Out of the Ashes
By Judith Santiago*
February 27, 2009—Since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2002, over five million Afghan refugees have journeyed home to Afghanistan after living in Pakistan or Iran for more than 20 years. They returned home only to face economic hardship and drought. While they were living as refugees, the years of violence and instability took their toll and destroyed their homes, health facilities, fields, schools, and roads.
To help Afghanistan emerge from the ashes caused by years of conflict, UMCOR's Afghanistan office took on a major effort to assist residents of Khaki Jabbar District, an isolated area in eastern Kabul Province. UMCOR assisted the returnee population by providing tangible, sustainable opportunities that would help restore the communities' homes, schools, water systems and agricultural livelihood.
In 2008, with funding support from the US State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, UMCOR distributed 800 milk-bearing goats to vulnerable families; managed a cash-for-work program employing over 800 residents; built a school for 250 primary school children; distributed school kits to 2,585 children; helped to construct 75 shelters and latrines, and rehabilitated Khaki Jabbar's streams and underground canals to promote agricultural growth. The projects brought hope to thousands of Afghan refugees, helping them rebuild and restore their lives after years of being displaced..
Afghans Help Build Their Own Homes
Building shelters for returnees in Khaki Jabbar District was one of the highest priorities as construction needed to finish before the first snowfall of the year. The shelter design, which included a special earthquake resistance feature, was simple to build and did not require skilled labor. Therefore, with oversight from UMCOR's engineers, most families were able to build their own homes and receive payment for their labor. In the case of widows or elderly people without family to assist in construction, UMCOR hired labor teams from the community to construct their shelters.
UMCOR staff helped the returning families learn how to use the materials and ensured that all the supplies were transported safely to their homes. The supplies were usually carried via donkey across the rugged terrain. In addition, UMCOR-assigned foreman were tasked to visit and monitor each shelter on a weekly basis to ensure the family was successfully completing the structure.
By the end of 2008, all 75 homes and latrines were successfully built and Afghan refugees received their due wages along with the added benefit of UMCOR-supported hygiene training for each family.
A New School
There was no school building in the village of Karokhail in Khaki Jabbar, which forced the children to attend classes outdoors. UMCOR has been working to change that. A foundation is being laid for a four classroom school large enough for 250 students. The school location, determined by The Ministry of Education, is expected to be completed by Spring 2009.
Prior to winter break in November, UMCOR distributed school supplies to 2,585 primary school children throughout surrounding schools. The new supplies gave the children an added incentive to learn and participate in school.
Many of the returning refugees had limited sources of income when they returned home. UMCOR distributed milk-bearing goats to help these vulnerable families to increase their household nutrition and income. Each goat was examined for good health and vaccinated by a local veterinarian before it was given to a family. In addition to distributing the 800 milk-bearing goats to families, UMCOR also provided animal husbandry training for 400 families, including 100 female-headed households. Families receiving goats can use milk from goats to make cheese, yogurt or other homemade goods to sell at the market for income. The milk also provides much-needed nourishment to keep families healthy throughout the long winter months. This spring, UMCOR staff will visit with the families who received goats and training to see how the program is progressing for them and offer any additional assistance, as needed.
Planting fruit-bearing trees gives returning Afghan refugees another source of income in addition to goats. UMCOR assessed the type of tree seedlings that would be most appropriate for growth in the Khaki Jabbar climate and determined that apple seedlings were the best choice.
By the end of 2008, 250 families were selected to receive the seedlings as well as agriculture training so that refugees would know how to maintain the trees for sustainable growth. This year, UMCOR will assist in the planting of more than 5,000 apple trees.
Rehabilitating Water Systems
UMCOR is also helping to bring life back into Khaki Jabbar's fields. The land has suffered extreme drought and neglect for years, causing much of its soil to harden. In order to produce richer farmland, water needed to reach its fields. Repairing local streams and underground canals would bring water to where it was needed for farming. UMCOR hired a local contractor to repair the streams and 800 local residents were employed through UMCOR's cash-for-work program to rehabilitate and clean 50 kariz tunnels. A kariz is an underground irrigation system in Afghanistan that prevents water evaporation in arid climates.
Stone masonry walls were built on both sides of the streams to minimize water seepage and maintain the amount of water being released onto the plain fields. UMCOR staff monitored the work and will revisit the project in the coming months to determine the increase in cultivated land that resulted from cleaning of the kariz tunnels.
Although there is still a long road ahead in rebuilding Afghanistan from years of conflict Khaki Jabbar has begun to slowly rise out of the ashes with UMCOR's help. Hope has emerged as well, giving Afghan returnees more livelihood opportunities, better sources of food, and shelter they can now call home.
How You Can Help
UMCOR has being working in Afghanistan since 2002 helping the people of Afghanistan recover from decades of conflict and years of drought. This is being achieved through reconstruction projects, income generating opportunities, health and education training. You can support this work by giving to Afghanistan Emergency, UMCOR Advance #602225.
*Santiago is the Program Coordinator for UMCOR Communications.