The Winter Duvet Project

January 12, 2014

 

The Afghan Peace Volunteers distribute winter duvets, Dec 2013 to March 2014

Two winters ago in Kabul, Afghanistan, the New York Times reported the deaths of at least 22 children in refugee Camps in Kabul : Driven Away by a War, Now Stalked by Winter’s Cold

After 13 years of U.S./NATO intervention in Afghanistan, and US$1.172 trillion dollars spent on the Afghan war from 2001 to October of 2012, the basic needs of ordinary Afghans constantly caught in the crossfire are still poorly met.

In the following winter of 2013, the Afghan Peace Volunteers ( APVs ) organized the making and distribution of duvets to poor families in Kabul, including those in refugee camps. Thanks to international peace-builders who had raised funds from among ordinary Americans, the APVs were able to distribute more than 2000 duvets that year. The Afghan ladies who sewed the duvets were paid a living wage per duvet, which helped to supplement their families’ income.

Through the generous and kind help of ordinary people, the Afghan Peace Volunteers worked with Voices of Creative Nonviolence U.S. and UK in this winter duvet project of 2013/2014.

60 Afghan seamstresses were paid wages for sewing a total of 3000 duvets, which were then delivered for free to poor families in Kabul, including to the street kids in the APV street kid program, widows, the visually impaired and the disabled.

The Afghan Peace Volunteers say ‘thank you!’ to each and every person from all over the world who helped the people, saying, “By helping Afghans when governments wage wars and pay no attention to the people, you helped build a better world!”

 

2014 Afghan Duvet Project

 

Are you able to carry the duvets, Rohullah?

 

buying and bringing in the bales of synthetic wool

the green synthetic wool in the duvets

 

weighing the wool and the covers, December 2013

 

the covers

 the thread

 a few of the 60 seamstresses who sewed the duvets getting material

more seamstresses collect the necessary material

completed duvets

 loading the duvets

the duvets loaded on the truck for delivery and distribution to poor families

  

an Afghan lady receives duvets, Jan 2014

 

ladies receive duvets

people helping people

Afghan women deserve our encouragemen

the disabled receiving duvet

disabled women and children

 wheelchair bound receiving duvets

 disabled men at our duvet distribution

 

 Mahdi, who is in our street kid program, under the duvets

 

 Mahdi with his duvets 

 

 Is Rohullah able to carry his duvets?

 

2015 Afghan Duvet Project

000a sonia with duvets

Sonia, coordinator of duvet project 2015

Aim : To make and distribute for free 3000 duvets to about 1500 poor families in Kabul. The 60 seamstresses who sew the duvets get paid for each duvet they sew. 5 other seamstresses are paid to sew the duvet covers.

The duvet project team this winter comprises nine female Afghan Peace Volunteers : Sonia, Marzia, Zainab, Fereshta, Omulbanin, Mina, Sahar, Arzu, Shayma.

Zekerullah, Faiz and Abdulhai are among the male volunteers who lend a hand when needed.

The 2015 Afghan Duvet Project team has been busy with the initial preparation since the 16th of October 2014.

Initial Preparation

  1. Selecting 60 seamstresses after a visit to their homes to survey their family needs. 20 seamstresses from each of three ethnic groups, the Pashtuns, Hazaras and the Tajiks have been selected.
  2. Selecting five other seamstresses to sew the duvet covers.
  3. Renting a garage room to store the duvet material
  4. Purchasing the duvet material : synthetic wool, cloth for duvet covers, thread, needle. The synthetic wool is the bulkiest item, with each bale of purchased wool weighing about 49 kilograms! Rented trucks transport the material to the garage storage room from where the seamstresses collect the material for sewing

Work cycle

Each work cycle lasts one week, during which the following happens one after the other or simultaneously.

  1. Purchasing the duvet material ( synthetic wool, duvet covers, needle and thread ) and transporting it to the garage storage room
  2. Distribution of duvet material to 30 seamstresses
  3. Receipt of sewn duvets from seamstresses
  4. Survey of families to whom duvets will be distributed
  5. Distribution of duvets to families

Below are the photos from the 2015 Afghan Duvet Project, which will be updated through winter.

