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Femaid report on Pakistan: May 2002
RAWA after 9/11

Since the events of 9/11 and especially the bombing of Afghanistan by Bush-led troops, it is evident that RAWA has become a financially more successful organisation. The response has been amazing.
And nowhere is it more visible than in the orphanages situated in the slums of Islamabad Rawalpindi, Peshawar and the Jalozai II refugee camp. Everywhere the conditions have improved. Bathrooms have been renewed and improved. Colourful sheets, carpeting even a few toys have made their appearance. Thanks to FemAid, there are TVs, washing machines and deep freezers (I can see the point having spent 10 days in the most sweltering heat- average 45°C). Summer courses are planned, picnics take place, cars come and fetch children in the more remote slums to take them to school. RAWA has decided to equip each structure with tables and chairs for meals : before they used to eat on the floor, in the traditional manner. With typical anthropological caution, I wonder aloud about acculturation, Western cultural colonization etc. I ask the children who answer they love it, because “it feels like a restaurant”, “you can talk to someone across the table” and somehow “there’s more to eat”. Perhaps the food does n’t seem as remote as when it’s in the middle of a room. In the new Sitara orphanage FemAid specifically looks after, the caretakers talk about the problems they’ve had when the children arrive from refugee camps ; “ They fought relentlessly over each dish, never stopped eating and used to steal food continuously, I was forever finding bread and sugar under the mattress”, remembers good natured Hedayat who acts as mother to 50 children. The children will be traumatised for a long time, so much is sure. But the time they spend in these RAWA structures will doubtless make a lasting difference.

FemAid in Pakistan helping Afghan children

On the behalf on FemAid, with the advice of Neda, RAWA’s head of the education department, we had decided to purchase learning aids and equipment for schools and orphanages I had brought from France a number of teaching aids- geometrical instruments, school equipments (mainly donated by the Totness group in UK and a primary school near Bordeaux in France). In Islamabad, we also bought books, blackboards (white boards really) and sixty full size educational posters.

For the orphanages, we had devised and financed a weekly ice-cream and a monthly birthday party, both of which will continue. But I had n’t realised at the time that many of these children didn’t know when they were born nor did their families as most are born at “home”, (more often than not a tent or a hovel), so the birthday parties are somewhat tentative. So we tried something else : for each orphanage, I bought a large cake or a couple of kilos of petits fours and several kilos of fruit- both of which are incredible luxuries- and all manner of balloons, candles and decorations. And we decided that we were celebrating everybody’s birthday. The youngest child everywhere was chosen to blow out the candles and we made a chain whereby each child said ‘Happy Birthday’to the next in Dari or Pashtu, having sung some version of ‘Happy Birthday’in English all together.
Admittedly this kind of humanitarian aid may sound diminutive, but it does make all the difference to the children concerned, especially as it is part of a wider action

And now a few details about the projects we specifically support

Schools

We support the following schools : Hewat I, Mariam and the girls’school at the refugee camp known as Jalozai II (no relation to the notorious one of the same name). With the donations you have been sending, we pay teachers’salaries (on a all year basis), children’s books, exercise books and running costs.
May is a period of school exams which take place in the morning, children leave afterwards. So our visit couldn’t interrupt exams and we could only come after the children had left. The directors expressed their thanks to all donators who individually and collectively had contributed to their survival as a school. The salaries of the teachers help whole families to survive.
One new project we would like to sponsor is an English course for the English teachers, as their level is, to say the least variable, and not always wonderful. This will take place in August when RAWA is sure about who will be working in the schools.
Amongst the novelties, is the uniform that RAWA is trying to promote- black and white in some (as in Afghanistan) or blue, similar to Pakistani schools. The aim is not the same as in the West, it’s a way of giving additional importance to the short time they spend in school (on average 4 hours a day, double shifts), a way of differentiating it from other times of the day, more often than not spent rag-picking and working in the street or at the market.

Linking up with individual teachers

A number of FemAid supporters have asked if it is possible to correspond with individual teachers. After long discussions with RAWA, we have come to the conclusion that this is not feasible. Apart from obvious communication problems, the teaching population is fluctuating : for instance Rubina a very young English teacher whom one group of FemAid supporters helped in the US, has been forbidden to go and teach English by an émigré fundamentalist uncle living in Australia (!) who has promised the family money if the poor girl stays at home- which is what she will be doing. And there is no way out of this kind of situation. The bottom line is that helping one person leads to jealousy and problems within the group and we have chosen to help collectively instead. Some other larger organisations sponsor individuals, but we are not equipped to do so. Which is why I have to say the same to those of you who wanted to sponsor individual girls (the only exception being the help to the Christian Pakistani school of Hatoon-e-Fatima, not a RAWA project, which we describe in the website and is organised that way).

The Sitara (which means Star) orphanage

This is a new project which we have started to sponsor recently. Situated at the north of Peshawar, in a typical slum- a far cry from the majestic crumbling beauty of the old city, the surprisingly spacious house is in a cramped street in something of a residential area. There are seven rooms which house some 50 children aged between 6 and 12 ; 30 boys to 20 girls. RAWA’s orphanages receive children who have lost at least one parent (here ten have actually lost both), or whose parents for reasons of sickness and/or extreme poverty are unable to care for them. There is one child here who narrowly escaped being sold- unlike his unfortunate elder sister whose present whereabouts are now unknown . Another two were brought here after their widowed mother would chain them all day when she went out to work. They still bear the marks of their shackles on their wrists. Parents prefer to ensure safety for their sons than their daughters ; apart from their inferior status as girls, they might bring in money through marriage : according to Muslim law (unlike India where brides have to bring in an ample dowry), the husband has to pay the parents a kind of compensation for removing their work force and transferring her potential fertility to his clan (as if purchasing a heifer) . (For instance, at the Jalozai II camp where RAWA plays an active role, I met a family where the man had paid 30 000rs, an absolute fortune, to marry a second wife from Rawalpindi ; the reason for this was that he thought his wife of 15 years- married at age 10- was barren. It turns out that wife n°2 couldn’t have children either and that he, in fact, is sterile. A most reactionary Pashtun, he enforces burqa on both and thrashes them regularly…).