10 Years of AFCECO
Ten years ago Andeisha Farid opened her orphanage serving Afghan children of war. She employed widows of war to help in raising the children. It was a first step in devoting her life to what she saw as the only path toward peace and prosperity for her war-torn country: giving the children, girls equal to boys, a future. She felt these innocent victims of war had become invisible to the world. "What if," she asked, "I could help them become visible?" To empower one life means to empower one family, and if a family, a village, and if so, perhaps even a country.
Parwarishga does not mean "orphanage", it means "foster haven"; a place where humanity is united for peace; a place where Tajik lives with Pashtun with Hazara with Nooristani, and Pashaee and Uzbek, where children of war come together in a sanctuary, a place of true democracy. Democracy means everyone is cared for, everyone has equal opportunity to basic human rights, and human rights include the right to health and the right to good education.
In these ten years, thanks to Andeisha’s openness to collaboration with a wide variety of benefactors both foreign and local, a sponsorship program, grants, volunteers and organizations assisted AFCECO in growing from one foster haven to twelve, serving more than 700 children, a little over half of them girls. We went from teaching while sitting on a bare floor without even a blackboard to having an entire learning center with classrooms, desks, computers and Internet. We went from having only birthday parties to having public art parties with drama, dance and music, from a mere shuffleboard and television to having a full athletic program including a small gym, a girls’ soccer team, boxing, karate, and gymnastics.
From having no extracurricular programs to a fine arts workshop and a full music program where children now sell their drawings and paintings to the public and our musicians have performed on the biggest stage in the world: Carnegie Hall and Kennedy Center. We have moved from having only picnics up in the hills to sending children to Italy annually and two groups of students touring America, one putting 10,000 miles on what they called their "magic freedom bus", crisscrossing the country. We have gone from having to drive children to the hospital for even small problems to our own health clinic and education program. Finally, a little Afghan NGO has been the subject of positive interest on major news networks in Kabul, Europe and America, including NBC, BBC and CNN.
How, you may ask, could such a little NGO have such hope and success amidst ongoing, seeming endless war? It is, in the end, the children themselves. AFCECO’s vision was not to raise dependents, but "doers". The children participate in running their own parwarishga, they are given the tools to become leaders and believers, dedicated to helping their people and their country. Today, our first generation of boys and girls raised in the parwarishga are now attending university in Kabul. Almost half of the staffing of AFCECO is now made up of graduates who teach, do maintenance, payroll, communications with public, outreach and other duties. Who better to self-perpetuate the raising of a generation of professionals and leaders?
"Today AFCECO is weathering difficulties in terms of pressure from extreme elements that are for some reason threatened by what we do. Our answer to them is, "You will not find more dedicated citizens, determined to bring peace and prosperity to their people, believing in one Afghanistan made up not of factions and tribes and racial divisions, but all one, all Afghan."
One out of every three refugees in the world are Afghan. There has been an exodus for three decades. Upon arrival in Afghanistan many of the large NGOs hired people from Pakistan and other countries because they could not find qualified Afghan workers. Democracy and peace must spring from within, and in a country where half the population is under 18 years of age it is the children that will facilitate the transition. AFCECO is not imposing ideology, nor discouraging understanding and pride in good Afghan traditions and culture. We simply give children community where community was destroyed, love and security, and skills in working together as much as toward individual achievement.
Football team of AFCECO.
On May 23rd the children celebrated our ten-year anniversary with a public presentation at New Hope Orphanage in Kabul. They honored Nazifa Rahimi, the house parent of one of our oldest parwarishgas, as Best Mother. They also honored Dr. Naseer Sarmast, founding director of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music and so helpful in giving dozens of our children a professional music program, as Best Friend. The children also gave awards for academic excellence. Over 300 guests attended, including ambassadors, members of parliament, and many of our supporters in Kabul over the years. Andeisha addressed the crowd, reviewing our history, and the children sang one of their anthems, My Parwarishga. Two of our children also shared their life story and another a poem, Farzana from Yakawlang and Farzana Noori respectively.
AFCECO wishes to thank all the individuals and organizations at home and around the world that have stood by us these ten years. We look forward, against whatever winds are blowing, to standing by our children and their integrity. We are pushing through harder times, and we need all support possible to keep our achievements from fading. Once you visit our parwarishga, you will understand how against all odds these children are happy, hopeful, ambitious and driven to experience, and why they would easily walk into the fire, stand against evil, protected only by the truth, if for their people it is the only way to bring them one step closer to equality, liberation from poverty, and peace.
AFCECO wishes to thank all the individuals and organizations at home and around the world that have stood by us these ten years.