Youth on the Road to Peace – Dr. Hakim

30th September 2019 /
8th Mezan 1398

Despite the violent crises which we human beings have created for Afghanistan and our planet earth, I have witnessed yet again how renewing our relationships with Nature and one another can calm us, teach us, and change us.

I saw this happening among the 26 participants of the “Youth on the Road to Peace Conference” organized by the Afghan Peace Volunteers from the 18th to the 21st of September.

The youth were rightfully feeling disheartened by the ongoing read more

A Morning in Afghanistan

Amidst political posturing, aerial terrorism and street bombings, Afghan citizens pursue their daily work toward peace.

Sept 11, 2019

On a very warm September morning in Kabul, several dozen men, women, and children sit on the carpeted floor of a room at the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ Borderfree Center. The women cluster together. All wear burqas, but because of the heat they push the steel blue veils back, revealing their faces. Most of the men wear traditional tunics and pakol hats.

Parents and read more

Remnants of War

July 12, 2019

Intense fighting and hideous attacks battered Afghans throughout their country last week as negotiators in Qatar weighed the benefits and costs of  a peace agreement that might stop the bloodshed.

In Kabul at least 40 people, including one child, were killed in a complex Taliban attack. Dozens of children whose school was partially collapsed by a massive car bomb were injured. Of these, 21 were hospitalized with serious injuries.

New York Times correspondent Mujib Mashal posted (on read more

Defying War and Defining Peace in Afghanistan – Kathy Kelly

above: Jan 17 2019 People’s Peace Movement marchers in Kandahar: “No War,” “We Want Ceasefire,” We Want Peace.” Credit: AFP/Javed Tanveer

January 29, 2019

On January 27th, 2019, the Taliban and the U.S. government each publicly stated acceptance, in principle, of a draft framework for ongoing negotiations that could culminate in a peace deal to end a two-decade war in Afghanistan.

As we learn more about the negotiations, it’s important to remember others working toward dialogue and negotiation in Afghanistan. Troublingly, women’s rights leaders have not, thus far, been invited to the negotiating table. But several have braved potential persecution to assert the importance of including women in any framework aiming to create peace and respect human rights.

A young medical graduate student told me she was deprived of schooling during the Taliban era. “If government doesn’t protect women’s basic rights,” she said, “we could lose access to health care and education.”

“The war was started by men, the war will be ended by men,” an aide to Rula Ghani, the wife of President Ashraf Ghani, recently told a Reuters reporter. “But it’s the women and children who suffer the most and they have a right to define peace.” In 2018, the UN expressed alarm at the increased use of airstrikes by U.S. and Afghan forces which caused a rising death toll among women and children. In the run-up to the past week of negotiations and even during the negotiations, attacks and counter attacks between the warring parties killed dozens of civilians, including women and children. Both the Taliban and the U.S. seemed intent on showing strength and leverage by demonstrating their willingness to slaughter the innocent.

Another group not represented at the negotiating table is the “People’s Peace Movement,” Beginning in May of 2018, they chose a path which pointedly eschews attacks, revenge or retaliation. Following deadly attacks in their home province of Helmand, initiators of this movement humbly walked, sometimes even barefoot, hundreds of miles, asking people to reject the entire institution of war. They’ve urged an end to revenge and retaliation and called on all warring parties to support a peace process. Their journeys throughout the country have become venues for informal hearings, allowing opportunity for people to collectively imagine abolishing war.

We in the U.S. have much to learn from Afghan women human rights advocates and the People’s Peace Movement regarding the futility of war.

Since 2001, and at a cost of 800 billion dollars, the U.S. military has caused irreparable and horrific losses in Afghanistan. Afghan civilians have endured invasion, occupation, aerial bombings, ground attacks, drone warfare, extensive surveillance, internal displacement, soaring refugee populations, environmental degradation and the practice of indefinite detention and torture. How would U.S. citizens bear up under even a fraction of this misery?

