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Part I : FemAid's Continuing Actions 2003
FemAid 's report on the mission undertaken January 14-24th 2003

In brief: I went to check on the different projects we have been working with RAWA (the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) all over Pakistan, schools, orphanages and now a clinic for destitute Afghan refugees. And also the pupil sponsorship for the Pakistani school in Islamabad we support… Mainly zooming round the country in ramshackle buses and taxis held together with masking tape, I went to Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Peshawar, Quetta and the camps in the area. You know you’re on a Pakistani highway when the donkeys break into a canter…

In Part I: you will find a report on FemAid’s actions.
In Part 2: a rambling report on the complex local situation.

Now read on…


Femaid’s continuing actions

We have decided to concentrate specifically on the work undertaken by RAWA within Pakistan but also support financially when possible adult education within Afghanistan. I have been going to Pakistan every six months in order to understand the best way FemAid can advise its sponsors.
Once again, I can confirm that working with RAWA is definitely the best possible course. As usual, I was impressed by their dedication and efficiency and cannot express my admiration enough for them.

Our aim has always to work continuously on a small number of projects which we can sustain. Being a tiny organization, we had rather limit ourselves to what we can handle rather than spreading ourselves too thin.

Over a year ago, we had chosen to support three schools run by RAWA for Afghan refugees, two in Rawalpindi slums and the third in the refugee camp known as Jalozai II.
We have decided to go on paying the salaries of the teachers (details on thesite)
It is true that the teacher and student population tends to fluctuate as families attempt to go back to Afghanistan, but nevertheless, the need for schooling remains.

We are also supporting the Sitara orphanage in Peshawar, run by RAWA. We have just funded air conditioning which will be installed in March-April when temperatures start soaring, inside as well as outside.

The orphans in Peshawar were sent 150 boxes of carefully chosen clothes and toys by a particularly generous donor, Sadie Brinham from Cornwall. I went over to distribute them, after endless complications with the Karachi Customs which were sorted out by our great friend at DHL in Peshawar…

The children were blissfully happy, they had never seen anything like it. The Peshawar daily ‘The Nation’relayed the event.

We brought several boxes of medicines and medical equipment to the day-hospital in Quetta donated by doctors in France as well as clothes and toys from various donors. Naturally, the overweight on a aeroplane needs to be negotiated.We also brought donations collected by our friend Sacha in her New York high school, who runs

And we continue to sponsor three teenage pupils at the Hatoon-Fatima school in Islamabad, which looks after the children of the notorious ‘French Colony’slum.

And I am continuing to research and write about this situation in the context of my own anthropological research at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes (EHESS) in Paris.

A note on standards

I cannot stress enough that any humanitarian aid has to be adapted to the local situation. Standards of education, comfort, social behaviour even hygiene as we experience them in the West are simply not applicable in impoverished Asia where open sewers and malnutrition are the norm and wife-beating are perceived as entirely natural. Heterosexual men hold hands and express affection openly, but a man will never display the slightest show of feeling towards any woman, including his wife who will cover her face in public . The most passionate relationships occur between mothers and children, especially sons. Only by producing a male is a woman empowered and respected by her husband’s parents with whom she will live all her married life. On the other hand, Western couples are perceived as being cold and unloving towards their children and their own parents as they don’t usually
live with them.
Despite the popularity of Indian sentimental movies, filled with tear-jerking love stories, every marriage is arranged between people who often only meet on their wedding day. By our standards, the ensuing sexual relations can only be described as rape but this too is perceived as normal.
One man I interviewed in a refugee camp won’t let his teenage daughter go to the camp store to buy vegetables “because neighbours might tell that the vendor’s hand touched my daughter’s when giving her the change”. So meanwhile, the girl, covered in a burqa can only walk a couple of yards down the mud trek in front of their compound. And one is hardly surprised that in the poorest camps, girls are barefoot in winter as well whilst boys get outfitted with shoes. After all, they are the only ones to need them as will
have the freedom to run around and play whilst girls just work in the home.Sending shoes for girls is not the solution, helping educate them into some form of self-awareness through schooling that is truly relevant and accessible to them is. RAWA indeed reaches such children.
The fact that children in RAWA orphanage get fruit and meat once a week may appear shocking to us, but for them it’s an exceptional luxury reserved only to the well-off. In the presence of adults, they are quiet even as a group,which initially I found suspicious until I realized that standards of acceptable behaviour were so different. Indeed, our kids would appear brazen to Asian parents, especially amongst the poor as in rich families kids are indulged and can turn into brats as spoilt as our own.
These are some of the essential considerations- and there are many more.

New projects

The Malalai hospital in Quetta

We have decided to help the day hospital run by RAWA in Quetta (in far-away Baluchistan, next to the Afghan border). It is situated in a slum in an area called ‘Brewery’what they brew there apart from trouble remains a mystery -doubtless a name left over from the beer-swilling British Raj). It is not far from Sima Simar’s clinic, but unlike this clinic well supported by the US, RAWA’s clinic does not charge anything for consultation or medicines outside a ten rupee registration fee.
The clinic caters to women and children of the area and is open from nine am to one pm- there are three hospital beds and also a room where women can give birth, especially as there is a gynaecologist on the premises.
The queue runs all the way into the yard as women wait their turn to be seen by the doctor and then collect their medicines on the way out.
We would like to keep this clinic open in the afternoon and possibly at night, so we are looking to pay the fees of an extra team comprising a doctor, a gynaecologist, a nurse, a receptionist and a guard.
We have discussed the sending of material offered by our friends from the Catherine Collective in Toronto.

Training of midwives

We have launched an experimental project about training midwives.
Most births take place in the home with at best the help of an experienced woman, more often than not, just a neighbour or the eldest daughter. As one woman, cradling her baby, put it: “I could be dying and my husband in the next room, but he wouldn’t dream of coming in to help me” Because of the lack of the most basic hygiene, the infant and mother mortality rate in the Afghan population is amongst the highest in the world.So the idea is to find ten middle-aged women in the area who have had some experience in birthing and give them a three months training course three afternoons a week in the clinic. The doctor, Khaleda and the gynaecologist Hanifa are very enthusiastic about this. They know the local population and are trusted by them and will find the way to explain things to these illiterate women. Just as for other RAWA projects, namely the literacy classes, we hope that these women will then spread what they have learnt to others and that this will help to save babies and mothers.

Collecting women’s narratives

We are launching a project of collecting women’s narratives by a group of particularly gifted Afghan high-school students in a RAWA hostel who will be going into some of the camps to record stories. We hope to be able to publish a book- in local languages, Dari and Pashtun for circulation within Afghanistan.

Next time, Afghanistan I sincerely hope to be going to Afghanistan later on in the year. I am truly interested in checking out RAWA’s much-needed literacy classes which we continue to support.

For more details about RAWA, the camps and everything else, please look up the previous reports.

The future of Femaid Despite their continuing plight,the cause of Afghan women is no longer fashionable……Unfortunately,donations have not been flowing of late,so everything depends on your response. It’s up to you now…