Growing hope in Afghanistan

 
Jawar Bibi (left) prepares a plot of land in the community garden for growing a variety of saplings. (Photo: WFP/Ann Nallo)

Jawar Bibi (left) prepares a plot of land in the community garden for growing a variety of saplings. (Photo: WFP/Ann Nallo)

A community garden project in the Badakhshan Province of Afghanistan is helping vulnerable women build skills for a more sustainable future.

Originally published by Ann Nallo, World Food Program Insight on April 29, 2019: https://bit.ly/2RxQNiR

Jawar Bibi shares her story in a matter-of-fact tone that belies the tragedy she is describing. Perhaps because in a country that has gone through four decades of conflict, her story is not unlike many that people in Afghanistan have to impart.

Originally from Badakhshan Province in the northeast, she had moved with her husband years ago to the more western province of Kunduz, where they raised five children together. Two of her sons — like many young men from poor regions of the country — joined the security forces and became police officers to help support the family. They were killed at different points throughout the latest 18-year conflict. A third son was lost and never found.

“My husband went out looking for him many times for a long time,” she said. “It caused a lot of stress and now he has health problems. We still think about our son every day.” They decided to move back to Badakhshan where they could live with her parents, their two children and one grandchild.

They knew that finding work could be difficult. In Kunduz, her husband had made a living by working in wheat fields and pushing carts, but due to his health he cannot work much anymore. Jawar Bibi decided to start looking for a job herself to help her family, with no success until a friend told her about the women’s affairs group in her community that supports vulnerable women.

Her friends linked her the WFP funded community garden project in the province that is operated by the Department of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (DAIL) and the Department of Women Affairs (DoWA), and implemented by Shelter For Life.

WFP and Shelter For Life are helping women cultivate almond, persimmon, pistachio, pomegranate and walnut trees to be sold to orchards. (Photo: WFP/Ann Nallo)

WFP and Shelter For Life are helping women cultivate almond, persimmon, pistachio, pomegranate and walnut trees to be sold to orchards. (Photo: WFP/Ann Nallo)

The project, funded by the Republic of Korea as part of WFP’s asset creation activities in Afghanistan, started in late-2018, when more than two hectares of land were levelled, and 24,000 fruit and nut tree seeds planted. In April after a winter break, Jawar Bibi and nearly 40 other women started working in the garden, weeding and tending to the young seedlings. At the end of the growing season, the saplings of almond, persimmon, pistachio, pomegranate, and walnut trees will be cultivated and sold to orchards or used for WFP’s re-forestation projects in communities.

Over the course of six months, the women receive comprehensive training on proper gardening techniques and nutrition, which will help them establish gardens at home, improve their families’ diets and increases their chances of obtaining long-term jobs.

“Before WFP, my family grew vegetables locally, but we didn’t have much success with the last harvest. Now I learned technical skills about how to plant, how to make plots and many other things. Now the harvest is good. We produced many more potatoes and have better seeds,” said Jawar Bibi.

The participating women receive monthly food distributions to help them cover the food needs of their families while they learn new skills that will help them secure long-term livelihoods. (Photo: WFP/Philippe Kropf)

The participating women receive monthly food distributions to help them cover the food needs of their families while they learn new skills that will help them secure long-term livelihoods. (Photo: WFP/Philippe Kropf)

In each month of the training, WFP distributes a food ration of fortified wheat flour, yellow split peas, vegetable oil, and iodized salt, as well as specialized nutritious foods for children from 6 to 59 months.

The word “community” in “community garden” brings on a whole new meaning in this context, as women share their stories of hardship and the ways they support one another, both in the garden and outside. One woman had to move homes after her husband was threatened by members of an armed group. Another woman lives with her parents and seven younger siblings, but her parents are too old to work. Despite the challenges they face, they talk excitedly about all the new things they have learned at the community garden.

Mah Gul, 24, is learning new gardening skills to help support her seven younger siblings and her parents, who are too old to work. (Photo: WFP/Ann Nallo)

Mah Gul, 24, is learning new gardening skills to help support her seven younger siblings and her parents, who are too old to work. (Photo: WFP/Ann Nallo)

“We can now do the things we’re learning here at home,” says a woman named Raja Bibi. “And we give advice to our neighbors, too. In the past we didn’t know much about the varieties of food or about nutrition. People ate a lot of rice and meat and had issues like high blood pressure. Now we’re eating a lot of different types of foods and can sell them in town.”

They also talk about their hopes for the future, as peace initiatives that could end the conflict are underway. “I am alone here with my children. My husband is a soldier fighting in Helmand, the other end of the country. I hope for peace in Afghanistan and that my husband can come home. Then we can grow fruit with what I have learned here and make a good living,” said a woman named Arifi. Another one adds, “We’re hoping for peace in the country and that one day we will live together in a more peaceful environment.” The other women all nod in agreement.

 
Jes Alexander-Rowe