Villages of Hope
After more than 20 years of war in Afghanistan, millions of homes have been destroyed. Shelter Now is working with the returning refugees to rebuild entire villages. These are known as "Villages of Hope"...
To encourage people and give them fresh hope for the future by taking a new approach. This is the Shelter Now vision for the Villages of Hope. Once again it's about helping others to help themselves in an area where it is urgently needed.
The refugees that return to Afghanistan receive instruction and support from our staff to help them rebuild a new life in their destroyed villages; houses are rebuilt, schools are built and opportunities created for local people to receive vocational training or develop a new livelihood in order to enable their financial independence.
The first "Village of Hope" was built using funds from the German Foreign Ministry as well as various donor organizations. The village is called "Sabz Sang", or "Green Stone" and is located on the Shamalie Plain north of Kabul. This fertile plain, located at an altitude of around 1700 meters above sea level, was ransacked by the Taliban at the end of the 1990s. Almost all the fruit plantations were destroyed. Grapevines and fruit trees are once again being planted in the area. Shelter Now is contributing to the effort with its own fruit tree project, helping to make the Shamalie Plain blossom once again.
This project is successfully finished now. We must take care only on the flow of the microcredits. After all families are served with these, we'll receive that money back and can use the funds for new, similar projects.
The people in these villages don't need our help anymore. This is encouraging.
The History of the Shamalie Plain
Taliban fighters recaptured the Shamalie Plain from the Northern Alliance in 1999. The Taliban accused the local people of collaborating with the Northern Alliance and killed many of the men. They destroyed the houses and fruit plantations and threw stones or grenades into many of the wells and irrigation systems. The survivors were forced to flee. Thousands of them went to Pakistan, ending up in the refugee camps set up and run by Shelter Now. They received food and there Shelter Now helped them to build houses so they would not have to live in tents. We were often asked at that time whether we would help them rebuild their villages back home, should peace ever return to Afghanistan. Thus the idea for "Villages of Hope" was born.
A Dream Comes True
In the case of each village, there are many individual steps involved in turning this vision to reality:
The houses are rebuilt using our prefabricated sections (including roofing material, windows, door, latrine slab). The returning refugees build as much as possible themselves. The level of help we provide depends on the needs of each family.
An initial school is built for girls and boys with more to follow later. New wells are dug and the irrigation system is set in order.
A simple clinic is built to provide basic medical care for the local people. We teach the families basic principles of health and hygiene. Every so often, teams of doctors come from abroad to work in the area for a limited period of time.
The provision of tools and equipment, seeds, fruit trees, chickens, bee colonies and bee hives or other items for farming allow the local population to start providing for themselves.
We seek to tailor our assistance to the needs of the individual villages in which we work. We encourage local residents to formulate their needs so that the village can be developed in the way they want through a series of projects we work on with them.
We are now (2007) in our fifth year of working in the Shamalie area and enjoy a good reputation there. We have developed good contacts with many of the villagers. The Sabz Sang "Village of Hope" is a shining example of what can be achieved and it spreads hope to other villages in the region where we have begun working.
We are able to build one school after another for the children. It's great to visit the schools and see them hard at work. They really appreciate the value of education and have an enthusiasm for school that is not often seen in the West.
Various agricultural projects are drawn up together with the village communities. Sometimes a pilot project might not work out, in which case we go back to the drawing board to discuss what we could do differently to improve it. Other projects are an immediate success and can be further developed. It's fascinating to see the faces of the villagers gradually change as they begin to grasp the hope start believing in the future.
There is still a long way to go and the path will not always be smooth. But despite all the problems and the dangers, today we can already say: it has all been worth it! And it continues to be worth it. The vision has become a reality and a sense of hope has been restored to many as a result.
The way is still far and often full of stones. But through all efforts and danger we can say: It was worth it! And it's gonna be worth it! A vision becomes reality. We made it giving hope to many Afghans.
Cows, Cows, Cows...
Since 2008 there are new noises in the village: the mooing of cows. With small loans from Shelter Now families are able to purchase a cow with a calf. They pay this loan back within 12 to 18 months, then these funds are distributed again as loans to new families.
Meanwhile about 150 families received a microloan. How many cows do the soundscape now we can only estimate. They should have been multiplying assiduously.