Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Helping Hand for the Disabled

Tired of waiting for government to fulfil its promises, one man is trying to help those injured during the years of conflict on his own.
By Mohammad Jawad
On an icy street in Shah Shashahid in eastern Kabul, two women are making their way to work. One, who has lost both legs, is in a wheelchair; the other, who has lost one leg, walks with the aid of a crutch. Their destination is a yellow door with a sign reading “Afghanistan Disabled Federation: Carpet Weaving, Tailoring, Embroidery, Beadwork”.

Inside this privately-financed workshop, ten trainers and 50 women are busy at different crafts. All of them have some physical disability, and most are victims of injuries suffered during Afghanistan’s three decades of war.

The ministry of the martyred and disabled, which is tasked with helping the country’s war victims, estimates that there are two million people in Afghanistan with permanent injuries or deformities.

But so far, the ministry has failed to develop programmes to assist the disabled.

This omission has sparked the ire from those in need of help. In early December, a group of handicapped people disrupted a conference in Kabul when they demanded the removal of the minister, Seddiqa Balkhi, and drove her from the podium.

President Hamed Karzai subsequently removed Balkhi from the post and appointed her to the upper house of the parliament, the Meshrano Jirga. An acting minister, Abdul Hadi Hadi, is filling in until a new appointment is made.

Ghulam Abbas Ayen, an official at the ministry said it has no budget to pay for programmes for the handicapped, and that it is totally dependent on funding from foreign governments and private donors. "We cannot force countries and aid agencies to assist us when they have not shown any interest," he said.

Haji Abdul Rahman was unwilling to wait for others to provide help. As head of the Disabled Federation of the National Olympic Committee, he invested 10,000 US dollars of his own money to establish the work centre, which opened in December.

Rahman has good reason to be concerned about the fate of the disabled. He himself lost one leg and the use of the other to a mine blast during Afghanistan’s civil wars.

“I used to be a businessman,” he said. “I now have a construction company, and I have government contracts to supply gas and fuel. All the money for this project comes from those sources.”

Rahman says he wants to give the disabled some hope and dignity. His project is aimed primarily at helping women, he said, because they have fewer opportunities to reclaim their lives.

“Women in Afghanistan are more deprived than the men,” he said. “A man can always run a shop or become a peddler, but a woman can’t.”

The workshop is located in a four-room house full of equipment. In one room, eight women are working at sewing machines producing traditional women’s clothing. In another, several women are weaving carpets.

Nafisa, 25, is an apprentice at the centre. She was injured in a rocket attack in 1993, losing both legs and her right thumb, and leaving the fingers of her right hand permanently curled. She sews quickly and skilfully, attaching silver ribbons to the sleeve of a traditional Afghan dress.

“I only earn ten dollars a month, which isn’t very much. But I am learning something and I am safe, so I am content,” she said. "I have hope for my life now.”

Mahtab, 22, who was partially paralysed by a 1993 rocket attack which also killed her father, now earns 100 US dollars a month as a trainer, enough to cover her own expenses and contribute to supporting her family.

“I am very happy that I have a job,” she said, as she sewed a military uniform. “Before, my family used to look upon me as a burden. But now that I can work, everyone treats me with respect.”

Rahman hopes the centre will eventually become self-sustaining. He is negotiating with the ministries of defence and the interior to provide them with uniforms.

“I would like to have 1,000 people employed by next year,” said Rahman, adding that he also hopes that others will rally to his cause. “I would be very happy if someone would help us.”

Mohammad Jawad Sharifzadah is an IWPR staff reporter in Kabul.

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