried to work,” he says “so my family could live an honourable life, but my boss at the shop paid me very little. I tried a few other jobs, but finally I decided to beg. “I have always wanted to be a teacher. I still have hopes that our government will help the poor like us.” The monetary help Kochah is able to provide comes from Darya’s concerts and private donations.
Darya says Kochah is a non-profit organisation, and that he absorbs the administrative costs himself. However, he says, funding is not easy to come by. ”There are thousands of Afghan traders around the world and they spend thousands of dollars everyday without thinking, but when we approach them about Kochah, they don’t give,” he says. “A lot of Afghans in the West promise help, but few follow through.” Kochah aims to assist 2,000 widows. So far, it has managed to help somewhere between 250 and 300. Says Bibi Roagoal: “I pray for peace in my country all the time, because war took everything away from me. “I don’t want another mother to be widowed, or their kids orphaned.”-SANA