THE AFCECO STORY
Message from Chairperson
Meet the Team
Questions and Answers
Are the orphanages in danger from the war?
It is difficult to predict the future for Afghanistan. There are always dangers, mostly from the random attack that would have nothing to do with us or our operations. Whatever happens, even if a Talibanesque regime were to gain power, the future will not be the past re-lived. AFCECO has established strong ties with so many people that it would be political suicide for the average politician, and terrible PR for anyone in power to attack the orphanage. What insures against the unpredictable future is the fact that AFCECO is Afghan founded, Afghan run, and Afghan staffed. Even the most Taliban dominated region of the country is allowing schools for both girls and boys to flourish as long as they are Afghan based. The fact is the vast majority of people want education and opportunity for all their children
How do I know the child I sponsor is really there and knows who I am?
Each moth every child who is sponsored writes a letter to his or her sponsor. Even the smallest child is taught enough English to compose a note, and decorate the letter with a personal touch. As often as possible we will take a photo of the child holding the letter and electronically send the letter along with the photo. With only a few staff some months go smoother than others in getting these letters off, but rest assured it is a high priority. The children know how much a sponsor means to AFCECO, but most revealing is just how excited a child is to receive a letter from a sponsor. We encourage all sponsors to network with one another through the www.hopeforafghanchildren.org web site. In this way you hear stories and discover more about life in the orphanage, stories that bring you closer to understanding what your child experiences, and what her or his personality is like. Bridging the miles is a high priority for us. Another way we try to bring you closer is through our monthly newsletter, where news from the orphanage and photos are distributed to the entire AFCECO community.
What support do you get from the Afghan government? The Afghan people?
AFCECO is a registered NGO with the Afghan government. It has acquired a good reputation and has many allies within the various ministries and inside Parliament. It is vital, though, that AFCECO remains separate from government and government money, thus insuring adherence to our mission without pressure or mandates from those in power. The opposite is true when it comes to the general public. AFCECO actively works with community members from every province and from within every social strata. Students, mullahs, laborers, activists and professors are all a part of our network. The poor farmer from Farah to the business owner in Jalalabad and all in between know of our operations and often contribute in terms of donations, helping establish a new orphanage and perhaps most vitally assisting in the selection of children to enter the orphanage. Connecting with our people is the single most important aspect of AFCECO operations. When trouble comes, when difficulties arise, when the unexpected happens, it is the network of friends who stand by our side that bring us through
How do I get more involved?
Other than sponsoring one or more children, we encourage you to visit a sponsor initiated web site: www.hopeforafghanchildren.org Here you will get a variety of information to augment our own web site, and you can get to know other sponsors. You can arrange for a visit and presentation by one of our AFCECO staff or volunteers when they come through your country. You can fundraise, get involved with the opening of a new orphanage, or even apply to volunteer in one of our Kabul orphanages. There are so many ways to get more involved, even if it means simply keeping our AFCECO booklet on your coffee table, counter or desk
Can I visit my child, or can I have my child visit me?
AFCECO encourages a strong bond between sponsors and their children, and visa versa. The children understand what a sponsor means and write letters, even have a video conference from time to time. It is also within our mission to send children abroad to broaden their experience and education. The opportunity for a sponsor to meet a child has become more and more a reality. Each sponsor is encouraged to be as involved as she or he wishes, and it is our hope the bond between sponsor and child is enduring and even life-long. We are one big family
Is it possible to adopt one of the children?
At present it is not lawful to adopt and Afghan child. Though we often get requests, it is important to remember the AFCECO mission is not to simply give a better life to the children, but to give the children the strength and love and education to grow into good, productive leaders in Afghan society, not affluent expatriates.
How many of the children do you “lose” from the orphanage, and what happens to them?
In order to maintain a vital connection with Afghan society as a bridge between the children and their future, AFCECO does not raise the children in isolation. Even if both parents are deceased there is usually a relative somewhere hinging upon this orphan one day being able to provide for the family in some way. It is also important for the children to feel connected to their country. So many Afghans have fled their homeland over the past thirty years, it is almost a certainty that a lack of connection to people and their war torn society would similarly lead to an educated orphan child leaving if given the opportunity. This means that we risk losing a child. In a country still at war, with poor and often fundamentalist relatives focused on short term financial needs, inevitably a child will not return from a visit to his or her village. Given the situation in every region of Afghanistan it is remarkable that each year, out of 500 children only six or seven of them fail to return. Some go to work for the family, some stay at home to help a sick mother, some are married off, and some just disappear. Every child we lose is a blow to our hearts, and to the hearts of sponsors. Still, with our first generation of orphans now approaching college age we are heartened by the fact that most all our children stay with us, grow with us, and their relatives come to see us a family as much as the children do.
