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Afghanistan as I Saw it
By: Shawn Grauel , Age 16 Posted: 6.11.03
In August 2002 I set foot in the capital city of Kabul, Afghanistan -- soil that very few American teens had seen -- after two decades of war. I went with my mom, who is working on her own project to help Afghan women through a non-government organization PARSA.
in the states could have prepared my eyes for what I saw in Afghanistan.
A country beaten down by decades of war
The airport was basically a field lined with wrecked military planes. There were areas roped off because of land mines, the telltale signs of a country beaten down by war. My senses were overwhelmed by pollution, heat and dust.
Kabul surprised me too. Colorful trucks decorated with ornate chimes intermingled with horse drawn carts, men pushing carts and bicycles weaving in and out of traffic creating a circus-like dance down the potholed streets.
Street kids begging and sleeping dogs seemed to be unaffected by the turmoil that flowed around them. Goats and sheep roamed the streets in packs in competition with hungry street kids reducing the daily garbage piles to nothing.
The reality of war struck me when we came upon a bombed out area of the city flattened to rubble. It was like visiting ancient ruins except for an occasional intact house with people living in it. The horror of a once thriving upper class neighborhood, pain of family's lives hung heavy in the air.
The struggles of daily life
Kabul is surrounded by mountains and the house we stayed in, the PARSA guest house, was at the base of a very steep hill. We only had electricity and water for a few hours a day, so much of the time at night we used candles and flashlights and went to bed early.
We filled buckets of water, heated them on the stove to take sponge baths each day. We had to be careful not to drink the water because of bacteria we could get really sick.
I had long discussions with the Afghan houseboy who spoke very good English and was eager to hear about my life in the States. We spoke a lot about the political situation of Afghanistan.
My days started at 6 am every morning. I interviewed many Afghan teens and slowly started to see for myself life from their perspectives.
Most of the kids I met on the streets worked twelve hours a day, six days a week to support their families. One boy, a shoe shiner, spoke of his dream to return to school some day. Many of the kids, as young as 6 years-old, worked in small damp, hot bakeries. Each had only one task they performed over and over, hour after hour, not even stopping to swat the flies swarming about their heads.
The luxury of education
For most Afghan children education is a luxury they cannot afford. School for girls was forbidden under the reign of the Taliban. In addition, decades of fighting and oppression have turned Kabul into a city of 50,000 youth without education who are forced to work to support their families. I was surprised to find many of the elementary school children selling cigarettes on the street after school.
One of my most unforgettable experiences was visiting a bombed out high school in the heart of the city. Classes were held outside while the classrooms were being repaired. All the kids sat on the floor with up to 70 kids in a class. It was hard to distinguish what subject they were studying because they had no textbooks, posters or lab materials-- materials teachers in America would find impossible to teach without. Each grade had kids as old as 27-years-old, because of lost years during Taliban rule.
A new outlook filled with hope
When my mom and I returned to New York City we both had a new outlook on life and I now see how truly fortunate I am. I hope to share my education, opportunity and luxury with those who have none. I've seen the terrible destruction the Taliban inflicted and feel obligated to help our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan rebuild.
As a teenager I know I was able to relate to and understand Afghan teenagers. My goal is to create a connection between American and Afghan kids to eliminate the everyday stereotypes as well as awaken American teens to the power they hold in changing the future. The future is in our hands!
For more information on Shawn Grauel's work, go to the Fast-track Kabul Web site.
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