Andeisha Farid and the Orphaned Children of Afghanistan

I met "Orphans Hero" Andeisha Farid this fall when she was in town as part of Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Women Program.

Then I saw her on Brian Williams' brilliant portrayal, in his Making A Difference segment of the NBC Nightly News (video). See also my post (here).

Andeisha founded the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization (AFCECO) in Kabul, Afghanistan, supported by CharityHelp International (CHI).

Last week I spoke to Andeisha via Skype to see how her life had changed. 2009-12-22-Andeisha_Farid_Orphaned_Children_Afghanistan_4.0_A.jpg Brian Williams received individualized cards from each of the children in Kabul.

"The experience of meeting Brian Williams and being covered by NBC was amazing! We are obviously very preoccupied now in dealing with the enormous response. What a wonderful reason to have to work hard!," she joked.

The Making A Difference segment had generated more than 250 new child sponsors through CharityHelp.

I know what Andeisha is talking about. I founded and run a network of orphanages around the world - Orphans International Worldwide (OIWW).

It is not easy to recruit new sponsors, so it is incredible to me how Brian's attention has changed her organization substantially.

2009-12-22-Andeisha_Farid_Orphaned_Children_Afghanistan_4.0_C.jpg Kabul: Children of the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization.

Afghanistan has been at war continuously for almost three decades. These conflicts have left behind complete turmoil: millions of deaths, destruction of entire landscapes, collapse of the country's infrastructure.

The bulk of this endless tragedy was borne by the children and women who are the most vulnerable segment of any society, and therefore the prime victims of calamity.

The children have suffered the horrors of kidnapping and child trafficking, sexual abuse, and child labor - appalling humiliation and degradation. Plus starvation, early deaths.

UNICEF and other reliable sources provide heart-wrenching statistics estimating the wretched conditions of the Afghan children. I interviewed the director of UNICEF in the last few weeks (here).

The UNICEF stats are frightening: 60% of children have lost at least one member of their immediate family, or close relatives; 35% of children have lost one of their parents.

Over 600,000 children sleep on the streets, homeless. For every 50,000 there is one doctor. Of the 200,000 disabled people, 50% are children. I can hardly bear to list the statistics, let alone contemplate them.

AFCECO is trying creative solutions to the legacies of war. AFCECO struggles for peace, democracy, freedom, and children's rights in a nation that is continuously challenged by international terrorism and the drug mafia.

This requires greatest attention to the children, who are indeed the largest number of victims of this ongoing tragedy in Afghanistan.

2009-12-22-Andeisha_Farid_Orphaned_Children_Afghanistan_4.0_D.jpg The children enter the orphanage in a state of disbelief that soon turns to wonder.

The Child Sponsorship Program is the first step in any solution. CharityHelp teamed with AFCECO to launch this project in the late 2004. Nearly 300 children have now been sponsored through this program by people from around the world.

One of the criteria for selecting the children and taking them to the orphanage is their economic and social status. Thus, most of them are orphans, victims of child labor, and street children forced to beg.

They have been exposed to very hostile and painful environments, polluted by drug mafia, armed gangs and religious extremism. Today's culture in Afghanistan is strongly dominated by the decaying medieval ideology of Islamic fundamentalism, most effective with children.

The children enter the orphanage in a state of disbelief that soon turns to wonder. Their new home is worlds' apart from their prior lives -where they can sleep and eat without fear, they can smile and have fun.

The orphanage is a safe haven where they can begin a new life based on peace, love and respect. It takes getting used to.

AFCECO established these orphanages to provide not only food, shelter, clothing, and education to suffering children but to help them grow into productive members of a civic society.

AFCECO's goal is to raise a generation of Afghan citizens who will help their war-ravaged nation. The framework of the orphanage environment is a life of peace, love, tolerance, harmony, and service.

The basic tenet is respect for others regardless of gender, language, religion, race, or color. The children are taught to live out these values daily.

Every effort is made for the children to acquire these basic human rights principles. The family, cook, and other adults living with the children in the orphanage are strictly prohibited from using any violence. All are treated with love and care. It takes getting used to.

The AFCECO educational policy provides the orphanage administration with a basic code of human rights principles.

Each orphanage is managed by a husband-and-wife team who live inside the orphanage with the children. This couple act as surrogate parents,guiding the children through their daily lives.

2009-12-22-Andeisha_Farid_Orphaned_Children_Afghanistan_4.0_F.jpg Lunchtime varies, but everyone eats dinner together.

All of AFCECO's orphanages follow the same basic routine:

Breakfast. The children start their day at 7:00 am, making all the preparations for school. After brushing their teeth and washing their faces, they all gather in the dining hall for breakfast: a cup of milk with a nan (Afghan special brown bread), and sometimes boiled egg.

Going to School. All children attend a school administered by AFCECO. They are divided into two groups on the basis of their classes; The morning group starts at 8.00 am and finishes at 12:30. The afternoon group starts at 1:00 pm and goes till 5:30.

Unlike other Afghani schools, AFCECO schools do not follow restrictive fundamentalist doctrine. All the school teachers are well-versed in AFCECO's educational policies and they believe in and teach true democratic values and freedoms.

Doing Homework. The children gather in their study room daily to finish their class work. They are encouraged to help each other. If need be, they can get help from the administrator, who is available in the orphanage the whole day.

The study room is fully equipped with all necessary school items to make sure the children can complete their homework.

Lunch & Dinner. Lunchtime varies, based on the children's school grouping; but everyone eats dinner together.

A proper and balanced food menu has been prepared by the coordinator who has met the nutritional requirements of the children.

At dinner, the children eat a light meal filled with vegetables. Meat, beans and rice are included in the lunch menu.

As well as the routine meals, fruits are also part of the food program. The children eat a variety of seasonal fruits, available at the local market.

Extra Classes/Training Courses. In addition to their school program, children take extra classes in the evening on the English language and computers.

They also attend training courses at the orphanage. Girls take tailoring and boys take carpentry.

These extra classes and training courses are equally vital to the school program, since the main objective is to empower these children with life-skills that will help their future earning power.

Physical Exercise. Physical activities like badminton, table tennis, football are part of the daily program.

For safety reasons, girls exercise on the small lawn of their orphanage. Boys go outside to play football and cricket. These sports are fun as well as healthy.

Watching TV. The children also have TV time in the evening. The children can watch a few closely monitored cable channels such as cartoons, sports, National Geography, Discovery, Animal World. Violence and terrorist propaganda are forbidden.

2009-12-22-Andeisha_Farid_Orphaned_Children_Afghanistan_4.0_E.jpg The children in Andeisha Farid's care exercise every day in Kabul..

AFCECO has a large movie collection from around the world, especially for children. They have 'movie nights' during the weekend.

Like any parent, AFCECO wants to limit the children's exposure to sexually explicit and violent media. In today's era of instant communication, they know that television, movies, and the internet permeate our daily lives. These messages have a profound effect on people's behavior, especially the children.

AFCECO is diligent in monitoring the media consumption of the children in their care. AFCECO uses multi-media to engage children's intelligence, talents, and capabilities rather than inure them to violence and sex.

Edited by Ethel Grodzins Romm.