Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hope and a Helping Hand for Kabul's Street Children

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Hope and a Helping Hand for Kabul's Street Children

Article excerpt

Ten-year-old Khaled explains how his drawings chronicle his life.

The first image shows his father walking to work. "Look how the planes bombed and destroyed our house," he says, pointing to the second picture. In the third, Khaled and his brother work on the streets of Kabul obtaining passengers for taxis. The last picture is the most poignant. It shows a new house. "This house, I hope, represents my future," he says quietly.

Khaled is one of approximately 40,000 children in Kabul who shine shoes, sell plastic bags, collect scrap metal, or beg on the streets to earn as little as 12 cents a day to support their families. Twenty-three years of civil war have devastated millions of families across Afghanistan, forcing children as young as 6 to become breadwinners.

The number of children working the streets of Kabul has almost doubled in the past five years, and an influx of returning refugees means the numbers will likely increase.

Though working on Kabul's dusty, grimy streets may bring immediate relief to starving families, aid workers fear it will cost the children key opportunities - such as education - that could improve their long-term future.

Khaled is one of the fortunate ones.

Eight months ago, a social worker from Ashiana, an Afghan aid group, brought Khaled to a center that provides education and vocational training for more than 2,000 youngsters who once worked the streets. The children learn how to fix small electric appliances, to make paper flowers to sell to passersby, and to read and write. Teachers also instruct the children about personal hygiene and land-mine awareness.

"Most Afghans don't think about how difficult it is for these kids," says Mohammad Yousef, Ashiana's founder. "But if these kids grow up without education or love, they won't become good members of society."

Mr. Yousef established Ashiana six years ago, after he met a young shoe-shiner who told him that before he began working the streets, he was first in his class. The boy had to leave school when his father was killed. Yousef says he realized then that something had to be done.

Taliban authorities had Yousef arrested three times during their six years in power. …

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