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Kabul's Children Find Future in War-Ravaged City - 2002-01-02


The decades of conflict in Afghanistan have left their mark in the country's capital. The signs are everywhere in Kabul: the flattened houses, the bullet-riddled walls. But the shattered buildings in the city seem trivial when compared to the lives marked forever by the legacy of war. And it seems none have suffered more than the children.

Like any big city, the streets of Kabul are crowded. The markets are especially hectic places where cars compete for space with merchants selling everything from fresh vegetables to car parts. This is hardly a place for children.

But that is where you will find 10-year-old Aziz Zorah. He works there, selling incense for 50 cents a day.

"Life is difficult and I'm doing it because I have to and I do not like it," Aziz says.

Aziz Zorah works everyday on the streets of Kabul from morning until night trying to support his mother, three brothers and two sisters.

He is not alone. There are thousands of children like him here who have had to give up school and childhood to survive.

For many these responsibilities were thrust on them suddenly when they found themselves orphaned by the wars that have raged here for decades.

It would be a tough job for a 10-year-old anywhere, in Kabul it seems nearly impossible. But there is a glimmer of hope for the war orphans and destitute children of the street.

It exists at a place called Achianna, the nest.

These are Kabul's fortunate kids. They are enrolled in one of the five such schools in Kabul run by Achianna. Mohammad Youssef founded the school back in 1992. His inspiration to do it came when he stopped one day to have his shoes shined by a young boy in the street. The young boy looked bright and talented so Mohammad Youssef asked him why he wasn't in school.

"He stopped his work and said he was in school from grade one to grade seven. 'I was the first of the class,' he said. 'Then my father was killed by a rocket. I had a mother and sister. I did not want my mother begging in the street so I stopped my school and bought this box for shoe shining,' he said," Mr. Youssef explained.

Mohammad Youssef thought someone should do something for that boy and the thousands of other victims of Afghanistan's violence. The result was Achianna, a sort of day school where street children come and receive something to eat, a bath and a few hours of learning in an outdoor classroom.

The kids come in shifts, morning and afternoon. They still spend a large portion of their day out on the streets selling incense, shining shoes or just begging. But for a few hours, at least, they know something of a more normal life and, perhaps even a future.

But for many, like 10-year-old incense seller Aziz, school is something he dare not even dream about.

"I also would like to go to school but I have to feed my family and I have to work," Aziz says.

Mohammad Youssef has 1,534 children in his Achianna program. He believes there are 50,000 others in this capital city who will never get such a chance.

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