For more than 30 years, war has torn the country of Afghanistan apart, bringing devastation and misery to the third world nation and rendering millions of children fatherless and their mothers widowed. Nearly six million childrenmostly girlsdon’t go to school in Afghanistan and those that do, do their learning on carpets in the heat of the sun, as school buildings are rare. For every four or five villages there is often only one medical clinic for 40,000 to 50,000 people, far below the international standard and even the third-world standard. Domestic abuse and rape is rampant, with some men cutting their wives’ ears and noses to the point of mutilation. For those women that have become widowed and are devoid of any formal education or skills with which to provide for their family, many feel hopeless and without a future so they drench themselves in hot cooking oil.
This pain and violence that is a part of everyday life in Afghanistan is why Fahima Vorgetts has devoted her life to making a change in the country she fled when the Soviets invaded in 1979. Director of the Afghan Women’s Fund, Vorgetts tours the country speaking about Afghanistan, the women there and what havoc the war has wreaked.
`Some say it’s [Afghanistan] a postwar country but it’s not, it’s a war torn country`there’s over 100,000 military, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, fundamentalists, drug and war lords, foreign soldiers all fighting among themselves everywhere,` said Vorgetts. `Women and children are the biggest victims of this war. When I go there I see the pain and suffering, the good and the bad. I see the devastation and misery that the war has brought to this country.`
Vorgetts said since many women haven’t had the opportunity to be educated or learn skills they turn to other options to put food on the table, from selling all their belongings and the clothes off their backs, to hard physical labor and prostitution.
Traveling to Afghanistan several times a year, Vorgetts has opened hundreds of literacy classes for women to learn to read and write, opened vocational training facilities to teach career skills like sewing, embroidery, carpet weaving, jewelry and candle making, silk weaving, raising silk worms and formed women co-ops where they can sell their products in a market. She builds health clinics and provides medical supplies, constructs school buildings, donates pounds of school supplies, finds people to sponsor orphans and most recently is raising money to dig wells for clean water. She has established family guidance centers, women shelters for the abused or endangered and developed a legal system to help women who are abused or in jail.
`I want to help women be self sufficient and empowered. I want to help young girls be educated. Many aren’t allowed to go to school if there’s no building because of the threat of abduction or rape. I have girls writing to me and begging me to help them,` said Vorgetts.
Despite the United States’ attempt to bring democracy to Afghanistan, Vorgetts said the American presence has done more harm than good and women are worse off than they were before 9/11. That’s why she believes strongly in bringing about change without military or violence.
`The whole world was talking about Afghanistan and saying ‘we’re going to liberate it and help the people and they’ll have democracy and freedom and a better place to live and we’ll get rid of the Taliban and those hijacking Islam’ but democracy was not brought there. Instead, the same people who committed crimes against humanity`thieves and thugs`those corrupt people are back in power,` said Vorgetts. `You can’t bring peace with weapons. If we’re in the hearts and minds of the people over there and start respecting humanity, that will bring us together.`
Vorgetts received an education in Kabul before fleeing to the U.S., where she married an American and raised a family in Maryland. She has spoken before the United Nations, written two books and won numerous humanitarian awards for her work. She said she hopes a change will come in her lifetime and she’ll keep fighting for the people of Afghanistan until it does.
`As long as there is devastation and poverty and pain and ache there, I will be doing this work for the rest of my life. But I hope I won’t have to,` said Vorgetts.
Vorgetts said she is urging people to listen to what she has to say and write letters to Congress to ask for help. She is trying to raise $10,000 for her well project and welcomes any donations, which are tax deductible. For more information, email [email protected] or call 465-0582.