Aziza is separated from her abusive husband, but she managed to earn a good living working as an aviation officer at Afghanistan’s Kabul airport, supporting herself and her two young daughters.
All that changed with the resurgence of the Taliban in August last year. Like many women in responsible jobs, she was stripped of her position and now has no income.
Fatima works at Kabul University as a cleaner. Her son and husband were killed by the Taliban, and she is trying to raise and house her other five children, with all that entails. When the Taliban came to power, they decreed no government worker could receive a salary. She has
descended into poverty.
We are also looking to help one primary school in Kabul which they have identified, with items such as pencils, books and paper, all of which are in very short supply.”
Zeba’s husband was killed in the Afghan wars four years ago. She has young daughters, and is jobless, apart from washing other people’s clothes to make a little money. Her life has become one long struggle.
These are just a few pen portraits of women who have been forced into poverty and near starvation by their sudden change of fortune under the crushing reforms of the newly resurgent Taliban. It’s a regime which has largely removed the rights of women to earn a living or even to go out alone in the streets.
While the situation in Ukraine continues to dominate the news headlines and many of the humanitarian efforts of Rotary across the country, the desperation of ordinary people in Afghanistan since the return to power of the Taliban has not gone away.
And the crisis in this beleaguered corner of the world has prompted a northeast England Rotary club to reach out to help families affected by food shortages and financial deprivation.
One of the members of Blyth Rotary, Aziz Shah, has family he supports in Kabul – five sisters, a brother and his mother still live there. He came from Afghanistan to the UK in 1998 and lives with his wife and two daughters in this coastal town near Newcastle upon Tyne, a far cry from the bustle and oppression of his home country.
Aziz said: “Since the Taliban came to power again there are many ordinary families who are starving.
“So much has changed for the worse and it’s spiraling down all the time. Women have no rights – it’s like going back to the Stone Age.
“And if it’s bad in Kabul, it is much worse in other more rural parts of the country.”
Aziz brought the issues to his Rotary colleagues, who responded in typical generous manner.
International chair for Blyth Rotary, Jim Schofield, said that Blyth Rotarians personally supported an appeal for help and immediately donated £1,800.
The money was sent via Aziz to his family, who have distributed it to local families in need – including Aziza, Fatima and Zeba (whose names have been changed to protect them).
Aziz said: “My family in Kabul was very happy to help distribute the fantastic amount that Blyth Rotary raised in such a short time, and it made a big difference to them. But it all must be kept very quiet, so that the Taliban don’t find out and take reprisals.”
That initial contribution provided for a one-off payment to around 14 families. But plans are in place to try and put in place something more sustainable.
Jim said: “We tried to contact the Rotary Club of Kabul, but after one email, contact was lost and communication with Rotary International regarding their status was inconclusive.
“So we decided we are going it alone and, through Aziz’s very obliging family, will help a small number of families on a monthly basis by sending a small allowance.
“We are also looking to help one primary school in Kabul which they have identified, with items such as pencils, books and paper, all of which are in very short supply.”
Jim said all this had to be done without drawing attention.
While the spotlight is still rightly on the Ukraine and the terrible humanitarian crisis the Russian invasion has triggered, the situation in Afghanistan cannot be forgotten.”
“No great amounts of cash will change hands. So small amounts of goods, food and other items will be bought and passed on. We’re aiming for the equivalent of £100 a month, which will buy a great deal in Kabul.”
Blyth is already raising more money. The club has pledged £1,200 and fundraising activities have already started – collections at various events, a car rally, a sponsored walk, an Afghan night at a local pub, a charity run, a coffee morning.
The aim is to have one fund-raising event each month to sustain the monthly donations to the families and school in Kabul.
While the spotlight is still rightly on the Ukraine and the terrible humanitarian crisis the Russian invasion has triggered, the situation in Afghanistan cannot be forgotten.
And in this typically generous part of the country, there is one Rotary club which is doing its very best in its own way to make sure that doesn’t happen.