Afghanistan: An unforgettable journey

CARE International’s Humanitarian Director, Barbara Jackson, recently visited Afghanistan, a country suffering from both conflict and natural hazards, and a dangerous overall security situation for the foreseeable future. Here, she describes her experiences after her recent visit, and offers insight into the issues that the country is facing, and what CARE is doing to help.

“The situation is worse than it was six months ago,” the staff at CARE Afghanistan tell me when I ask about the situation here, especially related to security. “But what are we supposed to do?  We will make the best of it, as we always have.”  Such is the spirit of the Afghan staff who work for CARE who, with a smile, and a seemingly bottomless generosity of spirit, demonstrate such commitment to their own people, to their country and to the organization they work for. This is despite the IEDs, kidnappings, car-jacking incidents, and rising criminality which all form a large part of the backdrop to their day-to-day work.

Increasing humanitarian need

Looking at recent updates from Afghanistan, you find that despite some improvements in some parts of the country, there remain hundreds of thousands still displaced, particularly in the northeast and in and around the central region. The unexpected fall of the provincial capital of Kunduz in September signalled a new wave and proximity of conflict fuelled by well-armed and trained militants.  More than one fifth of the total population of Afghanistan are affected directly by the conflict with recent displacements leading to nearly 200,000 people fleeing their homes. 

CARE works to support many of these internally displaced as well as those who have returned from Pakistan in recent years, but it is becoming increasingly tougher, particularly in terms of mental resilience and access.  This is coupled with a situation where more than 70 per cent of the people already live in chronic poverty and are subjected to cyclical floods, landslides, freezing cold spells as well as drought.   OCHA estimates that 8.1 million people in Afghanistan this year need humanitarian assistance, and in a context where there is increased need due to lack of support from agencies departing the country; there is considerable room for CARE to support, but it must be done so appropriately to manage insecurity risks.  As my Afghan colleagues share: “we will continue to work and support the many women, children, boys, and girls who cannot nor want to leave, as this is their home.”  

A country of contrasts

As a newcomer to Afghanistan, I find myself changed leaving this stunningly beautiful country. I look around me and am struck by the contrasting scenes that I will not forget anytime soon; a lovely restaurant hidden behind a series of armed gates and security checkpoints, a school class, made up of more girls than boys, taking their final exams on a blustery cold day.  They sit in lines on a windswept plain outside a CARE constructed school building with primary school teachers who have been trained by us to teach them. I am amazed by a group of women, animated and proud, showing me photos of what they have invested their village savings and loan funds in, building their own businesses and paying for their children’s education.

It is hard to say goodbye to them all; to our CARE staff who have cheerfully and gracefully accompanied me through a myriad of checkpoints and body searches at the Kabul airport; hard to say goodbye to people who are putting their country and their compatriots first in spite of increasing insecurity and uncertainty in the future. But I leave with hopes that others will see Afghanistan as I have.  That they will see how much potential this country has because of the resilience, perseverance and positivity of its people.  CARE will continue to work alongside the people of Afghanistan to help them build their country up to all that they hope and believe it can be.

To learn more about our work in Afghanistan visit our page here.