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Saturday, January 13, 2007 by Marianne Elliott

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Space! I barely even realised how much I had been craving it until I got some and felt such an incredible rush of happiness. From the moment the plane took off I felt as though I had been set free from a kind of prison. Space! As we flew over the plains of Herat and then up over the mountains of Ghor, I had this huge, silly grin on my face and my spirit felt lighter than it has in weeks. This week I was grateful for space and the freedom to move through it.
Cheghcharan, the provincial capital of Ghor is a small, poor town. I spent some time this week in the bazaar, trying to buy decent clothes and shoes for the orphanage, because I hadn't brought enough with me from Herat for the number of kids that I found when I got there. Here are some images from the market. This week I was grateful for my income and what it enables me to do.

Most of these children are not orphans, although many would come from women-headed households. Some even have fathers, but their families are too poor to care for them. On my first visit the Director explained all this to me, and shocked me with his announcement that they had between 250 and 300 children in the orphanage (I suspect some of the children come and go from their family homes, hence the approximate number).
I realised that I couldn't possibly give enough for all the children on this visit, so I suggested that most of the clothes and shoes I had brought would fit the youngest children. Next time I visit I'll take something for the older children, probably books and pens, I think.
So we agreed that the Director would sort the clothes into approximate sizes and I would return on Thursday morning so we could distribute them together to the smallest children.
When I arrived on Thursday it was snowing. The Director brought me into the yard of the orphanage and as I stood there, not quite sure what was going on, all the children filed out of the buildings and stood around the yard, in the snow, looking expectantly at me. I desparately tried to tell the Director that I didn't have enough clothes for all the children, and that in any case they shouldn't be standing out in the snow.
Just as I was beginning to feel completely overwhelmed by the terrible situation I had created in my clumsiness a car pulled up and my fabulous colleague/assistant got out, he had finished his meeting with the Governor and decided to come and see how I was doing. As he stepped out of the car I burst into tears, explaining that I had got myself into this horrible situation and begging his help to fix it! He was great, we explained to the Director that it was too cold for the children to wait outside and he explained to the children that this time we only had clothes for the littlest children.
He helped me organise for all the children to go inside and then come out in small groups so that we could fit the clothes and shoes properly. My other colleagues arrived – Muna and Harry – and they were fantastic. I watched Muna gently trying to fit the tiny, cold feet and arms into our second-hand boots and jackets. Meanwhile Harry was slipping polar fleece hats onto cold little heads and checking which children didn't have socks so that we could make sure they got the best we had. This week I was grateful for my colleagues, good hearted and hard working people on whom I can rely and with whom I can have fun.
This little girl was being helped by an older boy. From what I could make out he was not her brother, but he was beautifully gentle with her and a very good advocate for her, making sure she got everything he could find that would fit her. The little boy on the left has his new hat, boots, jacket and fleecy shirt and pants on as well.

In the end, things became a little chaotic again, as the older children all made their way out into the yard and wanted to get somethings for themselves. I had bought six footballs and so we told the teachers to let the children play with them, we also found a box of clothes donated by someone from the Lithuanian PRT which had not been distributed so we were able to give some of the older children clothes, hats, gloves and shoes from that box.
This week I was grateful for the chance to give and most of all for the fabulous Commander, whose idea this was in the first place and whose generosity and kind-heartedness help me keep my faith in the good.
Another highlight of this mission was my visit to a community-based girls' school in Dowlatyar. The girls were studying mathematics, chemistry and physics when I arrived. When I asked them how many wanted to be doctors, teachers, lawyers and engineers respectively, most of them said they wanted to be doctors. Which means they are aiming to get the highest grades possible in their exams. I told them about Maria Bashir, the women who was recently appointed to be the Provincial Chief Prosecutor in Herat and said I wondered whether the next Director of Public Health for Ghor province was in the room. Perhaps this beautiful girl? This week I was grateful for my education and everything it has brought me, including the chance to work here.

And finally, just to prove I was there, here is a photo of me with my fabulous colleague Reza (on the right) without whom I wouldn't be able to do anything useful at all, and our counterpart from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, Mr Hakak. This week, as always, I was grateful for Reza!

