explainer

Fatima couldn't afford food. Then a neighbour offered $350 for her 7 month old daughter.

Listen to this story being read by Melody Teh, here.


I’ve travelled to some incredible places over the years in my work as a humanitarian photographer and communicator – Lebanon, Ethiopia, Mongolia, Papua New Guinea and Iraq among them.  

Afghanistan has long been a country I’ve yearned to visit, and recently, I had the opportunity to.

Flying over Afghanistan was a jaw-dropping experience. Stark, jagged peaks, covered in snow, set against a brilliant blue sky were an incredible sight on that cold February morning.

I’ll be honest, my heart was beating a little faster than usual as I put my headscarf on and prepared to disembark the plane in Kabul - there were a lot of uncertainties.

 But, after waiting in line and presenting my documents, I was warmly welcomed to Afghanistan and on my way - a stark contrast to the scenes that took place in that same airport in August last year.

In a country where jobs are hard to come by and prices have skyrocketed in recent months, cash assistance allows people to buy exactly what they need, whether it’s food, warm blankets for their kids or paying for medical treatment. 

It also helps stimulate the local economy. I met Fatima* at a CARE cash distribution. 

She told me how her children often go to bed hungry. Fatima’s husband has been sick for years, so can’t work, and her work is very irregular. 

I asked her if she’d had to do anything extreme to help her family survive. She started answering my question in the local language, Dari, and her eyes filled with tears. I looked at my interpreter, who was listening intently, and his eyes filled with tears. 

I braced myself for what was to come. Fatima said, “My neighbour knew our desperate situation. They asked if I would sell my seven-month-old daughter to them for between 20,000 and 30,000 Afghanis ($300 to $450). 

We didn't want our baby and our other children to die so we agreed to sell her. I didn't sleep for the next week knowing I was losing my baby. Then we got a call from CARE saying we would be getting cash assistance. 

I just started crying. We stopped the sale of our baby. Now I can buy my children food and have some food for me as I am still breastfeeding. We will also get treatment for my husband." 

After hearing Fatima's story, there was not a dry eye among us.

Image: Suzy Sainovski/CARE 

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I had the opportunity to see a mobile health clinic in action. 

There I met Farzaneh*, nine months pregnant, who had only seen a doctor once before during her pregnancy. She heard CARE was running a clinic in her community and, as she was feeling dizzy that day, decided to walk down and meet with one of the doctors. 

Farzaneh told me that if it weren’t for this clinic, she wouldn’t have seen a doctor that day, as she can’t afford the transport costs to travel to a regular clinic. 

This is unfortunately all too common in Afghanistan, which is why these critical health services are so important.

On another frosty morning, we headed deeper into the countryside, where everything was covered in snow, to see how CARE’s longer term development work is supporting vulnerable families. 

We did get bogged in the snow on the way but were up and running again in no time and off to Navida’s* house. She had received 40 chickens from CARE and help building a chicken coop. She sells the eggs to earn an income.

Image: Suzy Sainovski/CARE 

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It was so lovely seeing her young children having fun in the chicken coop and collecting eggs. Life is still not easy for them. Navida told me that the price of lots of food items has doubled in the past six months. 

Donations to the Afghanistan appeal are helping cushion the blow though. As Navida said, “If CARE did not help us with the chicken farm, our situation would have been even worse. “

Each moment of the trip brought with it different emotions.

Driving along one day, I saw women sitting in the middle of the road begging. Imagine how desperate you must be to risk your life by willingly sitting in traffic with the hope of getting a bit of money, some of them even had children with them.

When the Afghan government changed in August 2021, high school girls were barred from school – a devastating blow. But there was a spark of hope earlier this year when it was announced that all girls could return to school in late March. 

Image: Suzy Sainovski/CARE 

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I met 14-year-old Taalah* in February. She shared, “I am really worried about my future if I can’t continue my education. I want to be a doctor. My hope for girls in Afghanistan is that they can be educated and don’t have to be dependent on others." 

Devastatingly, the defacto authorities reneged on their promise to allow high school girls to return to the classroom. I am desperately hoping that this decision is reversed soon.

One of the most joyous experiences for me in Afghanistan was entering a room where a bunch of women were busily working together making pasta and cakes. 

The dough was being expertly fed into the machine to flatten it to prepare to be cut into spaghetti. 

The leader of the group spoke about her passion for motivating women to earn their own income to help support their families. CARE provided machinery and training to the group. It was incredible to see them working together so harmoniously for their collective good.

My time in Afghanistan is forever etched in my heart and mind. The strength and resilience of the Afghan people is extraordinary. 

CARE has been working in Afghanistan for decades, but when the context changed in August last year, CARE adapted its programming to meet the most pressing humanitarian needs. 

Since mid-2021, CARE has supported 200,000 people with critical health services, essential food items, livelihoods support and cash assistance.

For information on CARE Australia's Afghanistan Humanitarian appeal, click here.

Suzy Sainovski, CARE’s Asia Pacific Communications Advisor, recently returned from three weeks in Afghanistan.

*Names have been changed

Feature Image: Supplied.

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