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‘We have to wait and see what is going to happen’ says Afghanistan charity director

17 August 2021


An Afghan woman working ten weeks ago in an industrial park in Herat province, Afghanistan, in early June. At that point, peace and security in Herat had encouraged investors to fund more than 300 plants in the park

An Afghan woman working ten weeks ago in an industrial park in Herat province, Afghanistan, in early June. At that point, peace and security in Herat ...

DESPITE the pictures of chaos circulating in the UK, life in Kabul was returning to normal, World Vision’s national director in Afghanistan, Asuntha Charles, reported on Tuesday.

Speaking from her office in the Afghan capital, one day after the Taliban installed themselves in the presidential palace, Ms Charles spoke of the charity’s plans to stay in the country and continue its work with women and girls. The Taliban had already approached World Vision about starting educational projects, she said.

“The city is quiet,” she said, speaking as the Taliban conducted visits to the capital’s offices. “There are checkpoints set up by the new Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan — that’s what we have to call the Taliban now. So, they are checking people and they are checking their identities, just to make sure there are no arms with them.

“At least, I have not seen that kind of chaos — people running around, shooting on the streets — that’s not something that people are seeing happening. There are small shops which are open, the banks are closed under precautionary measures, and supermarkets are not open. . . I think to some extent it’s becoming normal.”

She continued: “We cannot expect everything to be very normal immediately, because there is so much fear — people knowing what happened 20 years ago. It will take some time, but what I see is that normalcy is getting better and better.

“I completely understand people are having fear: they want to run away, and the airports are getting overcrowded. People want flights and to move to different countries. That is normal — the fear and anxiety of people not knowing what will happen. . . We have to wait and see what is going to happen.”

While World Vision had been preparing for change, it had occurred “all of a sudden”, she said. “For everyone, this was a shocking moment — to see that things moved very fast. The timeline that we predicted was nothing like what is happening now.”

World Vision has been working in Afghanistan since 2001, and operates across multiple sectors, including health and nutrition, sanitation, livelihoods, education, and protection. Seventy per cent of its work was already in Taliban-controlled areas before the latest advance. “So we are already working with them,” Ms Charles said. “In a sense, we were interacting with them, making sure that we follow humanitarian principles, without deviating . . . So this new normal is not going to be really, really different from the previous times.

“Maybe because the overall control is now with the Taliban, there may be new restrictions coming up, which we should be open enough to see, but at the same time making sure that we don’t have any compromises on the humanitarian principles. So that is where we stand. For me, the focus is very clear: we are here for the vulnerable children and the vulnerable communities. So we have to find a way of reaching out to them.”

World Vision was committed to staying in Afghanistan, she said. Its work had grown, and its presence was “more and more important at this point in time than before”.

In March, Ms Charles wrote a blog about the importance of including women in the peace process, warning that “to reach a lasting peace, we must have women’s participation at every step of the process, and in every part of society”. World Vision’s work with women and girls includes projects to foster economic empowerment, to prevent child marriage, and enable girls to stay in school.

On Tuesday, she reported that World Vision had already received requests from the Taliban to start educational activities. Schools were already segregated between men and women, she noted.

“We have been asked to start the school, so that we appoint female teachers. We have to always understand there is a fear among female colleagues to go to school or go to work because of the previous experience that they have had. So we have to constantly work with both sides — both with our communities, with the staff, so that we encourage them that this is the new normal.”

Simultaneously, she said, “we have to work with the new government to say they should gain the trust of the communities, especially the trust of female colleagues, and they need to help them to use their capacities to help develop this country, because the sort of investment for the past 20 years — we cannot waste it.”

The international community had a bigger part to play now, she said. “We have to be continuously engaged in advocating for our female colleagues and for our female community members to play a greater role. That’s not going to be easy; it’s going to be a challenging time. But we have to make sure that we take a strong stand on that part.”

While much news reported in the press was negative, she said that Afghanistan needed “positive energy”, including prayers for the new leadership, “so that they are able to recognise the capacity within the Afghan communities, so they are really able to utilise it for the development of the country; because we don’t want the country to go back 20 years, or 200 years.

“We want progress in the country. That is possible only when men and women work together and making progress that can really be sustainable. So we shouldn’t be leaving this country once again into a dependent mould. They should be self-sustaining — that is what I believe.”

It was vital that donors did not abandon Afghanistan now, she said.

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