It stands to reason this litany of suffering would lead to increased insurgent resistance, to rising support for the Taliban, and to spiraling violence.

By late 2018, even a top military commander, Army General Scott Miller, told CNN the U.S. had no chance of a military victory in Afghanistan. He stated the fight will continue until there is a political settlement.

Danny Sjursen, an exceptionally honest Major General and author, wrote in December 2018 the only thing left for the U.S. military to do in Afghanistan was to lose.

Major General Sjursen was correct to concede inevitable U.S. military defeat in Afghanistan, but there is something more U.S. people can and should do. Namely, pay reparations for 17 years of suffering we’ve caused in Afghanistan. This is, as Professor Noam Chomsky once said, “what any civilized country would do.”

Some might counter the U.S. has already provided over $132 billion dollars for reconstruction in Afghanistan. But, did that sum make a significant difference in the lives of Afghan people impoverished by displacement and war? I think not.

Since 2008, John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, has submitted quadrennial reports to the U.S. Congress detailing ways waste, embezzlement, fraud and abuse have consistently resulted in failed reconstruction efforts. Sopko and his teams of researchers and analysts offered a chance for people in the U.S. to see ourselves as we’re often seen by an increasingly cynical Afghan public. But we seldom even hear of the SIGAR reports. In fact, when President Trump heard of these watchdog reports during his first Cabinet meeting of 2019, he was infuriated and said they should be locked up!

It’s telling that SIGAR was preceded by SIGIR, (the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction) which filed similarly critical yet largely unnoticed reports.

U.S. citizens often regard their country as a civilized nation that goes to war against demonic tyrants. Dr. Martin Luther King held forth a different vision. He urged us to see the humanity of other so-called enemies, to ask how we’re seen by other people, and to thereby gain a needed understanding of our own weaknesses. If we could hear from other people menaced by militarism, including ours, if we could see how our wars have contributed to terrorism, corruption and authoritarianism that has turned the U.S. into a permanent warfare state, we might find the same courage that inspires brave people in Afghanistan to speak up and resist the all-encompassing tyranny of war.

We might find ourselves guided by an essential ethical question: how can we learn to live together without killing one another? If we finally grasp the terrible and ever-increasing urgency of this lesson, then we might yearn to be trusted global neighbors who humbly pay reparations rather than righteously bankroll endless wars.

Kathy Kelly co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org). When in Afghanistan, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.com).

 

Outside the U.K. embassy in Kabul, July 28 2018: People’s Peace Movement members meet with the Afghan Peace Volunteers. Credit: Dr Hakim

On Purpose, in Kabul

June 26, 2018

Writing this week for the Chicago Tribune, Steve Chapman called a U.S. Government report on the war in Afghanistan “a chronicle of futility.” “The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction” report says the U.S. spent large sums “in search of quick gains” in regional stabilization – but these instead “exacerbated conflicts, enabled corruption and bolstered support for insurgents.”

“In short,” says Chapman, the U.S. government “made things worse rather than better.”

Gains, meanwhile, have certainly been made by weapon manufacturers. On average, during Trump’s first year in office, the Pentagon dropped 121 bombs per day on Afghanistan. The total number of weapons – missiles, bombs – deployed in Afghanistan by manned and remotely piloted aircraft through May this year is estimated at 2,339.

War profiteers deliver hellish realities and futile prospects, but the Afghan Peace Volunteers have not given up on bettering their country. In recent visits to Kabul, we’ve listened as they consider the longer-term question of how peace can come to an economically devastated country where employment by various warlords, including the U.S. and Afghan militaries, is many families’ only way to put bread on the table. Hakim, who mentors the APVs, assures us that a lasting peace must involve the creation of jobs and incomes with a hope of sustaining community. Inspired by Mohandas Gandhi’s calls for self-sufficiency, and the example of his Pashtun ally, Badshah Khan, they resist war by fostering education and creating local cooperatives.