Are there behavior problems in the orphanages, and if so how are they dealt with?
Children in the orphanages come from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. They have differing values, temperaments, and prejudices. Add to this the sorrowful fact many come to us with psychological scars from the effects of war, extreme poverty and abuse. All of them have been witness to things no child should ever witness. Some have been exploited, or have lived in fear for their own lives. Boys have been affected by a misogynistic society, and come to the orphanage feeling they are superior to girls, that they must be strong, aggressive and good fighters. They are less tolerant, and think they are above doing domestic work. Girls on the other hand feel they are inferior and must obey men. All of this means that fifty children in the orphanage results in 50 different behaviors, some of them in complete opposition to one another. The orphanage is very much like a big family. We deal with our weaknesses by utilizing our strengths. Older children have learned our policy that all human beings are equal regardless of their ethnicity, language, religion and especially their gender. Bad behavior is the only thing that is not tolerated, and who better to enforce it than peers? When a new child arrives, very quickly she or he is mentored by the older children. The orphanage is a place full of activity and responsibility. Nothing balms a wounded soul like comradeship, working together to solve problems, complete chores or do homework. There is also friendly competition, which motivates children to achieve what they otherwise thought they could never achieve. Whenever we can we assign one job to be shared by two children of different backgrounds. A Hazara and a Pashtun will be in charge of the storeroom, for example. As they work together they become friends and learn tolerance. We reinforce a family-like atmosphere in which we care for one another, where if one child falls we all fall, where everyone gets to celebrate a birthday, but just as importantly individuals are rewarded for their own particular strengths. In this way, miraculously or not, there is little need for punitive action. The orphanage is an oasis of peace in the midst of war. Holding it together is the ever-powerful alchemy of mutuality and love.
What will happen to the children when they turn 18, and how will they be able to return to Afghan villages and be free and equal, especially the girls?
We expect the children to remain in the orphanage at least till they complete high school (12th grade). Right now we have many children (around 40) that are 1 or 2 years behind this target. It is a high priority to address the fact these older children have until recently not had the benefit of schooling comparable to the skills most nations understand as the right of every child. That is why they will soon have their own space to live in, to focus on immersion in their studies and in addition extra tutorials with professional teachers both in and outside Afghanistan, including the use of virtual learning on the Internet. The next step for them is to get admission to university. Our volunteer Ian Pounds has already begun establishing partnerships with institutions interested in bringing some of our students into their communities. For example, the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh and the Afghan founded Scholars Initiative are looking forward to regular admission of AFCECO children into their programs in the future. Ian is also working to place some of our children in fifth-year immersion programs with renowned private schools in the U.S. such as Hotchkiss, Taft and Philips Exeter. Of course there are institutions here in Kabul such as Kabul University and American University of Afghanistan, as well as technical schools to look toward. In addition to a university education, we will try to find jobs in which to place the older children. In some cases, who better to work on AFCECO projects than the grown orphans themselves? In all cases we will guide these children to learn how to stand on their own feet and also help their families. Usually, university students live either in hostels or rent houses. We are not inclined to drop our children on the side of the street and wish them well. Instead, we will guide them as they gradually wean themselves from us into their own productive lives. This means providing them with special houses while working or studying in university, giving them access to computer labs with Internet access, a good library, as well as to keep them together in mutual support. To sum up, AFCECO will stand behind the children as any family would do, and will remain in touch with them throughout their life and encourage them to be good modals of helping their own people Despite the domination of ultra conservative ideas, clearly it is hard to impose such ideas on a well-educated person who ensures a good life for a family. For instance, let’s consider a religious and conservative family that prefers its daughters to stay home, not appear in public, remain indoors and serve their fathers, brothers and husbands. But if that family has a daughter who is a doctor or a midwife respected by all people, who provides desperately needed services and earns good income, a father will not impose all those restrictions on his daughter because his interest above all is gaining some semblance of prosperity in a country where basic human needs are scarcely fulfilled. As for our orphan boys, one hour talking with them you will see how they will never require the women in their lives to be subservient to their selfish needs, nor will they every raise a hand against them. They will be examples to their peers wherever they go. They will work with women rather than against them, thereby strengthening their own volition. One way to swim against the tide in Afghanistan is to gain a strong enough position that nobody could stand against. We expect the majority of our children will acquire good reputations, be respected for their knowledge and attain jobs that will be valued by Afghans everywhere. Regardless of whether a boy or a girl, such an influential member of a family (a family that is very poor, uneducated and in some cases desperate to feel hope) can make a big difference in changing the culture of that family if not an entire village
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