Afghanistan

Rebuilding hope in the Shomali valley, Afghanistan

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By Chris Herlinger and Rick Augsburger
SHOMALI VALLEY, NORTH OF KABUL, Afghanistan -- An eerie quiet pervades the Shomali Valley.

Eerie because not long ago, this region was far from quiet: it was the front line in the battle between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, the force that helped drive the Taliban from power in late 2001.

Villages like Qila Belund and Qala-E-Khwaja felt the brunt of battle: tens of thousands fled their communities and thousands of homes were destroyed.

To listen to villagers like Ghlam Sakhi, 55, and his nephew, Rahmuddin Huzruddin, 22, is to hear experiences borne of anger and heartbreak. "Life here was once good," said Huzruddin, recalling an era when nearby fields were filled with wheat, corn and grapes.

But the Taliban era brought with it oppression: the Taliban targeted the area and the result was decimation, even before the battles. Now people must be careful when stepping onto fields because of landmines; it will be years before crops will return to their one-time bounty.

"Nothing was left," Sakhi recalled about the moment he and other family members returned to Qila Belund in early 2002.

Happily, there is hope for the villagers as they continue work on reconstructing their communities.

With financial support from CWS member denominations and ACT International, Church World Service and its local partner, Norwegian Project Office, have assisted some 1000 families in reconstructing their homes in the Somali Valley. This effort is part of an overall $1.3 million dollar housing reconstruction project to provide housing to some 1,500 families in the Shomali Valley. This month, CWS, NPO and local government officials celebrated a milestone in the project with a ceremony of solidarity signifying the completion of 1,000 reconstructed homes. The remaining 500 will be completed this spring.

A crucial part of the project has been that families moving into the house provide labor and bricks to supplement the CWS Housing Kits, which, among other materials, include the homes' wooden beams, doors and windows.

"We are very thankful," Huzruddin said recently as he took a break from placing wooden beams atop the house he and his family now occupy. "This has come at a very crucial time for us."

In the village of Qala-E-Khwaja, sentiments ran high as work continued on the reconstruction. Raila, 35, a woman who found herself displaced along with others in her family pointed with pride to her son, Haroon, 17, who has assisted in the labor for their new home.

Her reaction? "A new life," she said.

(CWS-Emergency Response Program Director Rick Augsburger, along with CWS staff members Kirsten Laursen -- Deputy Director of Programs, and Donna Derr-Associate Director for Emergency Response, and members of the CWS ERP Executive Committee Betty Voskuil -- Reformed Church of America, Susan Sanders-United Church of Christ, and Johnny Wray-Christian Church Disciples, visited the Shomali Valley to monitor the CWS rehabilitation efforts in January 2003. ERP Communications Officer Chris Herlinger visited the Shomali Valley on assignment in October 2002.)