Miriam is a student in the APVs’ “Street Kids’ School,” which prepares child laborers to pursue schooling while helping their families stay afloat with monthly rations of rice and oil. Sitting with me in the garden of the APVs’ Borderfree Center, her widowed mother, Gul Bek told me of the hardships she faces as a single mother of five.

Each month, she struggles to pay for water, rent, food, and fuel. Some years ago, a company installed a water pipeline leading to her home, but every month a representative from the company comes to collect 700 – 800 Afghanis (about $10.00) in payment for the family’s water consumption. An impoverished household – even free of war’s ravages – can’t easily spare $10. She tries hard to conserve. “But we must have water!” says Gul Bek. “We need it to clean, to cook, to do laundry.” She knows how important hygiene is, but she doesn’t dare go over her budget for water. Gul Bek fears she might be evicted if she can’t manage rent. Would she then go to a refugee camp in Kabul? She shakes her head. I asked if the government helps at all. “They know nothing about how we live,” she said. “At the beginning of Ramadan, we couldn’t even have bread. We had no flour.” Her two eldest sons, age 19 and 14, are beginning to learn tailoring skills and they attend school part time. I asked if she ever considers allowing them to join the military or the police to earn something closer to a living wage. She was adamant. After working so hard to raise these sons, she doesn’t want to lose them. She won’t allow them to carry guns.

Visiting a refugee camp several days later, I could understand her horror of moving into a camp. The camps are overcrowded, muddy, and dangerously unsanitary. An elder from the camp, Haji Jool, was entrusted with the keys to a control room for a well that two NGOs recently installed. On that day, the valves weren’t functioning. 200 of the 700 families in the camp depend on that well for water. I looked at the worried faces of women who had been waiting, since early morning, to collect water. What would they do? Haji Jool told me that most of the families had come from rural areas. They fled their homes because of war or because they lacked water. Kabul’s battered infrastructure, in desperate need of U.S. reparations for fifteen years of war, simply can’t sustain people.

Our APV friends, recognizing the need to create jobs and incomes, have begun forging ahead with impressive work to establish cooperatives. In early June, they initiated a shoemaking cooperative, led by two young men, Hussein and Hosham, who’ve already been trained and have taught their skills to Noorullah. They named their store “Unique.” A carpentry co-op will soon be up and running.

The APV are grateful to the many internationals who, over the past six winters, have assisted their annual “Duvet Project” to bring much-needed blankets to Kabul residents lacking protection from harsh winter weather. The “Duvet Project” has donated winter blankets to some 9,000 destitute families in Kabul and has offered a winter income to as many as 360 seamstresses. Yet, the APV have grappled with a persistent plea from seamstresses who, while appreciative of the seasonal project, express their acute need for an income throughout the year.

This year, APV are forming a seamstresses’ cooperative which will manufacture clothing year-round for inexpensive local sale and will also distribute duvets.

The U.S. exerts massive power from the skies of Afghanistan, raining down hellfire in ever greater quantities. Its Security Zone and its military bases, within and near Kabul, help to drain the local water table faster than wells can be dug. It persistently causes hatred and harm. Meanwhile, it might sound like a cliché, but in imagining a better world our young friends are helping to build one. With sustainable projects to support the neediest, they embrace Gul Bek’s refusal to cooperate with war. Their simple, small actions do strengthen Kabul. They give themselves over to compassion, to strengthening their neighbors. They plant the seeds that may or may not grow a forest there – they use, rather than wasting, what power they have. They aren’t rewarded with the titanic achievement of having shaped and ruined a country, but instead with purposeful intent to stop the vicious cycle of war and resist the cruel hierarchies attempting to prevail. We at Voices are grateful for the chance, with them, to reject despair. In supporting their projects, we can make reparations, however small, for the persistent futility of war.

Photo: Girls and mothers, waiting for their duvets, in Kabul. Credit Dr. Hakim.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org).She visited Kabul in early June as a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.com)

A Mile in Their Shoes

Photo caption: One of several murals being created by Kabul’s “ArtLords” activists to welcome the Helmand to Kabul peace walkers.

