Afghanistan Diary - Day Four

Ansigul receives WFP food rations after attending her basic literacy class. At 40 she is determined to learn to read and write. Copyright WFP/Silke Buhr

On day four of her trip through the Bamyan region of central Afghanistan, Silke meets a 40-year-old woman who missed out on her chance to learn to read and write when she was young, but is now determined to learn those skills. In the meantime, she's being helped by WFP food rations. Silke also takes a hike on one of the new tourist trails being built through the mountains, also with WFP's help.

South of Bamyan lie the Koh-i-Baba mountains, picture perfect peaks capped with snow that catches and reflects the light in a different, awe-inspiring way every moment of the day. They would be the feather in the cap of any country’s tourist industry, and the local government is looking at ways to develop a sustainable ecotourism trade.

WFP is helping by supporting some of these projects with food-for-assets schemes. In an isolated valley, a community centre is being constructed– and it will have two rooms where hikers can stay when they’re visiting this region. Builders are being paid by WFP with food rations.There are also projects to build terraces and trusses to prevent soil erosion, which should reduce the risk of flooding in the valley in the springtime and will make it easier to grow food on the slopes.

Food For Assets

But it’s not just all happening down in the valley – time to ascend to lofty heights on a brand new trail just completed under a food-for-assets project. WFP is supporting a project to build 40km of trails connecting seven valleys leading up to the mountains. These trails will be useful for tourists, but actually, the first to benefit from the improved transportation infrastructure are the people living in the area. The first path was only completed two days ago, but already there is a steady traffic of people and animals on it. We start walking up to have a look – and I am ashamed to be overtaken by an old man and his donkey who are merrily strolling up the path at twice my speed. This path peaks at over 3,200 metres but it’s much easier to get to the next village now, especially when carrying food to sell or trade. It took a group of 20 men working for a month to build it, and they were happy to take home WFP food rations to their families. 

Learning to read and write

In the afternoon, there is a food distribution for women who have been attending a basic literacy class, learning to read and write. I marvel at how young the teacher of the group of 30 women is, but there is a simple explanation – women didn’t have the chance to get an education here until ten years or so ago, so of course any trained teachers are very, very young. This point is highlighted by Ansigul, who is in her early 40s. “I didn’t have the chance to study when it was my time to go to school,” she explains. “Learning now at my age is very difficult, but I’m happy to have the chance. I can write my name now, and the names of my children”.  The WFP food rations are important for her family, but it’s not the only incentive for her to attend the class. She explains that sent her own daughters to school as soon as this became possible. “Education will help the girls. They’ll be able to get a job – that’s important.”