001 wool cover thread

Storing the bales of wool, the duvet covers and other material in the garage storage room

002 wool syntheticsynthetic wool

003 needles

needles

004 thread

thread

005 checking lists

check lists 

006 contacting seanstresses

contacting the seamstresses

007 distributing material at garage

duvet covers for seamstresses

008 duvet covers for seamstresses

distributing material at garage

009 seamstress 2

one of the seamstresses

010 seamstress

another seamstress

011 seamstress waiting for material

012 seamstresses collect material

seamstress waiting to get material

013 weighing the wool and cover

weighing the wool and cover

014 weighing material

weighing the material needed for each duvet

015 seamstress returns with duvets

seamstress returns with sewn duvets

016 duvets

the duvets

017 locking the garage storage room

locking the garage storage room

018 loading truck

loading a truck

019 loaded truck

loaded truck

020 on the truck

on the road

 

01 wheelbarrow brigade

The wheelbarrow workers

02 we'll keep quiet

We’ll wait for the duvets

 03 lining the streets

Early queue in the alley

04 Ramazon in 2013

Ramazon under the Red Bridge in 2013, when he was in good health, and a representative of the workers

See video from 2013 : We are all Afghan labourers

05 ramazon bandagedRamazon at our recent duvet distribution

For us, we were distributing duvets to a few, of thousands.

For the labourers, at two separate, teeming, modern ‘slave markets’,

it was another wait,

like their daily wait to be ‘indentured’.

“I was waiting on Red Bridge.

I used to lead about 40 Red Bridge labourers in 2004,

to ensure they took their turns.”

This is the global poverty trade,

in spite of which the workers still keep their dignity.

“A car hit me.

My back snapped.

Doctors said my leg was not broken, just dislocated.

Yes, I’m sorry I limp. I walk slowly now,” Ramazon attempts a smile.

Today, no thanks to

14 years of booming business by the

U.S./NATO/Afghan and Taliban industry,

there are more than 300 labourers every freezing winter morning,

at just ONE bridge.

Ramazon is no longer able to be their representative,

they get picked up only once or twice a week,

while the President and CEO of an Afghan narco-state fight over which of

their cronies get which Ministries in the Cabinet,

how much foreign money,

to divide along their elite waistlines,

while Obama stated without his trademark ‘make no mistake’

how the U.S. helped Afghans “complete the first

democratic transfer of power in their country’s history.”

“I’ve lost a lot of weight? Yes,”

Ramazon looked at me,

as if I was his favourite nephew.
Can I get one too?

08 has my name been called

outside the door where the duvets were distributed

09 waste flows out into the street

Waste water flowing from a pipe into the alley

09a squatting

Squatting in the crowd

09a we'll wait too

patience

 That ‘look’ kept looking at me, their pollution-stung eyes

saying more than I could hear,

“If you people mean what you say,

we won’t say a word,

you have our names,

and our father’s names…

‘God forgive them in their deaths’…

we’ll wait.”

“Two warm Afghan duvets

for our families of sixes and sevens.

Our children collect plastic,

our wives burn whatever.”

They look from everywhere towards us,

“Do you understand?”

A desperate uncle says “My name is on the list!”

It’s really not,

but,

his dust-caked sons, and quiet daughters, and wife

are cold in his slum-home.

“You would believe me if you saw my family here!”

They would be looking too.

 10 we'll wait

Some ladies came in their  husband’s place

11 waiting mother

a mother with her daughter

 

How do I sit, stand in front of them?

What graphs of militarized economic growth dare I show?

The foreign-petrol driven Toyota that had

emaciated Ramazon’s body and spirit

seemed rude and useless

before the wheelbarrows

that carried flour, oil, wood, soap,

air fresheners, anything you say sir!

Oranges in 14 kilo bags,

all to someone else’s house,

and one huge kilo of sugar tucked in at the wheelbarrow’s side!

“Only two kilometers away?”

Under their neck scarves

and through their soot-stained perspiration,

“That’s what they all say.

They don’t mean what they say.”

.06 like refugees

They seemed like refugees in their own land, as in Palestine

08a facing the crowd

many requests

12 finallyFinally!