June 11, 2018

This past Friday in Afghanistan’s Ghazni province, Hazara girls joined young Pashto boys to sing Afghanistan’s national anthem as a welcome to Pashto men walking 400 miles from Helmand to Kabul. The walkers are calling on warring parties in Afghanistan to end the war. Most of the men making the journey are wearing sandals. At rest stops, they must tend to their torn and blistered feet. But their mission grows stronger as they walk. In Ghazni, hundreds of residents, along with religious leaders, showed remarkable readiness to embrace the courage and vision of the Helmand-to-Kabul peace walk participants. It seems likely that ordinary Afghans, no matter their tribal lineages, share a profound desire to end forty years of war. The 17-year U.S. war in Afghanistan exceeds the lifetimes of the youngsters in Ghazni who greeted the peace walkers.

On June 7th, Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, declared a week-long halt to attacks against the Taliban. Spokespersons representing an undetermined number of Taliban affiliates accepted the ceasefire on June 9th, with the U.S. also agreeing to suspend attacks against Taliban fighters.

Can the declared cease-fire lead to negotiations and an end to the war? Given the desperate circumstances I saw during a visit to Kabul in early June, it seems clear that a lasting peace will require finding ways to employ people and enable them to provide food and water for their families.

Destitution has caused numerous Afghan people to enlist in military forces, pro-government or insurgent. It’s extremely difficult to earn a living wage in Afghanistan, but military and paramilitary units, answerable to various warlords, including the U.S., pay wages which many Afghan families can’t afford to dismiss. My young friends in Kabul assure me their family members who joined military groups don’t want to cause bloodshed and they don’t want to be killed. They simply don’t have other viable options.

Almost 54 percent of Afghan citizens live below the poverty line, according to Afghanistan’s Tolo News coverage of a recent joint survey undertaken by the Central Statistics Organization and an international NGO.

The Afghan Peace Volunteers (APV), who welcomed me as their guest last week, want to help build a more egalitarian economy that will provide basic human needs. This year, they’re forging ahead in establishing worker cooperatives. During my visit, they celebrated the opening of a shoe-making cooperative. They’ve also devised a one-year plan for seamstresses to form a tailoring cooperative and explored possibilities for a carpentry cooperative.

“Once up-and-running,” their blog explains, “these worker cooperatives will pledge part of their earnings to the long-term, self-reliant work of the Afghan Peace Volunteers.”

The APV find inspiration in the story of Badshah Khan, sometimes referred to as “the Muslim Gandhi.”

After meeting Gandhi in 1919, Badshah Khan educated and organized members of the Pashtun (or “Pathan”) tribe, in an area that is now a border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, steadily building a movement to rebel against British occupation. The “khidmatgyars” – Servants of God – refused to cooperate with the British and instead practiced self-reliance. They created their own constructive projects and persisted even when British repression became increasingly brutal.

Describing the growth of the “Servants” movement, Michael Nagler writes: “After perpetrating a terrible massacre in 1930 in Peshawar, the British saw the ranks of the Servants swell from several hundred to 80,000.” They continued rejecting armed struggle, choosing instead to experiment with Gandhi’s methods of nonviolent resistance. To the astonishment of onlookers, they were a key element in the eventual liberation from British rule.

Badshah Kahn’s preferred method of transportation was walking. He trod along paths linking mountain villages and small towns, relying upon goodwill and the truth of his cause, not on weaponry, for his defense.

A likeness of Badshah Khan decorates the entrance to the APV center in Kabul. Stenciled underneath is his fundamental belief: “My religion is truth, love and service to God and humankind.”

I worry that in my country, the U.S., the dominant religion has become militarism. Rather than extending a hand of friendship to people in other lands and, in the case of Afghanistan, paying reparations for the terrible suffering we’ve caused, the U.S. continues to seek security through dominance and military might. It’s a futile effort. The Helmand to Kabul peace walkers display a better means of securing peace: the path of fellowship with our neighbors on this planet, of living simply so that others might simply live, and of willingness to share, even partially, in the human hardship and precarity others face.

