Afghan street children struggle to build a better future

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Ismail, a 12-year-old Afghan boy, leaves his home in western Kabul every morning regardless of the weather, with his black old bag full of brushes, shoe polish and slippers.
After a 30-minute walk, he arrives at a busy street and finds a place to sit down, arrange all his belongings and start his work as a shoe polisher.

Photo taken on April 10, 2015 shows a general view of the Kabul city in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Xinhua/Ahmad Massoud)
Photo taken on April 10, 2015 shows a general view of the Kabul city in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Xinhua/Ahmad Massoud)
“I polish about 5 pairs of shoes and I charge 10 Afghanis for each pair. Most people give me more money even if they don’t ask me to polish their boots. I can earn about 100-200 Afghanis (1.5 3 U.S. dollars) every day. Sometimes I go into restaurants to ask the guests there if they want their shoes polished, but some of the restaurant owners don’t allow me to work there,” Ismail told Xinhua recently.

Ismail said that he has been working on the streets for the past 6 years, yet his income is too little to support his family. Born into a poor family, he has become the main breadwinner. He has 3 sisters, the eldest 16 years old and the youngest just two.
Nazia, 30, Ismail’s mother, has to take care of the baby sister and has no job, neither has his other sisters. His father is already around 70 years old and earns little.
The family rent a small house with only two rooms. In one of the rooms, Ismail and his mother told their stories to Xinhua in a recent interview.
The room is was small, dim, cold and humid with no heating system. The floor is paved with a piece of thin and red carpet. There is a TV in one corner of the room and several quilts in another corner that have been donated by others. A bucket of water near the door comprises all their possessions.

Although he is already 12 years old, Ismail seems much younger, probably because of poverty and malnutrition. Dressed in a worn-out jacket, the bright boy is optimistic and brave. “I have a dream that one day I can become a doctor and serve the Afghan people,” Ismail said.

“As my husband is old and sick, he cannot support our family alone. Despite all the concerns, I am sending my boy to the streets to work to earn some money. I am happy that the Afghan Peace Volunteers found my boy two years ago and registered him to their center. We are receiving their donations every month. And they educate my son, and also sent him to a public school.” Said Nazia, adding that she was both relieved and grateful for the volunteers’ generosity.

Since Ismail was registered with the Afghan Peace Volunteers, every Friday he works until 11 a.m. and then goes to the volunteers’ center.

“It is the happiest day of the week because I can attend classes and play with my friends,” Ismail said cheerfully.

Here in the center, children like Ismail study Dari, English, mathematics and sewing.

Fayaz, a 13-year-old boy, interested in sewing, after studying with the volunteers, has managed to find a job in a tailor shop. His dream is to become an engineer.

“I feel grateful to the center here and the teachers are very good,” Fayaz said.

Zekrullah Ahmady, a mathematics teacher and volunteer, said, “The Afghan Peace Volunteers started its activities eight years ago in Bamyan province. It is four years since we started working in Kabul to support peace and street children.”

“Most of our activities are aimed at street children. Four years ago we started helping street children, this year we have 100 street children in our center who are attending our programs every Friday and receiving our donations including food and clothes every month.”

“I myself was a street child and used to sell cigarettes on the streets. I had a very bad experience of being a street worker. Today I can feel what these children are suffering.”

“Most of the street children start working when they lose their fathers during the fighting and blasts. When they lose their income they have to work to find some money to support their families.”

“Two years ago I found Ismail in a very bad condition, when he was working on the street. I followed him and talked to his family. I think today his situations are much better, as he can now attend school and he is able to read and write.”

Some 10 million children with more than 40 percent of them girls go to 15,000 schools in Afghanistan, according to officials. However, around 1.3 million school-aged children have reportedly been deprived of education due to poverty, security problems or traditional obstacles in the country.

Assadullah Hanif Balkhi, Minister for Education, revealed recently that 1,006 schools have remained closed throughout Afghanistan.

In the volunteers’ center, each child has to go to a public school after receiving donations and finishing courses here as a rule. Enditem

Source: Lu Shuqun, Abdul Haleem, Xinhua/NewsGhana.com.gh

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