Pushing to overcome obstacles
By Marianne Parente
It has been more than two months since I visited the marastoon. Despite everyone’s best intentions, it has proven difficult to transfer funds and get things started. Finally, we have a bank account and some money in the bank so I am returning to Jalalabad to see if we can help the women and children.
Unlike the last time when it was cold and barren, the weather is absolutely perfect, maybe a little on the warm side. Flowers are in bloom everywhere. I have read that honeybees are in decline most everywhere but they seem to be thriving here as they pollinate sun flowers, poppies (not the heroin producing kind), every colour rose imaginable and many flowers I do not know the name of. After still cold and dusty Kabul, this is food for my soul.
Zeba and I arrive at the marastoon unannounced, like the last time, but not unprepared. I have not come with chickens, bread ovens or playground equipment but I have brought some treats for the children. We have brought cricket sets, footballs (soccer balls to Americans) and jump ropes and 400 eggs, enough for two or three per person. The children are wide-eyed but solemn. They aren’t sure the toys are for them. I would like to take photos of them playing but the mothers insist on a more formal photo on the steps. They hold up the toys and then we pass out candy and cookies. That brings smiles and we leave them to their treats while we gather in one of the rooms to talk with the women.
The director has changed his mind about allowing them to have chickens. ‘There is not enough room,’ he says. The women disagree and beg for them. They really want eggs for their children and at three Afs (six cents) apiece they are too expensive to buy frequently with their limited funds. We will offer to build a proper chicken coop along the wall and talk to the director again. He would like us to install solar panels so they can have a more dependable power supply. I am not sure how much such a thing would cost or if it is even available but we are willing to discuss it – if he will consider the chickens, perhaps we can consider the solar panels.
Bread ovens – it all seemed so simple when we first talked about it. I envisioned a community effort with the women having their bread for free and selling bread to the community to cover their costs. Again, a director issue – the marastoon is a government property and the women will not be allowed to sell the bread.
And then there is the issue of how the women understand the process. They were all hoping to be chosen to be the one to run the business and they would sell the bread to the other women for the same price they now pay outside. The only thing saved would be the walk. This was a little harder to talk through. One enterprising woman had already built a small brick oven and she and her daughter were busy baking bread but only two pieces could be baked at a time. The ovens we are planning to provide can bake 40 -50 pieces at a time but would it be fair for only one woman to benefit? Believe it or not, there is a trainer available who can give them some training on how to set up a community-based organisation. It may not be run in the egalitarian fashion I envision but they will come to a decision on how to best benefit the group and not one individual.
Playground equipment – this is my personal dream for the children. The only equipment we can find is in a catalogue and must be imported from Pakistan. I am sure that metal workers and welders could build some serviceable swings and slides but there is just no market here. Children work here just like adults; very few have the luxury of play time. If I could just drive around the town with photos of the equipment I am sure I could find some enterprising merchant ready to custom-build something. I haven’t given up on this idea yet. Maybe I can find someone in Kabul to build them.
My trip to Jalalabad was too brief, there are security concerns and pressing issues in Kabul but we must keep pushing and not just take on the attitude so prevalent in a war torn country that they are lucky to have anything at all.