I hope those walking for peace, working for equality, and imploring a different way forward can be heard and celebrated not only in Afghanistan, but in every country and amongst every group that has ever caused bloodshed and ruin in Afghanistan.

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org)

Digging Deeper

Above: Afghan Peace March – Mohammad Omar Lemar

June 5, 2018

Here in Kabul in early June, outside the home of several Afghan Peace Volunteers, a large drilling machine is parked on what was once a lovely garden. To this now muddy patch, workers will soon arrive for another noisy, dusty day of digging for water. The well dried up a week ago. As of today, the household has no water.

Ongoing battles between militants, government forces, and international allies have destroyed much of Kabul’s water infrastructure, forcing people to drill their own wells.

Across Kabul, numerous households face similar water shortages. With an average annual rainfall of just fourteen inches, Kabul’s water table has been falling each year. The current population, estimated around 4.5 million, is expected to reach 9 million by 2050. The estimated groundwater potential is enough to supply only 2 million inhabitants with water.

Alarming reports say that drought now afflicts twenty-one of Afghanistan’s thirty-four provinces.

Rural families in drought-stricken areas watch their crops fail and their livestock die of dehydration. In desperation, they flee to urban areas, including Kabul, where they often must live in squalid, sprawling refugee camps. In the city, an already inadequate sewage and sanitation system, battered by years of war, cannot support the soaring population rise.

Droughts in other countries have led to violent clashes and civil wars. It’s difficult to imagine that Afghanistan, already burdened by forty years of war, will escape eventual water wars.

The most sophisticated and heavily armed warring party in Afghanistan is the U.S. military. Despite spending hundreds of billions of dollars on non-military aid to Afghanistan, the United States has done little to improve Afghanistan’s infrastructure or alleviate its alarming water crisis. President Donald Trump’s interest in what’s happening under the ground in Afghanistan is focused exclusively on the U.S. capacity to extract Afghanistan’s mineral wealth, estimated to be worth trillions of dollars.

Ordinary Afghans could be forgiven for feeling paralyzed and defeated by controlling elites who ignore their most basic human needs. Yet every day, Afghan communities reject continued war and call for peace.

On May 13, a single-file procession of Pashto men started off on a 400-mile trek along dusty roads from Helmand to Kabul, to call for the Afghan government and the warring parties to end the war.

The participants are asking the Afghan government and militants to stop fighting. They are walking during Ramadan, the month when observant Muslims fast from food and water between sunrise and sundown, becoming ever more mindful of people who lack water and food.

During the past three weeks, throngs of people in cities and towns along their route have shown solidarity with the walkers.

My young Afghan friends show steady resilience in the face of war and destitution. They are growing up with a keen sense of the importance of water for life and the essential need to share resources. They also know the importance of resisting those who menace people with military might.

In this unpredictable time, I can’t help but wonder at Afghan people, scarred by war, facing drought and impoverishment, digging deep into their rich cultural and historical resources to take a lead in efforts to abolish war and build a better world.

A version of this article initially appeared in The Progressive.

Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence. While in Kabul, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers.

Teen Solidarity Against the Merchants of Death – Kathy Kelly

Photo: Afghan Peace Volunteers and friends celebrate International Day of Peace in Kabul Sept 2017

March 1, 2018

Here in Kabul, as the rising sun begins to warm our chilly rooms, I hear excited laughter from downstairs. Rosemary Morrow, a renowned Australian permaculture expert, has begun teaching thirty-five young students in a month-long course on low-resource farming.

In war-torn Afghanistan, there’s a desperate need to rebuild agricultural infrastructure and help people grow their own food. People verging on despair feel encouraged by possibilities of replenishing and repairing their soil.

