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!”
buying and bringing in the bales of synthetic wool
the green synthetic wool in the duvets
weighing the wool and the covers, December 2013
a few of the 60 seamstresses who sewed the duvets getting material
more seamstresses collect the necessary material
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
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
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.
- 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.
- Selecting five other seamstresses to sew the duvet covers.
- Renting a garage room to store the duvet material
- 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
Each work cycle lasts one week, during which the following happens one after the other or simultaneously.
- Purchasing the duvet material ( synthetic wool, duvet covers, needle and thread ) and transporting it to the garage storage room
- Distribution of duvet material to 30 seamstresses
- Receipt of sewn duvets from seamstresses
- Survey of families to whom duvets will be distributed
- Distribution of duvets to families
Below are the photos from the 2015 Afghan Duvet Project, which will be updated through winter.
Storing the bales of wool, the duvet covers and other material in the garage storage room
contacting the seamstresses
duvet covers for seamstresses
distributing material at garage
one of the seamstresses
seamstress waiting to get material
weighing the wool and cover
weighing the material needed for each duvet
seamstress returns with sewn duvets
locking the garage storage room
loading a truck
on the road
The wheelbarrow workers
We’ll wait for the duvets
Early queue in the alley
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
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?
outside the door where the duvets were distributed
Waste water flowing from a pipe into the alley
Squatting in the crowd
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’…
“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,
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.
Some ladies came in their husband’s place
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.”
They seemed like refugees in their own land, as in Palestine
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.
Mina makes way for a labourer to come through the door
Mina leads the old lady to the duvets
“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.”
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,
I can turn my emptiness
away from helplessness
into a simpler lifestyle,
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.
My name will be called next
The look from everywhere
Just two Afghan duvets
2016 Afghan Duvet Project
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 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 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.