We stopped for a photo op on our way to Dowlatyar, and I felt free as a bird after these weeks of restricted movement in Herat. I also got to walk from one village to the next through the snow in Dowlatyar – much to the astonishment of the locals who seemed to expect a foreigner like myself to collapse in a heap of helplessness as soon as I stepped away from the 4×4! This week I was grateful that I can walk with ease.
One final set of photos – the rest are on flickr if you want to see more. These men bring the wood in from the country-side to Cheghcharan town every morning to sell it for fuel. Their donkeys are piled high with dried scrub and wood. I worry about the environmental impact of this practice, but have no better option to offer them right now so I am grateful for the warmth given off by the wood stoves that I found in every office I visited, and (thank goodness) in every prison cell as well. This week I was grateful for bukhari (stoves)
There are some strange loud noises going on this morning, it sounds like explosions somewhere in the city. More often than not these are controlled explosions, getting rid of unexploded ordinanaces found by the demining teams, but it reminds me that I'm back in Herat and won't be able to go out walking as I please until I go home to New Zealand in February or when I return to Ghor, whichever comes first. This week I am grateful for being able to travel.

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10 Responses to "Gratitude"

  1. Lacithecat says:

    Morning Frida. I am drinking my tea, getting ready for the trip, doing some work (there so much! eek!) and absolutely loving your blog today. Amazing.I can taste the freshair and feel the movement. Even though most places in Africa are relevatively safe – I still find the inability to move at night or walk around certain areas restricting/fustrating (esp at night). Reading your blog makes me almost laugh at my impatient side. I realize it was relative luxury!Anyway, thanks for the comments on my blog. All wonderful and interesting. Will be back on the 22nd. Ah … and another thank for taking us all on such an adventure!

  2. Alexandra G says:

    I will be catching up on all your posts of the last week but I was wondering if you woudl ever take small personal donations to help buy these kids some basics? It really breaks my heart. When I lived in Bulgaria I volunteered at an orphanage and I knew I would never ever take for granted having famly after that. Do let me know though about the donations. My email is I’d rather send something straight to you where I know right away it could go to some good.

  3. Regina Clare Jane says:

    This was an amazing post and at once I am both jealous and very excited for you that you are creating such wonderful experiences in your life to share with all of us!Those children are just precious… all it takes is a picture of that sweet little girl or the school girl to bring you out of yourself and be grateful for what you do have! Is there any way we can help you and those children, Frida? I would love to be able to help them make it through the winter…Thank you so much for your courage and compassion.

  4. paris parfait says:

    The photos are fabulous – little flashes of the human condition, condensed into camera images. And the story of how you’re trying to help so many children and your feeling of being overwhelmed that all couldn’t be helped is so touching. Once in Jordan I was in a refugee camp surrounded by small children who were poor, but didn’t realise it – they were trying to give me presents! To this day I still treasure a cross-stitched picture of a house given to me by an eight-year old Palestinian girl. Of course to many Palestinians, having a home is an elusive dream.

  5. AnnieElf says:

    Frida, I just wrote to a knitter friend of mine. I am wondering if you can make use of a shipment of hats, mittens, and scarves? We could make them and perhaps find a good selection of readymades as well. Please write when you have a moment. My email is at my blog. Blessings to you and your friends for all that you do.

  6. Alex aka Gypsy Girl says:

    Frida, I’m so very touched by your work there… I would absolutely love to contribute in any possible way as well. x

  7. AnnieElf says:

    Dear Frida, I’ve just seen your note posted at my blogsite. I was deeply moved by the pictures of the children and felt compelled to do something tangible. I’ve been asking God for a purpose for sometime now and this is it. Big or small, this ripple with end up as a tangible offering in your hands. I just spoke to my daughter and husband to let them know what I am up to. Now I’m off to throw out some other lines. Please write to me directly at or at the email on my blogsite whenever you like. Sincerely, Annie

  8. Cheryl says:

    Frida:I just stumbled upon your blog today and am in amazement and awe of the wonderful work you are doing. I have sent a contribution via paypal. May God be with you in your journeys and all you are doing to help these children, and let us spread word of your work amongst the blogging community so as to get as much help to you as possible to help you help these children.Take care,Fondly,Cheryl in Louisville, Kentucky

  9. Cheryl says:

    Frida:I just stumbled upon your blog today and in amazement and awe of the wonderful work you are doing. I have sent a contribution via paypal. May God be with you in your journeys and all you are doing to help these children, and let us spread word of your work amongst the blogging community so as to get as much help to you as possible to help you help these children.Take care,Fondly,Cheryl in Louisville, Kentucky

  10. Colorsonmymind says:

    I am so touched by what you are doing.Thank you for taking the time to share it with us.Hugs

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