 

For a ‘how-could-this-be’ moment,

from the duvet truck,

I thought they looked like Palestinian refugees,

filling the narrow alley,

appearing from nowhere,

fleeing for help,

or so they heard,

amidst Helmand news of two dozen killed at yet another wedding.

In Kabul ‘civili-zation’ turned into a ‘militari-zation’,

a son of a commander fought fatally with

a son of a Member of Parliament,

“But, maybe it’s true someone is distributing blankets,

Never mind our chance for work this week,

we’ll go, and wait,

maybe Fereshta, and Ali, will be warm tonight

maybe…oh! Look at the crowd!”

Our volunteer, Ghulam, on the way to a distribution point,

spoke reassuringly on his phone,

“The suicide bombing was at another bridge, mom!”

On arrival, my new inner eye no longer saw

the young peace volunteers as naïve do-gooders,

they were postured to face a war

worse than bullets, and bombs.

Ramazon, thin framed, bandaged foot,

looked like he was near his end.

 12a Mina lets a labourer through the door

Mina makes way for a labourer to come through the door

13 ancient lady

Mina leads the old lady to the duvets

 14 ancient prayers

“I have no one.”

Mina breathed in deeply before opening the door,

to read off the list of prepared names,

cringing each time a hopeful labourer offered the wrong ‘father’s name’.

She cringed again

when the area representative, in a non-labourer coat,

sauntered in importantly and said,

“I’m not opposing your good work,

but, you should have informed me!”

The labourers outside breathed deeply.

Mina breathed imperceptibly, replied as if she had done this for decades.

She continued reading, keeping her voice steady,

noticing the stares from the street,

this time not at her gender,

but beyond her to the synthetic wool covers.

She had already spotted an ancient, trembling lady at the door,

with a walking stick,

thank goodness there were absentees,

Mina took the lady’s free hand towards the duvets.

She was too weak to shoulder even one four-kilo duvet.

She sat down, raised her hands to ‘heaven’,

where an American aerostat, a Gorgon eye,

was spying on her insurgency,

and she shivered, her cataract eyes accompanying

her panting words, “I have no one.”

 20 Ramazon is grateful

Grateful Ramazon 

21 Ramazon leaves

 Ramazon limps on his bandaged foot

As Ramazon collected his duvets,

he cupped his palms with gratitude,

I force myself

to look fully at him,

at our system of wages,

so that

I can turn my emptiness

away from helplessness

into a simpler lifestyle,

or,

just so

I can imagine standing with the workers

bearing the weight of economic battle,

and cursing it with

every two duvets.

I wanted to hear them fully,

to appreciate their ‘look’ at the ruling class,

“Tremble like us, at sharing among humans!

You’re fouling up big time,

you’re the ones no one is waiting for,

driving the fancy car,

straight at Ramazon.

 15 my name next

My name will be called next

16 I'm waitingI’m here

17 looking from everywhere

The look from everywhere

19 looking corners

Just two Afghan duvets

 

 

 2016 Afghan Duvet Project

DSC00450

Bearing quilted bed covers, Afghans walk through the cemetery to their mountainside homes.

1st Jan 2016

By Carolyn Coe

They have descended from homes built on the mountainside. Women sit together in the cemetery not to mourn but to wait for the duvet distribution to begin. When I approach them, each woman extends a hand in greeting. Some have the needed small stamped pieces of paper to receive two duvets but most don’t. One of the women tells me about the pain in her chest, her legs. She talks about the war. I listen to all the manifestations of her suffering. I understand only a handful of words but as she clasps my hand, I know she wants my help in receiving a pair of duvets, too. I tell her I don’t make any decisions here. It is the elder representative of the neighborhood who determines who receives the quilted bed covers. Standing with the women, I say I’m sorry I’m sorry. All other words fail me.

Someone calls me over to the truck as the distribution will soon begin. In the Afghan gesture of greeting and leave-taking, I place my right hand over my heart and say goodbye.

A balloon seller approaches. A boy wheels a cart of apples nearby. Where a crowd gathers, there’s a potential sale, but no one buys. So the sellers observe the scene as I do. Colorful duvets, like clouds enveloping the bearers, seem to float by. I take a photo of a pair of girls. They become my shadow, following me and requesting more pictures.

