afghanistan kids
The Kids of Khewa
By Cassandra Nelson

Cassandra Nelson in Nahrain, Afghanistan

Cassandra Markham Nelson

Cassandra Markham Nelson is a freelance journalist working in Pakistan and Afghanistan since April 2001. After spending several months in Tora Bora during the bombardment, and covering the refugee camps, she founded a nonprofit organization called Project Kallay ("kallay" means village in Pashto). Project Kallay has delivered over 45 tons of emergency food relief to internally displaced person (IDP) camps in eastern Afghanistan, and is currently reconstructing five schools in rural villages in Nangarhar Province. Prior to coming to the region, Cassandra lived and worked in New York City.
It is 8:00 in the morning and Bibi, a 9-year-old Afghan girl, has been up and working for the past several hours. She is bringing water from the village well to her home.

"My day starts at sunrise. It is best to start work early when it is still cool," says Bibi. "In the afternoon it will be too hot to work in the sun."

Bibi is one of about 18,000 children living in the Khewa district in eastern Afghanistan. Life here is hard for children. Many families have had to leave their homes and live as refugees to escape the last 20 years of war. Din Mohammad, who is 12 years old, spent most of his life in refugee camps, waiting for it to become safe to return home.

"I don't remember living here—we left when I was 3 to escape the fighting and the Taliban," said Din Mohammad after returning to Khewa with his family. "I spent the last nine years living in camps near Peshawar, Pakistan. I guess I am home now, but it doesn't feel like it."

Din Mohammad was fortunate. Many families did not have the money to leave. The children who remained in Afghanistan had a very difficult life under the Taliban. Girls were not allowed to go school, boys could only attend religious schools, and no one could listen to music.

Since the war on terror and the fall of the Taliban, life is slowly improving in Afghanistan. Twelve-year-old Storai is collecting cow dung from the pastures. This is one of her many chores for the day. Later she will stick it on the walls of her home to dry. It will be burned as fuel for the cooking fires.

"I have a lot of work to do," says Storai "I must help my family. But now that the Taliban is gone I am able to do more."

Girls in Khewa study before a blackboard. They are hoping for a roofed building before winter. (Photo: Cassandra Nelson)
Although most of the schools were damaged in the past two decades of fighting, many boys, and now girls like Storai, are going to school. "We have classes outside and sit on the ground," says Storai, who hopes to one day be a doctor. "I hope they rebuild our school soon, so we can sit inside before the winter comes and it is too cold."

For children in Afghanistan, most of the day is spent doing chores or attending school. But in the heat of the afternoon, there is time for fun. The children of the village gather around the water canals and play in the refreshing cold water.

In the evening, the children return home to help prepare the family dinner. Most Afghan homes have joint-family living arrangements, in which several related families all live together. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews all share their work, their play, and their meals. Bedtime is at sunset.

For Bibi, that's the best part of the day. "Soon my father will bring the radio and we all will come to listen to the BBC [Pashto-language version] and then Indian music, " says Bibi, after finishing her chores.