FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Learn Your Lessons Well: an Afghan Teenager Makes Up His Mind

Kabul.

Tall, lanky, cheerful and confident, Esmatullah easily engages his young students at the Street Kids School, a project of Kabul’s “Afghan Peace Volunteers,” an antiwar community with a focus on service to the poor. Esmatullah teaches child laborers to read. He feels particularly motivated to teach at the Street Kids School because, as he puts it, “I was once one of these children.” Esmatullah began working to support his family when he was 9 years old. Now, at age 18, he is catching up: he has reached the tenth grade, takes pride in having learned English well enough to teach a course in a local academy, and knows that his family appreciates his dedicated, hard work.

When Esmatullah was nine, the Taliban came to his house looking for his older brother. Esmatullah’s father wouldn’t divulge information they wanted. The Taliban then tortured his father by beating his feet so severely that he has never walked since. Esmatullah’s dad, now 48, had never learnt to read or write; there are no jobs for him. For the past decade, Esmatullah has been the family’s main breadwinner, having begun to work, at age nine, in a mechanics workshop. He would attend school in the early morning hours, but at 11:00 a.m., he would start his workday with the mechanics, continuing to work until nightfall. During winter months, he worked full time, earning 50 Afghanis each week, a sum he always gave his mother to buy bread. Now, thinking back on his experiences as a child laborer, Esmatullah has second thoughts. “As I grew up, I saw that it was not good to work as a child and miss many lessons in school. I wonder how active my brain was at that time, and how much I could have learnt! When children work full time, it can ruin their future. I was in an environment where many people were addicted to heroin. Luckily I didn’t start, even though others at the workshop suggested that I try using heroin. I was very small. I would ask ‘What is this?’ and they would say it’s a drug, it’s good for back pain.”

“Fortunately, my uncle helped me buy materials for school and pay for courses. When I was in grade 7, I thought about leaving school, but he wouldn’t let me. My uncle works as a watchman in Karte Chahar. I wish I can help him someday.”

Even when he could only attend school part-time, Esmatullah was a successful student. His teachers recently spoke affectionately about him as an exceptionally polite and competent student. He would always rank as one of the top students in his classes.

“I am the only one who reads or writes in my family,” says Esmatullah. “I always wish that my mother and father could read and write. They could perhaps find work. Truthfully, I live for my family. I am not living for myself. I care for my family. I love myself because of my family. As long as I’m alive, they feel there is a person to help them.”

“But if I had the freedom to choose, I would spend all my time working as a volunteer at the Afghan Peace Volunteer’s center.”

Asked how he feels about educating child laborers, Esmatullah responds: “These children shouldn’t be illiterate in the future. Education in Afghanistan is like a triangle. When I was in first grade, we were 40 children. By grade 7, I recognized that many children had already abandoned school. When I reached grade 10, only four of the 40 children continued their lessons.”

“When I studied English, I felt enthusiastic about teaching in the future and earning money,” he told me. “Eventually, I felt I should teach others because if they become literate they will be less likely to go to war.”

“People are being pushed to join the military,” he says. “My cousin joined the military. He had gone to find work and the military recruited him, offering him money. After one week, the Taliban killed him. He was about 20 years and he had recently been married.”

Ten years ago, Afghanistan had already been at war for four years, with U.S. cries for revenge over the 9/11 attacks giving way to unconvincing statements of retroactive concern for impoverished people who are the majority of Afghanistan’s population. As elsewhere where the U.S. has let “no fly zones” slide into full regime change, atrocities between Afghans only increased in the chaos, leading to the maiming of Esmatullah’s father.

Many of Esmatullah’s neighbors might understand if he wanted to retaliate and seek vengeance against the Taliban. Others would understand if he wished the same revenge on the United States. But he instead aligns himself with young men and women insisting that “Blood doesn’t wipe away blood.” They want to help child laborers escape military recruitment and ease the afflictions people suffer because of wars.

I wondered what Esmatullah thinks about joining the #Enough! campaign, – represented in social media by young people opposed to war who photograph the word #Enough! (bas) written on their palms.

“Afghanistan experienced three decades of war,” said Esmatullah. “I wish that one day we’ll be able to end war. I want to be someone who, in the future, bans wars.” It will take a lot of “someones” to ban war, ones like Esmatullah who become schooled in ways to live communally with the neediest of people, building societies whose actions won’t evoke desires for revenge.

More articles by:

KATHY KELLY co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence and has worked closely with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers. She is the author of Other Lands Have Dreams published by CounterPunch / AK Press. She can be reached at: Kathy@vcnv.org 

June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
Ajamu Baraka
North Korea Issue is Not De-nuclearization But De-Colonization
Andrew Levine
Midterms Coming: Antinomy Ahead
Louisa Willcox
New Information on 2017 Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Deaths Should Nix Trophy Hunting in Core Habitat
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Singapore Fling
Ron Jacobs
What’s So Bad About Peace, Man?
Robert Hunziker
State of the Climate – It’s Alarming!
L. Michael Hager
Acts and Omissions: The NYT’s Flawed Coverage of the Gaza Protest
Dave Lindorff
However Tenuous and Whatever His Motives, Trump’s Summit Agreement with Kim is Praiseworthy
Robert Fantina
Palestine, the United Nations and the Right of Return
Brian Cloughley
Sabre-Rattling With Russia
Chris Wright
To Be or Not to Be? That’s the Question
David Rosen
Why Do Establishment Feminists Hate Sex Workers?
Victor Grossman
A Key Congress in Leipzig
John Eskow
“It’s All Kinderspiel!” Trump, MSNBC, and the 24/7 Horseshit Roundelay
Paul Buhle
The Russians are Coming!
Joyce Nelson
The NED’s Useful Idiots
Lindsay Koshgarian
Trump’s Giving Diplomacy a Chance. His Critics Should, Too
Louis Proyect
American Nativism: From the Chinese Exclusion Act to Trump
Stan Malinowitz
On the Elections in Colombia
Camilo Mejia
Open Letter to Amnesty International on Nicaragua From a Former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience
David Krieger
An Assessment of the Trump-Kim Singapore Summit
Jonah Raskin
Cannabis in California: a Report From Sacramento
Josh Hoxie
Just How Rich Are the Ultra Rich?
CJ Hopkins
Awaiting the Putin-Nazi Apocalypse
Mona Younis
We’re the Wealthiest Country on Earth, But Over 40 Percent of Us Live in or Near Poverty
Dean Baker
Not Everything Trump Says on Trade is Wrong
James Munson
Trading Places: the Other 1% and the .001% Who Won’t Save Them
Rivera Sun
Stop Crony Capitalism: Protect the Net!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail