THE AFCECO STORY
The story of Parwarishga must begin with the modern history of Afghanistan. Nowhere, it seems has the poison of war come together with the poison of religious extremism and outdated ideology to such an extent and with such devastating effects upon children. These effects have been embedded to the point that many people claim it to be a cultural issue, that the burqa and all it represents, that the seething hatred between Pashtun and Hazara, are somehow indicative of the Afghan spirit and therefore cannot, or even should not, be tampered with. But a young Afghan woman named Andeisha Farid did not see it that way. She herself was born in war and raised in camps, but was lifted by education and perhaps more importantly a community of peers and adults striving right along beside her, challenging, reaching, never giving up hope for the dream of peace and equality and perhaps one day, a homeland.
Andeisha saw the children begging for a few pennies to buy bread. In these children she saw herself. Yet here she was, a young woman in university, a woman capable of making her way in the world. If only a small number of these children could be raised as she was raised, their inﬂuence would reverberate in each family. If these children were reﬂective of every race, every region, every tribe of Afghanistan and they were raised together equally, their inﬂuence would settle the inﬂamed passions of tribalism from one corner of the country to the other. And ﬁnally, if the girls were raised as she was raised, and the boys raised as her friends had been raised, the symbol of this “culture”, the burqa, would become a thing of the past.
It was with this belief in the power of children to change the fate of her country that in 2004 Andeisha founded her ﬁrst parwarishga. Starting with limited funds she established a safe place where children could come each day. After building a reputation she became known to CharityHelp International, which developed a child sponsorship program to ﬁnance an orphanage. In short time Andeisha was able to see her dream grow. Now AFCECO runs eleven orphanages, nine across Afghanistan and two serving refugees in Pakistan, caring for almost 700 children and employing around 50 widows and scores of university students. Beside orphanages, AFCECO has implemented other services for children such as a New Learning Center, health clinics, a Leadership Academy for its older girls, karate and soccer teams for girls and boys, bringing children to Europe and the U.S. for short-term scholarships and sending sick children to the U.S. for specialized treatment.
AFCECO has blossomed into a progressive social service that is not institutional, but rather meshes with Afghan society in a partnership where all agree about the needs of the children. What it offers the world is best illustrated by a simple incident in Nuristan, an area under complete Taliban control. When four-foot eight-inch, 14-year-old Zainab arrived on a donkey to visit the village in which she was born, the elders, very aware of the AFCECO orphanage she has lived in since she was four, set her up with her own room and asked her, pleaded with her to begin immediately to teach the other children. Regardless of her notions of gender equality, her secular temperament, even at times her lowered scarf, the elders looked the other way. The fact is they perceive Zainab not as a threat, but as a tremendous asset to the village. This begs the question, what if ten Zainabs return to ten villages across all of Afghanistan. A hundred Zainabs? Or a thousand?