" We wanted to serve the war-affected people. War-affected children need help the most."- Farooq Yaqoobi

Nargis Rahmat with war-hit Afghan kids at RCFC, Kolkata

The last four decades of chaos and warfare have had a devastating effect on Afghanistan. To help in post-war rehabilitation and reintegration, the Cultural and Empowerment Organization for Afghans (CEOA), was established in 2011. It is a develop-oriented, non-partisan, non-profit, body which has focused on its projects in various close and remote provinces of the country apart from Kabul, its capital. Its main activities are promoting human rights; gender mainstreaming and community access to justice; peace building and conflict mediation, training and capacity building; vocational training and income generation activities for both women and youth; education -both civic and basic literacy; agriculture and livestock programmes;  health improvement programmes;  supporting Afghan refugees and IDPs; support and help disabled and Afghan widows. Recently, a group of 18 children, seven girls and 11 boys, was brought by COEA to Kolkata. They were treated at Rehabilitation Centre for Children (RCFC) in Behala. Some of them underwent surgery. Abhijit Ganguly spoke to Farooq Yaqoobi, Director of CEOA about its mission and journey so far.

Farooq Yaqoobi, Director of CEOA 
What inspired you to start CEOA?

We wanted to serve the war-affected people. Four decades of war in Afghanistan have had a huge impact on our country. We are still highly backward and weak with more than 40% of unemployed people and more than 800,000 of those that are differently-abled. That is why we started CEOA to bring a change in the lives of the people and even if we can help 10 people, it will be a worthwhile effort. We want to alleviate the problems of women and help improve their socio-economic status both inside and outside Afghanistan.

What are the biggest challenges facing the war-torn children of Afghanistan?

Child and infant mortality is high, mostly due to preventable diseases. Routine immunization coverage is low, and there is a chronic shortage of accessible health facilities in rural areas. 54% of Afghan children are stunted and 40% are underweight due to a lack of essential micro nutrients, and limited understanding of caring practices such as breastfeeding. Poor school facilities and the long distance from homes to the nearest formal school result in girls’ primary school attendance of just 40%. Adult illiteracy is 71% with female illiteracy as high as 86%. Poverty and poor economic prospects contribute to up to 25% of primary school age children involved in some form of work.

How do you deal with the trauma of children who have seen the war?

War-affected children need help the most. Our organization tries to help these children and pave the way for them to study and we provide free of cost health service to these children.

Nargis Rahmat with war-hit Afghan kids at RCFC, Kolkata
What are the main issues affecting the Afghan women today? What steps have you taken to empower women?

Early marriage, affecting an estimated 40% of Afghan women, prevents access to education and increases risks to health. More than 50 women die every day from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth. These are linked to limited knowledge of maternal health issues and lack of obstetric care facilities for the community. More than 75% of the population does not have access to safe drinking water. This along with a limited understanding of basic hygiene practices, is a major cause of widespread diarrhea. In addition, illiteracy and lack of job opportunities exist. We have trained more than 350 women in vocational fields such as garment and food processing to enable them to come out of their homes and have a livelihood.

What is the status of Afghanistan’s healthcare infrastructure?

Afghanistan faces a significant challenge to create a functional medical system in a post-conflict setting (although Afghanistan may be considered an intra-conflict setting). A low-income country recovering from decades of strife, the health care system has been in disarray for many years. Rebuilding the health care system in Afghanistan is currently being undertaken by a number of groups, including the Afghan government, several non- governmental organizations (NGOs), and the US government. While some progress has been made, but still there are many things to be done, Developing nations have many challenges to the growth of medical systems. This development in Afghanistan is also complicated by many factors that plague post-conflict countries including an unstable political system, poor economy, poor baseline health indices, and on-going violence. Progress has been made in Afghanistan with the implementation of the Basic Package of Health Service (BPHS) by the Ministry of Public Health in an effort to provide healthcare that would have the most cost-effective impact on common health problems. Trauma and trauma-related disability were both identified as priorities under the BPHS, and efforts have begun to address these problems. Most of the emergency care delivered in Afghanistan is provided by the military sector and non-governmental organizations. Security, lack of infra-structure, economic hardship, difficult access to healthcare facilities, poor healthcare facility conditions, and lack of trained healthcare providers, especially women, are all problems that need to be addressed.

Farooq Yaqoobi
What role can education play in these times of conflict?

Education can play a crucial role in peace building processes (before, during or after conflict) and can help to prevent conflict and contribute to long-term peace. The provision of education during conflict stages can be referred as “emergency education”, which concerns basic child rights and ranges from addressing the psycho-social needs of children and adolescents to the protection of children from harm and the development of skills through education for peace. Education has also been presented as a developmental framework to help inculcate in children affected by war the ethos of a culture of peace.

What are your future plans?

Some of our future plans are provision of or expansion of vocational training to Afghan women, arrangement of out of country internship to female university graduates, treatment of war affected children, literacy training to females, vocational training to the differently-abled, drug prevention programmes, human rights campaigns, and women’s rights advocacy.

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