Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The legacy of Afghanistan - How can we let this child die?

For my first post of the new year, I had planned to tackle Rep. Daryl Issa's sudden interest in governmental oversight. I was planning to delve into his misguided assumption that holding hearings on alleged Administration corruption would somehow identify ( and thus free up) $200 Billion for other things. it was a grand plan.

But this story, carried on CNN today, changed my focus entirely:

Five-year-old Marjan sniffles from the cold as she struggles under her load. Hoisted on her back is a bag almost as big as she is.

Instead of going to school, Marjan scavenges for hours with her 10-year-old aunt collecting trash. It is a heavy burden for such a small child but a necessary one. The trash she collects is what her family uses as fuel for cooking and, more importantly, to fend off Kabul's bitter winter.

It is a matter of life and death for someone so young. Last winter, Marjan's baby brother died from the cold.

As a father, whose youngest daughter is rapidly approaching two, this story tears me up. Every night I lay my toddler down in her bed, and I tear up at how fortunate I am, and how fortunate she is. I used to do the same with my teenagers, though I don't tuck them in any more. Yet to see this little girl on the brink of hypothermia, and to see her even younger sister (who is probably my toddler's age) loading trash into the fire pit so she can stay warm is to see abject suffering in a way that will haunt me forever.

And it leads to so many questions:
  • Once they got the images, did the CNN crew do anything to help this little girl and this family? The story doesn't say whether they did, but I would find it hard to believe that they would just walk away. Did they leave her their coats? Did they bring better blankets or a more insulated roof? Could they and did they go to the UN mission and get her, her sister and her mom some help?
  • Now that this family has been identified around the world, will anyone step up to help? Sure, the security and economic situation in Kabul is horrendous, but why should that stop us from seeing to it that for this winter (if not all winters) Marjan has the clothes, shoes and shelter she needs? If American business tycoons can build schools for girls in remote villages, what does it really take to make sure this little girl has a warm bed to sleep in? Or even a blanket that is not made of scraps?
  • And what does the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan do for this girl and her family? How is it that, as we seek to drive down a resurgent Taliban, and defeat a resilient Osama Bin Laden, that we are letting this girl, and all children like her, suffer this much? Surely if we are to gain any kind of upper hand in Afghanistan, we must make sure that its children do not sleep one night in these conditions.
Yes, there is poverty here at home too. Yes, we need to take care of all our own before we take care of everyone else. Yes, there is only so much to go around. I know all that. And for Marjan's sake, I don't care. We can not, we must not, let her mother put her to sleep every night filled with fear that she will not wake up, having succumbed to the cold. Those tears will never dry on her mother's face, nor on mine.

1 comment:

Philip H. said...

So I emailed CNN myself to see what they could tell me, and this was their reply:

Thank you for your inquiry on how to help Marjan, the 5-year-old child in Afghanistan featured in Arwa Damon’s story “child scavenges for family’s survival”. Her story and plight have captured the hearts of many, and we are honored to know that so many of our viewers would like to help. You’ll be happy to know that following CNN’s visit there some immediate relief was provided to her and her family including blankets, jackets, boots, gloves, hats, wood, flour, floor mats, sleeping bags, etc.

Unfortunately, what we know to be true from years of reporting stories such as this one is that the ability to get money or supplies directly and specifically to one person is extremely unlikely, if not impossible. Beyond the challenges of physically directing funds to her (no bank account, no computers or internet access, no mail service, different currencies etc.) is the concern for safety – families who suddenly have cash can quickly become the target of robbers or find themselves in other dangerous situations.

It’s also important to note that while we featured Marjan’s story, she is one of many, many children living in these conditions. That’s why our Impact Your World page often features vetted, reliable non-profit organizations who are in a position to help Marjan and the many other children facing the same bleak future. While it doesn’t put money directly into the hands of Marjan, it is a way to support the charities who are there to help her. The Aschiana Foundation in Afghanistan is one such organization, with the mission to feed and clothe Afghanistan’s street children. They have been featured on our IYW page in the past, and you can learn more about them here http://www.aschiana-foundation.org/. And of course, UNICEF is a well-known, world-wide organization bringing relief to children such as Marjan.

Again, thank you for your concern and compassion for this little girl. We feel honored to count you among our viewers.

Warm regards,

CNN Viewer Communications Management