Mahdi Housaini used to volunteer at our office in Sydney while he was in university, visiting local schools as an Ambassador of Mahboba’s Promise. He is now in Afghanistan, working with children of Panjshir Valley Hope House.
Since I was a little boy, like many immigrant children, I heard stories of the Motherland. The memoirs I listened to with rapture told of the exquisite hospitality of the people, the rugged beauty of the landscape and the overwhelming serenity which reigned.
I longed to see the country for myself. It was three years back when I first traveled to Afghanistan with a close friend of mine. By the end of my trip, I was profoundly impressed and made a decision to come back to live once I’d completed my degree. For the next three years, I had many sleepless nights as I imagined my destined return.
Four months ago, my dream finally became a reality. Soon after I arrived in Afghanistan, I came to live in Panjshir; the smallest province of Afghanistan. Just Northeast of Kabul, Panjshir encompasses a lush valley flanked on both sides by soaring mountains and riddled by a roaring river. Panjshir is a truly remarkable place.
It was here where the Soviets carried out nine major offensives with tanks and planes, with the mission to wipe out the stubbornest resistance force. The entire valley was bombed and burned to the ground and for much of a decade, Panjshir was completely deserted. And yet today, the villages have been rebuilt, the mud homes proudly stand tall, the fields abundant with crops and the waterways burrowed once again. Beauty is found in unexpected times and places. The history of Panjshir is a testament to Afghanistan’s endurance. War ravaged Afghanistan. But the spirit of the people did not break.
A month ago I carried out research on the agriculture of Panjshir. I drove with a guide throughout the valley and sat down with farmers. In the Afghan countryside, everyone is a Farmer. Even if you are a doctor or a teacher, you were still working the ancestral fields. There have been droughts the past few years and the word on everyone’s dry lips is ‘water’.
I noticed a strange pattern with my conversations with the Farmers. I would ask the Panjshiri people what they aspire for. In return, I would get blank looks and irrelevant responses. One old man even snapped at me for asking such silly questions. One does not have time to dream or aspire, when one is working every day to simply survive.
At nights when the moon just rises from behind the peaks and shines on the mountainside villages, I see many homes as distant points of light. I know there are aspirations that live in these homes. Born and residing in the small but bold hearts of Afghanistan’s children.
I work at the Mahboba’s Promise Hope House in Panjshir, which is a home for orphan boys and girls. All these children have tragic stories, but none of their hardships have robbed them of the natural joy youth feel. Their ability to lie awake at night and dream of the future perseveres. They do not run away from school, they run to it. The most inspiring sights in Panjshir is seeing the children, boys and girls, walking side by side to school.
I witness many gripping moments on these early morning treks. The local schools are built of mountain rocks and perched in the most remote and far-flung places. Children hike the mountainous terrain for house to reach their classrooms. However, the most heart wrenching of all is watching some children along the streets in home clothes, some herding a goat, some sitting as shopkeepers, and some just by the window, who gaze longingly at all the uniformed children making their way to school.
There is an intense yearning for education. The children do not want dolls and clothes, rather they long to have a book, a notepad and a pencil.