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Afghanistan A new lease of life

In one of the world’s most mine-infested countries, the ICRC initiated a microcredit programme to help disabled people return to work and recover their self-sufficiency.

Ainullah runs a tailor’s shop in a village on the outskirts of Kabul. In 1982, when he was 10 years old, the men in his family joined the mujaheddin in order to fight the Soviet army. To escape police harassment, the rest of the family sought refuge in Pakistan. “There, I had to go to work straightaway on building sites to support my family,” recalls Ainullah.

Ten years later, after the mujaheddin had taken Kabul, Ainullah and his family came back to the city, only to find that their house had been destroyed. Not long after their return, while Ainullah was gathering wood in the hills, he stepped on a mine and had to have his leg amputated. “While I was in hospital, the war flared up again in Kabul and I had to flee,” he explains. Once again, the family had to leave the city, this time for Jalalabad in the east of the country. It was there, at the ICRC’s physical rehabilitation centre, that Ainullah was fitted with an artificial limb and learned to walk again.

A lucky break

With the support of the Afghan Red Crescent Society, Ainullah trained as a tailor while living in a camp for displaced people. He loved the work from the very beginning and pursued his training for four years before returning to Kabul, where he was able to open a small shop, thanks to the sewing machine and other equipment donated by the Red Crescent at the end of his training.


The ICRC, as part of its microcredit programme, subsequently gave Ainullah a loan to buy a second sewing machine and supplies. It was then that he decided to offer to train other young disabled people selected by the Kabul physical rehabilitation centre. “I had the good fortune to learn this trade with the help of the Red Crescent and then to receive the loan from the ICRC,” he says. “Now I can give others the same chance.”

Ainullah is one of 4,640 people who have benefited so far from the loan scheme launched by the ICRC in 1997 in its six rehabilitation centres in Kabul, Jalalabad, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Gulbahar and Faizabad.

Today, the physical rehabilitation programme is one of the ICRC’s leading activities in Afghanistan. More than 500 Afghans are employed by the centres, where they are supervised and trained by six expatriate specialists. Support of this kind remains vital, as at least two people every day fall victim to the innumerable mines still littering t he countryside. Moreover, the fragile Afghan health system is not yet able to cope effectively with illnesses such as polio and cerebral palsy, which are the principal causes of disability in the country.

The provision of artificial limbs and physiotherapy is not enough to restore disabled people’s full autonomy. They must also overcome the ingrained prejudices in Afghan society, which tends to regard them as being incapable of working.

Abdul Samad has long suffered from such misconceptions. A tank crushed both of his legs during the fighting in 1992, when he was a soldier in the Afghan army. After six months in a military hospital in Kabul, he returned home to Herat in north-western Afghanistan. “I wanted to open a grocer’s shop, and I looked for someone t o lend m e the money to set up in business and buy the produce,” he says. “But as no one would agree to do so, I started making bricks with my son. With both legs paralysed, I found the job very tough.” He nonetheless had to stick at it for 13 years, until he heard about the physical rehabilitation activities of the ICRC on a local radio station in 2005. That is how he found out about the microcredit programme. “The next day, I went and asked for a loan,” he continues. “For 13 years no one believed in me. At the ICRC, I was loaned the money within a matter of days and could realize my dream at last!”

 

 

 

 

 

 


Abdul Samad in his grocery in Herat, Afghanistan.
©Olivier Moeckli / ICRC

Ainullah is one of 4,640 people who have benefited so far from the loan scheme launched by the ICRC in 1997 in its six rehabilitation centres in Kabul, Jalalabad, Mazar-i-Sharif, Herat, Gulbahar and Faizabad.

Today, the physical rehabilitation programme is one of the ICRC’s leading activities in Afghanistan. More than 500 Afghans are employed by the centres, where they are supervised and trained by six expatriate specialists. Support of this kind remains vital, as at least two people every day fall victim to the innumerable mines still littering t he countryside. Moreover, the fragile Afghan health system is not yet able to cope effectively with illnesses such as polio and cerebral palsy, which are the principal causes of disability in the country.

The provision of artificial limbs and physiotherapy is not enough to restore disabled people’s full autonomy. They must also overcome the ingrained prejudices in Afghan society, which tends to regard them as being incapable of working.

Abdul Samad has long suffered from such misconceptions. A tank crushed both of his legs during the fighting in 1992, when he was a soldier in the Afghan army. After six months in a military hospital in Kabul, he returned home to Herat in north-western Afghanistan. “I wanted to open a grocer’s shop, and I looked for someone t o lend m e the money to set up in business and buy the produce,” he says. “But as no one would agree to do so, I started making bricks with my son. With both legs paralysed, I found the job very tough.” He nonetheless had to stick at it for 13 years, until he heard about the physical rehabilitation activities of the ICRC on a local radio station in 2005. That is how he found out about the microcredit programme. “The next day, I went and asked for a loan,” he continues. “For 13 years no one believed in me. At the ICRC, I was loaned the money within a matter of days and could realize my dream at last!”


Helping war disabled

Since 1988, the ICRC has provided physical rehabili-tation support for more than 70,000 disabled people in Afghanistan. Its workshops have produced more than 56,000 prostheses, 61,000 orthoses, 105,000 pairs of crutches and 10,000 wheel-chairs. In addition, the centres have conducted more than 760,000 physiotherapy sessions.

 

Supporting viable projects

In t he case of A bdul S am ad, the loan was approved very quickly; each project is, however, closely scrutinized before it is accepted. After Abdul Samad had presented his proposal to the physical rehabilitation centre in Herat, the team in charge of the microcredit scheme visited his district to see if his plans were viable and interviewed him at length to make sure that he was really motivated — the procedure followed for all applications. Once a project has been accepted, the ICRC does not hand over the money directly but does the purchasing itself according to the agreed budget. The beneficiary has between six months and two years, depending on the project, to reimburse the interest-free loan.

Even if not every project turns out to be a success, the programme is the most effective way of helping disabled people to return to work and to reintegrate into Afghan society completely after their physical rehabilitation. Since microcredit helps them to shed their dependence on outside assistance, be it from their families or from institutions, it is also the best means of restoring the confidence of the disabled and of allowing t hem to lead a full life again.

When 16-year-old Rashid Ahmad’s legs were amputated after a machine explosion, he thought — like many in his situation — that his life was over. But a nephew, also an amputee, came to visit me. He was employed at the ICRC physical rehabilitation centre and he gave me new hope.”

After working for a few years and saving some money, Rashid Ahmad opened an ironworks. “But there were many power cuts in Kabul and I wasn’t able to work for long enough,” he says. When he heard of the microcredit scheme, he requested a loan to buy a generator. “Since I’ve had the generator, I’ve had lots of work. My brothers have started to help me and once they have grown up and mastered the trade, we can expand the workshop.”

All those who have received loans have had similar experiences. After years of misery and frustration, they have been able to rebuild their lives. Thanks to their efforts, they can make plans for the future: expand a workshop, build a house, support their children’s studies or pay for their weddings — a future full of hitherto unimaginable promise.

 

 

 

 

 

 


After being trained as a tailor, Ainullah has started to train other disabled people.
©Olivier Moeckli / ICRC

Olivier Moeckli
Olivier Moeckli is ICRC communication delegate in Afghanistan.


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