Unarmed and Courageous

Published on Voices for Creative Non-Violence, by Kathy Kelly and Josh Brollier, June 1, 2010.

… The majority of Afghanistan’s agricultural laborers, both children and adults, face harsh realities. Many villagers have little access to health care or education. Diseases such as pneumonia, gastroenteritis, malaria, and malnourishment contribute toward the deaths of 850 Afghan children every day.

In rural areas, a family typically has 10 – 15 children. Not all are expected to survive. When a child is born, a ceremony to name the infant takes place several months later because the child’s survival of the first months of life is a cause for great relief and celebration. 

Felippo’s supervisor, Micha, the Medical Director at the Panjshir Hospital, explains that malnutrition is a social problem. “Mothers aren’t instructed about nutrition,” she says. “Sometimes in large families, the four year old is in charge of the one year old. Or the mother doesn’t breast feed during the first month, – the most crucial month. If fraternal twins are born, the boy will be breast fed, but not the girl.”

“They don’t come to the hospital when symptoms of sickness appear,” Micha continues. “They wait till a child is near death. Malnutrition is difficult to manage. Children will become healthy, but the malnourishment recurs; it’s often fatal.”

“Poor hygiene is another serious problem, especially if families can’t provide clean water,” Micha pointed out, “and, you see, this is also related to poverty. Sometimes the children drink unclean water, causing gastroenteritis.”

Intent on helping solve these basic problems, Emergency workers use the FAPs to educate people about nutrition and basic hygiene. In winter months, the roads often become impassable. In some places, Felippo hikes for two hours beyond the point where a vehicle can’t continue, carrying medicine and supplies in his backpack.

“Can you imagine,” asked Felippo, “that last year, when I finished my term of service, in January, when it was my last visit to a First Aid Post that is furthest from our hospital, people walked four hours in the snow to say goodbye to me. Yes, I fell in love.”

It isn’t hard to imagine why the staff feels so loyal to Emergency’s patients and to the organization’s goals.

Emergency is treating war victims as patients, and won’t allow police or military to enter the hospital, carrying weapons. Circumstances that occasion an injury or a wound never determine whether or not the patient will be admitted. While neutral as regards offering medical treatment, Emergency has been clearly partisan in it’s rejection of all wars. Their literature and outreach clarifies that the most important preventive measure to safeguard against war related wounds and injuries is the abolition of weapons.

In a pediatric ward at the Emergency hospital in Kabul, doctors and nurses tend youngsters who’ve mainly been hurt by landmines. Sometimes the boys go outside and sit on the grass with older fellows. Many share in common the experience of having lost limbs or fingers or toes to land mine or remote controlled explosions … //

… If we want Afghans to reject the Taliban’s brand of weapon development and attacks, we in the U.S. need to show our own determination to foster the works of mercy rather than the works of war. The Emergency hospital staff, unarmed and courageous, provide a fine example. (full long text).

(Kathy Kelly and Josh Brollier are co-coordinators of Voices for Creative Nonviolence).

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