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Ian Pounds with AFCECO Children

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Ian Pounds

In 2009, Ian Pounds spent five months living and working as a volunteer in Mehan Orphanage in Kabul. It is an experience which affected him deeply. Those of us who followed his weekly journal were moved, educated and inspired. We came away with a much richer understanding of the workings of the orphanages and the world of our sponsored children.

Now, Ian is back in Afghanistan, once again volunteering with AFCECO at the Kabul orphanages. He will continue his journal and we will feature his posts here on Hope for Afghan Children.

I hope you will join those of us who already make it a habit to sit down with a cup of tea or coffee each weekend while we read Ian’s latest installment.

The drama group performed a full 20 minute one-act version of a Greek tragedy…

Prometheus (Maria) tries to stop Pandora (Shogofa).

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Yesterday I had the top older boys in class, Omid, Dariush, Farid Gul and Ali. They took a quiz on proverbs from Kenya and the history of the Panama Canal. All four of them got 100% correct. There has been a shift in their attentiveness to their studies. The exam was not particularly easy. There were fifteen proverbs of which I gave the opening line in English that they had to finish from an extensive list of possible endings. For the history section a one-page essay had 15 words missing they had to fill in correctly. I have gotten their comprehension skills where I want them to be; now it is time to graduate them to composition. The degree to which these boys have developed cannot be underestimated. They are going to be a powerful force in their society, given they are male and they are worldly, astute, and respect women as their equal. Every time they arrive at class we clasp hands and hug one another. There is a sense of comradeship as if we are all survivors of a close call with forces of nature. When I go to the boys orphanage I am the same teacher that teaches the girls, but there is a facet to being in an all-boy realm that harkens me back to places woven into my spirit, of climbing trees, hunting, running, building, tackling, taunting and teasing. The strangeness comes with the fact that the boys in Sitara III are not youngsters any more. They are fourteen to seventeen year olds, and what flies in the face of all my experience is there is no preponderance of girl-craziness. In fact there is none at all. I do not know if this is good or bad, but it does seem to strengthen their ability to have and nurture relationships with anyone- girls, adults, children, based on something more than sheer impulse.

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If there is any indication at all that the girls (and the one boy, Sorab) did a great job in their debut of the Afghan version of Prometheus (Un)Bound (in Dari) it would have to be the fact that after seeing the show all the boys have asked to join drama. Maria was fabulous as the heroine (Prometheus for our purposes was a woman). She captured the character’s transitions from trickster to humanitarian to destroyed dreamer to wise fool and finally the defiant and prevailing peaceful warrior in the battle for freedom. Sahar played Zeus, and did a fine job as the overstuffed, overconfident king of the gods. The chorus played up their role well; with their masked faces outlined by black scarves wrapped about their heads they transfixed the audience that I am almost certain for the most part had not seen such a thing before. You could not tell if the ghostly chorus was made up of girls or boys, which was just right. Andeisha and Jamshid are convinced of the value inherent in teaching drama to the children. It is my dream to work the troupe we call “Raven Clan” (remember the T-shirts?) into some English language performances. What if they were to take their shows on the road? What if they were to perform in Europe and America?

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Ramadan begins.

I made my way to Mehan, even though it is a holiday. Several girls would be gone to practice Roza (fasting) with family members in Kabul. I arrived at the orphanage just as the house mother Nasifa set up a chair to begin cutting hair. The girls would be transformed into tomboys today. For the most part they were good sports. Only one, Gulalai from Nuristan was unhappy with her cut. She hid herself in the bathroom and wailed for thirty minutes. This ritual is a practicality for seventy girls who get to wash hair twice a week. After greeting everyone I proceeded to teach my three beginner classes. My heart was not quite into it. Students were missing and I didn’t want to get too far ahead of them. When lunch came around I sat with the majority of girls who were not fasting. Outside the walls of the orphanage, to go against the grain and not observe Roza takes a different kind of will. But in Mehan Ramadan and praying and fasting are integrated into life in such a way as to appreciate these practices without having them mandate the entire spirit of the orphanage. Some girls will fast for three days and that will be enough. Others don’t participate at all. A handful of four or five will do Roza for the full month. Last year I fasted for two days, no water or food between 4am and 7pm. I go back and read my journal entry and sense deliriousness between the lines. Ramadan affects this city with a surreal timelessness, like gauze in front of the camera lens. Everyone is praying to God with a little extra verve, and everyone is weary.

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I was invited to help celebrate Marwa’s 3rd birthday. She was born in the orphanage, and I have been a part of two of those birthdays. I am exhausted. Classes began this week, and we are preparing to perform for Afghanistan Independence day on August 19, including the drama and songs. I have no energy to write, so I offer you a glimpse of the party which lasted until midnight. I finally introduced the girls to the Beatles. Serious 1965 style dancing ensued. When it was finally over, the kids vacated one of their rooms for me. They were adorable, setting up a fan, leaving flowers on the pillow. They all came to say goodnight together. Flashes of my life for five moths last year came rushing back through my mind. I spent the night sleeping in an orphan’s bunk. The bed was short. I bumped my head on the upper bunk. I was in heaven, back in my Kabul home, Mehan.

Farzana stole the show on the dance floor

Khadija in her princess dress (Khadija is deaf, but dances beautifully!)

Another house parent's daughter

Dancing to


Dazzling Marwa

Negina arrives with the cake

Lema and Marwa and candles

Father (Yasin) and birthday girl

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