The night before, over dinner, one of the students discussed news from his home town in Afghanistan’s Wardak province about U.S. aerial attacks. “The blasts have become so frequent,” he said, “that people can’t find spaces to bury their dead.”

During breaks in the class, I tell some of the Afghan Peace Volunteer students about the school shootings in the United States, and the remarkable determination of teenagers from Florida to demand that lawmakers take action on gun control.

These Afghan students have also heard about Black Lives Matter activists who have been tear gassed and beaten when they’ve demonstrated against police brutality. The Afghan teens identify with the activists facing danger, but still standing up to insist on change.

I asked if they thought that the U.S. media and government would heed Afghan young people raising their voices asserting their anguish and fear regarding U.S. aerial attacks and drone assassinations.

“You’re dreaming,” said Hamid. He flashed me a warm smile and shook his head, saying, “no one will ever listen to us.”

Nasir, a third-year university student who majors in mapping technology, tells me he thinks teens in the United States have a chance to be heard. Like Habib, he doubts that the same is true for Afghan voices seeking to end the sixteen-year-old war.

But Zainab, a high schooler in the permaculture class, added that she thinks it would be great to record a vigil of teenagers in Kabul sending their support for U.S. teenagers who’ve survived school shootings in the U.S. and who’ve begun shaming the adult world into action on the issue of gun violence.

The outrage now directed toward the National Rifle Association should also challenge all assaults made by the U.S. military.

People often tell me they believe the U.S. military remains in Afghanistan because it wants to eventually control mineral wealth and other resources. But right now, weapon manufacturers like General Atomics and Boeing — which supply the U.S. base in Kandahar with drones, missiles and bombs — are profiting from the perpetuation of war. This profit gives them common cause with arms manufacturers like Sturm Ruger and Sig Sauer earning millions from equipping U.S. police forces as well as deranged killers in U.S. classrooms.

Yesterday, I read about U.S. aviation brigades training in Colorado’s Fort Carson for possible Afghan deployment: 2,000 troops, part of an exercise called “Eagle Strike,” are preparing for attacks with ground-pounding weapons. The Kandahar base in Afghanistan now has three squadron’s worth of MQ-9 Reaper drones. Costing $65 million each, these drones are outfitted to carry 560-pound GPS laser-guided bombs as well as Hellfire missiles.

Why fill the landscape of any country with craters and graves? What could we possibly hope to harvest?

Zainab tells me she thinks the teenage generation is changing and that more young people believe in training individuals and nations to avoid killing.

“Why can’t we devise sustainable ways to bring about peace?” she asks.

I consider the idea that international teen solidarity could challenge both the U.S. military and the National Rifle Association to end assaults on human life. “Our goal must be to demand that every person around the world agree to stop producing and using weapons,” says Nasir.

I sit with them, and reflect on these courageous, clear-eyed Afghan and U.S. youth working in both countries to sow seeds that bear needed fruit, hoping they can change the adults as well.

Kathy Kelly (kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org) While in Kabul, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.org).

This article first appeared in The Progressive magazine.

The Kids the World Forgot – Ken Hannford-Ricardi

Our friend (and Voices for Creative Nonviolence representative) Ken Hannaford-Ricardi writes from Kabul, as a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers.

I spent much of yesterday with some kids the world forgot. Young, remarkably sturdy and resilient, they can often be naïve and almost willfully gullible. They inhabit a world that delights in tripping them up and watching them fall. They are Kabul’s Street Kids.

Every Friday morning, roughly 100 of these forgotten children sit in noisy – sometimes raucous – groups of seven to ten in a large, unheated classroom, discussing and brainstorming human rights – rights few in the international community seem to acknowledge they enjoy. On this thirty degree Kabul morning, some are in shirtsleeves; few have coats adequate for the weather. They are dirty. They are underfed. They are loved.

These kids are the smallest microcosm of Kabul’s estimated 50,000 “street kids”, boys and girls who dot the city’s already clogged roads selling balloons, “blessing” cars with incense, or lugging scales on which passers-by are invited to weigh themselves. They perform these demeaning tasks for a meager “fee” which helps their mothers buy food for their families.

