For the Afghan Peace Volunteers, living in a working class area of Kabul's 'Karte Seh' district, daily problem-solving requires a triage process.
Last week, upon arrival, I looked at the sagging ceilings over the kitchen, living room and entryway and felt certain that shifting to new living quarters should be the top priority. The following evening, tremors caused by a small local earthquake sent me running out of the house to interrupt a game of volleyball the others were playing. Cooler heads prevailed and the game continued. What else was there to do? I stayed to watch. Later, we talked about the need to move from our dangerous dwelling, and soon, so now the daily schedule includes scouring the neighbourhood for a new home with comparable space and rent.
Some daily problems are predictable. For example, Ali knows he is behind many other students in the Kabul secondary school he attends because back in Bamiyan, where he grew up, he had limited opportunities to learn the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. Each morning in the house, he struggles to make sense of notes he has carefully recorded in class. Early this morning, he was sitting in the yard carefully writing and rewriting a sentence describing the function of the present continuous tense in English, preparing for an exam later that day. He and I spent some time writing English sentences in the present and present continuous tenses, and then he taught me how to do the same in Dari. Some problems at least have simple solutions.
Abdulhai wants the best for his widowed mother. Like almost every other Afghan family, Abdulhai has experienced deep personal loss, the loss of his father to war. I remember one evening in Kabul some months ago when he confided in me and Hakim about the difficult memories of fleeing the fighting through the snowy mountains of Bamiyan province where his simple and honest family resides.
Shedding some tears, he said, "I wish I could buy my mother a good pair of shoes." Abdulhai has a growing commitment to working among fellow Afghan peers and youth to understand and practise non-violence. In 2011, his picture was selected by Fellowship of Reconciliation USA to be featured on the big board at Times Square in New York. The poster showed Abdulhai on his favourite hills behind his village with these words reflecting his heart, "I wish to live without wars."
The small community here listens to its members' problems – including the needs of their loved ones - and tries to find cooperative ways to help them respond. Each member of the community comes from a home grappling with problems attendant on economic destitution. Aided by small contributions from peace activists abroad, they creatively 'troubleshoot' ways to keep their project going.
Meanwhile, they are doing their best to address social problems in the struggling Kabul neighbourhood around them. This week, after several delays, a workshop for seamstresses has been set up here in our living quarters. Each morning, eight women, both Pashto and Hazara, come to learn tailoring skills. The Afghan Women's Fundassisted the group by buying eight sewing machines along with fabric, thread, scissors and patterns. With the help of a neighbour, who is an accomplished seamstress and is willing to teach others to sew for a nominal salary, the women will learn tailoring skills and thus be able to earn desperately needed income.
Today, we sat with a mother whose child comes to the after-school tutoring program that the Afghan Peace Volunteers launched three months ago. Her husband struggles with an addiction to opium. By collecting laundry from homes near hers and washing the clothing from morning till night, she earns the equivalent of $3 per day. We asked whether her husband might help earn income, but she is afraid to let him out of the house for fear he'll be drawn back to drug usage. Two of the Peace Volunteers then vouched for an impressive program we have visited which has helped people overcome their addictions. (Some of the people who were helped by the program now run a small restaurant in our neighbourhood.) Before she left, a meeting was arranged between the young mother and the woman who founded and coordinates this program.
I'm privileged to watch young and vulnerable practitioners of peacemaking risk their own safety to advocate for those even less safe. And poverty, which descends from war, which engenders war, equals danger as surely as war does. It's the ceiling in a collapsing room. Here in Kabul, it's so much harder to escape the connectedness of what Martin Luther King called the 'evil triplets' – poverty, discrimination, and war.
Last summer, in Mexico, a movement arose which aims to bring together people suffering the ravages of multiple wars, encouraging them to pour out their grief together and demand social change. The Caravan of Solace, led by renowned Mexican poet Javier Sicilia, travelled across Mexico several times, reaching many thousands of people in a country where 50,000 people have been killed by drug violence since 2007. The Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity insists that militarised solutions will not work.
Now the same organizers will be travelling across the United States as theCaravan for Peace, calling for an end to drug wars and military wars. They will proceed along a multistate route culminating in Washington, DC on 11 September 2012.
The Afghan Peace Volunteers, who paid close attention to the Caravan of Solace, were pleased to speak with one of the organisers by phone last summer. Now their hopes are raised quite high because Caravan for Peace organisers, in coordination with Global Exchange, have invited them to participate in the caravan during the final ten days of travel across the US.
Abdulhai and Ali await an August 5th interview at the US Embassy in Kabul. Their opportunity to join the Caravan for Peace and to contribute their perspective to discussions along the route rests on whether consular officials will approve their request for a visa. They would be accompanied by their mentor, Singaporean born Dr Wee Teck Young, whom we call Hakim. (You can register your support for them in this process at http://act.rootsaction.org/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=6382 )
The US Embassy will want assurance that the boys will return to Afghanistan, that they won't seek to escape a collapsing roof in a country where it often seems as though the weight of poverty, warfare and discrimination threaten future collapse. But Ali and Abdulhai realise they have good work they can do here and now, building on several years of activity developing the Afghan Peace Volunteers. As with many of us, sometimes the work involves setting our own houses in order (and there's always more order we can set them in) and often it involves small actions we can take to help one another. Joining the Caravan for Peace would be a big step for the Afghan Peace Volunteers, giving them a chance to feel solidarity with people from Mexico and across the US who support the Afghan Peace Volunteers and their clear and simple message: we want to live without wars.