Mohammed, a village leader, points toward the horizon to show where community members
used to have to walk to collect water from a spring more than two miles away.
Five years ago, when 13-year-old Azizullah and his family returned to their native Afghanistan from the Pakistan refugee camp where they’d fled the Taliban, the world they had known was gone. They would have to start all over again.
Azizullah, his parents, three brothers and sister are among the more than 5 million Afghans who have returned to Afghanistan since the Taliban fell from power in 2001. What most found when they arrived was lost homes, lost livelihoods and a government ill-equipped to address even their most basic needs.
But there was land available. With help from local and international aid organizations, the Afghan government began to allocate lands for returnee families to create permanent resettlement communities. Azizullah’s family moved into one of them, the Sheik Misri New Township, in the eastern province of Nangarhar. Families lived in tents until they could build houses. Various organizations provided support, but none that directly addressed the basic needs of children, especially the very youngest.
In February 2011, ChildFund set out to fill that gap, serving Sheik Misri’s 1,800 families with its RESTART program. Working in partnership with government entities, U.N. agencies and other partners already in the community, and especially with the community members themselves, ChildFund holistically addressed the education, nutrition, water and sanitation needs of the village’s 2,080 children ages 5 and under. As the environment became more and more protective of the smallest, the entire community benefited.
Water was a most urgent need.
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When Azizullah first arrived at Sheik Misri, he says, finding water there was a huge challenge. “All the children and women traveled a lot to a spring to bring water for serving their families,” he says. “Every day, me and my brothers walked two to three times to the spring and brought water to our village.” The round trip was more than four miles long.
Mohammed, a father of nine and a village leader, remembers the community’s women and children pushing wheelbarrows down that dusty, gray trek again and again. After some time, he says, one of the aid organizations built several hand pumps, but they were inadequate. “The difficulty of getting the water out was a big problem because the water was more than 300 feet underground, and the pump broke every other day,” he says. “Lots of people still used the spring.”
One young mother, Mrs. Saeeda, couldn’t leave her small children to go to the spring or the pump and had to wait for her husband to bring water home after he had worked all day.
That changed when ChildFund supported the building of seven solar-powered water systems, each of which would support about 200 families and be maintained by the community. The low-maintenance, easy-to-use water points are a welcome relief after the years of struggle. “It’s easy now to have water in Sheik Misri,” says Mohammed, “for children, women, everyone — just take your bucket, put it under the tank and open the tap, and you will have water.”
There is still much work to be done in this village — access to health care is difficult, and the town’s sanitation system is not yet up to par. But, now that the water problem is solved, it is easier for the community to fully engage in making things better.
Mohammed cites other positive changes, including ChildFund’s Early Childhood Development centers, where 3- to 5-year-olds receive both education and nutrition, and efforts to educate parents in the care and feeding of their infants to 3-year-olds. “We can see the positive changes in how mothers take care of their children,” he says.
Azizullah likes his new challenges, including school, which he holds especially dear after having been without it for his first three years in Sheik Misri. Now he’s in seventh grade. “I like math, biology, Islamic studies and English, because they are important subjects if you want to be something in the future,” he says.
Along with two of Mohammed’s children, Azizullah is also an active member in the community’s Child Well-Being Committee, composed of equal numbers of children, youth and adults who gather to support the interests of children in the community. “I have learned so much information about children’s rights, health and hygiene, behavioral change with elders and children during the training,” he says, “and now I am sharing this information with other friends of mine.”
Azizullah’s ability to contribute in his community is a great source of satisfaction for him. “Thank you very much for giving value to children,” he says.