These young children and their parents live on the streets. They camp in the lee of parked vehicles, in the protected corner of a neighbor’s courtyard, in abandoned buildings. There are few government – sponsored programs to assist them – no food pantries, clothing giveaways, or free medical care. They are left to survive on their wits in a society too busy to cope with their problems.

The Afghan Peace Volunteers, a small grassroots program organized by young Afghan women and men to foster and support nonviolent solutions to their country’s suffering, originated and operates this “Street Kids School” to supplement whatever education the youngsters are able to absorb through irregular attendance at public schools. Funded entirely by contributions from the international community and staffed by volunteer teachers, the school realizes that no dream – no matter how small – can be achieved without education.

In order to enable the kids to escape the streets and have time to come to class each Friday, mothers of children who faithfully attend the school are given cooking oil and rice to supplement the income their sons and daughters would have earned on the streets. It costs roughly $534 to fund one child’s participation for a year. The overwhelming percentage (91%, or $473) is spent for the monthly sack of rice and bottle of cooking oil given to each child’s family. The remaining funds are spent on school supplies and winter clothing for the children. The program’s annual budget is $53,400.

The Afghan Peace Volunteers expect that each child participating in the school will make steady progress toward literacy every year they attend. In the last year, 30 of the 100 children in the school reached literacy within seven months, evidence that, with guidance, every child, no matter the circumstances, can and will learn!

Death at the Gate – Ken Hannaford-Ricardi in Kabul

January 2018

The number of visitors passing through the Afghan Peace Volunteers’ (APVs’) Borderfree Nonviolence Community Center in Kabul is incredible. Each afternoon, nearly sixty high-school-age students attend free classes to prepare them for the rigorous KanKor test, required of every Afghan desiring to attend public university. By 8:00 this morning, women from neighboring districts had begun arriving on foot, by taxi, or on bicycle, bringing hand-sewn duvets which the young APV’s will distribute to the city’s poor. There is no sign on the door; the address is not published; there is no central telephone number. And yet they come.

Almost immediately following lunch this afternoon, a young university student arrived, bringing unexpected news concerning the recent bombing of a Shia cultural center which had killed 45 people and injured many more. Well-dressed in jeans and warm sweater, he told us that three female relatives had been at the center at the time of the blasts. Two had been killed; the other was expected to recover. A fourth victim, the young man’s friend, had also perished.

As always happens when news of this sort arrives, the room went quiet. Each of the young women and men turned aside and wondered, in the words of our guest, “When is my time going to come?”

It has only taken a week, but I am beginning to realize just how intense life in Afghanistan is for each one of its 36 million citizens. Several times a week, in one guise or another, death walks through the gate.

How do Afghans react to the ongoing violence? In talking to young visitors to the Center, the impression is that the noose of fear is tightening. Friends tell us of thinking twice before going out on unnecessary excursions.

The insurgents whose only weapon is violence are clearly gaining sway here, but the Afghan Peace Volunteers are adamant in their knowledge that violence solves nothing. They struggle daily to practice and teach nonviolence, which their charter maintains “is a [personal] value and a way of living, relating, and acting,” a positive force for change in our own lives and in the life of our planet.

The world has moved on from Afghanistan. The ongoing conflict in this small nation has lost our interest. As I was departing from my first visit here, a 15 year-old friend said, “Goodbye, Mr. Ken. You are very brave to come here.” “No,” I replied. “You are the brave one. I can go home. You live here.”

In the borderfree world envisioned by the Afghan Peace Volunteers, we are all citizens of Afghanistan. We cannot let the noose be tightened any further.

For more information about the Afghan Please Volunteers, please visit their website: ourjourneytosmile.com.

Ken Hannaford-Ricardi has been representing Voices for Creative Nonviolence (vcnv.org) as a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul.