I was 8 years old when the 20-year conflict started in Afghanistan. I still remember those days in 2001 when I had to wear a turban as part of my school uniform. I couldn’t get it to sit properly. It would fall off my head so I had to constantly adjust it. At the time, we focused mostly on religious studies at school. Then at night my study would be interrupted by rockets and bombs hitting our neighbourhood. My parents and I crowded into the hallway of our house as the walls shook. Just imagine an 8-year-old child on the floor, praying the conflict wouldn’t reach his house. It was terrifying.
Since then, millions of Afghans have become displaced. We survived those nights, but life was still extremely tough. My father was an educated man but he lost his job so he resorted to selling potatoes in the market so we could survive. I remember my friend and I once sat in a park near our house, talking about our dreams for a better future as fighting raged around the country.
Now 20 years on, people are still fleeing… but for different reasons. It’s still hard to believe the horrific scenes of thousands of people gathered at the gates of Kabul airport, desperate mothers passing their babies over barbed wire fences to strangers. The people running alongside aircraft on the runway as they begged to not be left behind. Then there was the deadly explosion. It’s enough to break anyone’s heart because every child deserves peace and safety.
I rarely see women on the streets these days. When I do, they aren’t alone or wearing jeans like they used to – at least that is how it is in Kabul. Travelling throughout the city can be scary at night because from a distance you can’t tell if the armed men stopping vehicles are just doing ID checks or if they are bandits posing as police.
Many people have already fled the country or are frantically applying for visas to leave. Parents now face the question of what’ll happen to their children, especially their daughters. Some fathers say there’s no way they can let their girls go to school now.
Online, most professionals are removing or hiding their social media accounts, along with information about their work and personal lives. When someone erases all traces of the achievements that they’re proud of and have worked so hard for, it’s almost as if their success had never happened.
What does the future hold and will our children be safe? These are the questions that we can’t answer right now.
Getting out of Afghanistan is now extremely difficult – probably impossible for most – but staying is also not easy. I want to live a full life. I also want to live in peace, without fear. Like any young person, I want to pursue all my dreams. I was beginning to. I still want to inspire children and youth around me to do the same, yet I’m also committed to my humanitarian job and the people of Afghanistan. So I decided to stay.
I even had the opportunity to seek asylum in Europe four years ago. Nevertheless, I decided not to take it. I decided to come back and continued my work in Afghanistan I love my country and my people. This is where I feel I need to be. Many Afghans have it harder than I do and I want to help them in any way I can. That’ll require some heavy personal sacrifices.
All around me I see humanitarian needs growing. Many Afghan people have lost income and jobs since the pandemic struck. In the last few weeks this has only worsened. People can’t access their money and food prices have risen exponentially.
Afghanistan may be one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a child. Millions of children in Afghanistan know nothing beyond conflict, instability, displacement and poverty. Young people are still dreaming and waiting for a better future, just as I did 20 years ago and still do now. But I strongly believe that hope isn’t lost.
Millions of families are in their greatest time of need. Although I know the people of Afghanistan are resilient and we will stand by them.
To find out more about World Vision’s work in Afghanistan or donate, visit https://www.wvi.org/emergencies/afghanistan
*Author’s name has been removed.