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Kabul bound once more

I am back in Kabul today. The small UN plane I was travelling in from Mazar masqueraded as a school bus, stopping in the towns of Kunduz and Faizabad, depositing and picking up passengers. At the latter, we bumpily landed on a camouflaged runway of metal and grass! I now have a whole new perspective on the importance of seatbelts.

It’s my second time in Kabul and I notice more this time around. There are a profusion of wedding halls around the city which look more like brightly lit amusement parks. A colleague tells me that there are over 50 of these in Kabul and weddings are big business. My favourite is the ambitiously named ‘Kabul-Paris Wedding Palace’ with flashing neon Eiffel Towers outside. I see lots of school children visiting Kabul zoo, which was badly destroyed during the war but is now a popular attraction for families. It houses Afghanistan’s only pig which I learn has been quarantined until further notice due to swine flu fears.

I spend the afternoon in a town called Bagrami, about a 40 minute drive east of Kabul. Save the Children is running a number of school health projects here which I am going to visit. As I jump out of the van after a hair-raising ride on unpaved roads at the first school, I am immediately approached by one the community leaders who tells me about how necessary it is to build a boundary wall for the school. I realise that I hadn’t even noticed its absence but it is evident what a deterrent the absence of a surrounding wall is. Parents are reluctant to send their children, especially their daughters to school because of safety concerns and rain water floods the classrooms. Despite these circumstances, the children are enthusiastic about their modular health training which they will impart to their peers covering basic aspects of nutrition, cough, cold and diarrhoea prevention and the importance of vaccinations.

Through these training modules, over 8000 children have been made aware of personal hygiene practices.

On the drive back into Kabul we pass large clusters of people with their belongings. Our driver points out that they have crossed the border into eastern Afghanistan from Pakistan. Fighting has intensified in the Swat Valley, and I am saddened to see so many displaced people.

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