The truck piled high with duvets is in a narrow gated car park. Perhaps two times as many people arrive as have the needed pieces of paper. The crowd presses towards the open gate, hoping. I observe one of the volunteers at work. Abdulhai has just finished 12th grade and is one of the founding members of the Afghan Peace Volunteers with a gift for crowd control. Instead of  pushing the crowd back with outward facing palms, he smiles and snaps his fingers so the children laugh. He speaks kindly and softly. Both children and adults stop trying to edge forward, at least while he’s there. Their shoulders visibly relax. Some return smiles.

It isn’t that they want to be there, Abdulhai says a couple nights later about those who show up without a ticket. The people are desperate. Understanding without judgment seems the key to Abdulhai’s gentle effectiveness.

***

safeh_zakira_ccoe2

Safeh Zakira stands with her youngest daughter, age 5.

Safeh is one of 60 women sewing for this winter’s duvet project of the Afghan Peace Volunteers.

Safeh Zakira says she wants to continue sewing. Before this work, she would sometimes break the shells of almonds, using the shells as fuel. I wonder how much heat such shells can generate, then learn her family also heats with coal. She lifts her hands. They are covered in coal dust.

Her husband is a day laborer, laying mud on walls. Most days he can’t find work. When he does work, his average pay is 300 Afghanis a day, but in the winter he earns less, 200 Afghanis. So many are seeking work that employers take advantage of the situation. Officially, Afghanistan has 40% unemployment. The unofficial estimate is higher: more than 80%.

Safeh Zakira’s family lives in a rented home that costs 2,500 Afghanis a month. They also pay for water, 500-1,000 a month. I think about her coal-covered hands, the cost of water.

Along with the finished duvets, she arrived today with a bag of the remainder material. (The cover fabric, polyester stuffing and thread were all issued about a week earlier.) I remark on this act of returning the extra stuffing. Honesty is important, she says.

Safeh Zakira learned about the duvet project from her neighbor. She asked where this place was and took the initiative to come and ask to be involved. A team of Afghan Peace Volunteers visited her home to survey her home situation and gave her employment.

Another woman, standing nearby, explains she was hoping to sew, too, but when she got here, she learned the project is already full. Ali, a student volunteer, took her name so that the volunteers can help her in some other way. She will receive a duvet. I worry about the investment in taxi fare as she traveled for an hour. Fortunately, the fare is by trip, not by the number of passengers, so she didn’t lose money. Safeh Zakira is given money for transportation as well as for the sewing, and the women traveled together.

Safeh Zakira tells me she hopes there will always be work for her, not just with this winter’s duvet project. What the people need, she says, is work so that they can provide for their family.

***

ASMA child_laborer_ccoe3

Asma added a red potato print to her page.

Aaron Hughes, of Iraq Veterans against the War, leads a pair of art workshops.

The workshop has two rules.

First, if you get paint on your fingers, you can’t touch your clothes.

Second, there is no mixing of colors, so a potato dipped into the red paint shouldn’t later be dipped in the green or orange paint.

Rule two is blissfully ignored.

Not following the rules is how they have survived, Hakim says.

Twenty-some child laborers have joined the afternoon workshop. One boy shows me the design he has printed from potatoes cut into the shape a leaf and a star. The boy names his flower  design in English and asks me how it is.

Maqbool, I answer. Beautiful.

Later, he approaches me holding a relief print in each hand, eager for more praise.

Listen for the chuh-chuh-chuh, Aaron says, imitating the sound the roller makes when it is sucking up blue paint. He directs Imam, another boy at the street kids school, to make sure the roller catches the corners of the linoleum. Imam’s eyes brighten as he lifts the paper to reveal his self portrait.

In less than an hour, the children have gone through one hundred sheets of paper, which they’ve spread out on the grass to dry. A few girls and boys walk between the designs, leaning over to pick some up for a closer look before turning their gaze to others. It is as if they are smelling flowers.

ccoebioCarolyn Coe is part of a Voices for Creative Nonviolence (www.vcnv.org) delegation to visit the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.com) in Kabul. She lives in Maine.

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