Republished from Servir, the quarterly magazine of the Jesuit Refugee Service
About the author: Nematullah Ahangosh is a Star alumnus. He works for Jesuit Refugee Service teaching English to children in IDP camps. He is an active member of Afghan Peace Volunteers. You can follow him at https://ahangosh.wordpress.com
I started working when I was in first grade, at the age of eight. My job was weaving carpets. When I was about 11, I worked as a street vendor. This was very hard. I didn’t go to school for one year and I missed my teachers and classmates. I remember one day I stood in front of a shop, my wares in my hands, but no one bought even one gum or cigarette. It was lunchtime, but I had no money, so I stayed hungry and tired. I felt this to be the longest day ever. For me, working at that age was neither welcome nor wanted. I pushed all memories to the back of my mind, but they are never forgotten, and won’t be, ever. When my family’s financial situation got better, I went back to school. My parents decided that one of us should graduate from school and I was chosen.
When I got older, I started teaching street kids English and other basic topics. After two years of lessons, they were able to go to school. In 2015 I called some friends for a meeting and convinced them to volunteer to teach street kids in District 13 in Kabul. There are four of us and, after three months, we taught 24 kids to read and write.
We want to prevent street children from being used by extremists, perhaps for suicide attacks, and from falling prey to human traffickers. On the positive side, we believe that children are the future of our country, and that we can change our lives and theirs through education. Now we are teaching them non-violence too.
Recently my health became a big concern. With the help of JRS, I came to India for tests and was diagnosed with a muscle disease, for which there is no treatment. I am worried; this is natural. But I find myself confident and peaceful because although I received nothing I wanted, JRS helped me to receive everything I needed. The support I got from the people of JRS changed my life: their hospitality, friendship and commitment taught me to follow their way, which is nothing but helping human beings. JRS will also support our project to change the lives of street children who work for their mere survival but only wish to study. We are honoured to be supported by JRS. We’d like to start teaching computer programs, and to build a small library.
My life has changed. I was illiterate but become literate, was poor but became better off, was a street kid but became student, teacher, peace activist. I want to help other street children to change their life, because I know, more than anyone else, what they face.
INFO POINT: There are an estimated 50,000 street children in Kabul, who must work to provide for themselves and their family. Many are displaced by the war and have lost one or both parents.