Clockwise from top left: Learning permaculture; Women’s tailoring project; Winter duvet project. Photos courtesy of the project
In an unnumbered house on a dirt road in Kabul lives a small community, the Afghan Peace Volunteers (APVs). The members are mostly Hazaras, people who have been appallingly discriminated against in invasions and wars. They have no reason to believe in peace nor even consider it is possible.
Yet a core group of these young people teamed up with a visionary Singaporean doctor, Hakim Tek Young Wee, to focus on the needs of the poorest people in their community. They also wanted to make a statement about war; its pain and impact. This is imaginative and dramatic peacemaking.
The residential APV community is just a short walk from the Borderfree Nonviolence Community Centre (BNVCC) where the APV activities take place. Fifty or more young volunteers come and go all day, pursuing their peace work and setting aside traditional ethnic differences. In fact they welcome all Afghan ethnic groups.
The APVs have worked out a diverse program based on three areas:
- A nonviolent world without war
- A green world
- An equal world
Together they have organised 22 teams working in these major areas. Each has several components or projects which are self-managing and follow consensual processes. This management process means that every volunteer has responsibilities and their voices can be heard in small committees.
Some of the teams and projects are:
1. The Green Education and Permaculture Team
Permaculture, with its systems approach to environmental and social problems, has proven invaluable. Land restoration is critical in working for and establishing peace. With the loss of farming land due to 40 years of war and the vulnerable situation in Kabul, growing food and developing a healthy environment for the desperately polluted city is critical.
Green Education and Home Gardens is a future-looking outreach and education project. It will start with 100 street kids and aim to involve their mothers as well. It will be a show-and-teach process, using the Borderfree Nonviolence Community Centre’s garden. Currently it has $AU100 as its working budget.
The teachers are volunteers who have completed my Permaculture Design Certificate. During the PDC, these enthusiastic young teachers-to-be are taught skills in learnercentred permaculture education.
Other projects already running are:
- Amuzish, the Borderfree Nonviolence Community Centre’s learning garden, is developing intensive food production
- The APV guest house community garden
- The Borderfree Nonviolence Community Centre’s permaculture land will be the volunteers’ food farm
- Bamiyan Peace Park and Kabul Peace Garden
2. The Renewable Energy Team
This team is working on small-scale water recycling, with a turbine to provide energy for households. The aim is to implement it first at the Borderfree Nonviolence Community Centre.
Along with this, the team is looking to:
- Capture roof water and recycle it for energy
- Provide water for the garden
The concept plan (designed by an engineering student in consultation with his lecturer) has mostly been implemented, however it has some teething problems.
3. The Borderfree Street and Vulnerable Kids School Team
About 100 kids attend the centre where they are taught literacy, basic mathematics and nonviolence by APV volunteers. There is also a tailoring class for some of the older kids. In addition, once a month kids are given food (rice and oil) to assist their families’ basic needs and to encourage the children to work fewer hours on the streets, giving them time to attend government schools instead.
4. The Food Bank Team
This team has 11 volunteers who visit and persuade religious leaders, shopkeepers, charitable foundations, community leaders and organisations to donate food items for the street kids. The goal is to have a locally supported food bank so that the food rations at the Borderfree Street and Vulnerable Kids School will be locally sustainable.
5. The Duvet Project Team
Every winter 3 000 duvets are sewn by 60 seamstresses who are paid for each duvet they sew. These are then distributed to the poorest families in Kabul, who each receive two duvets.
6. The Borderfree Cycling Club
This club meets and cycles for health and leisure early on Friday mornings. On Tuesday afternoons, girls learn to ride at the centre. Along with this club, it is hoped that a bicycle repair shop can be set up so some youth can earn an income.
Every one of these young people teaching nonviolence and cooperating for peace is heroic, no matter how small their part in the struggle. In addition, they are building a future through skilling young people, giving them a purpose and hope, and through service. The experience of working in an APV project should enable the participants to succeed in life, wherever they find themselves. Permaculture is now integral to their activities.