“Good your Journey!”
Reactions vary considerably when you tell people you’re travelling (willingly) to Afghanistan. These range from expressions of encouragement, to scepticism and even horror. As I walk out of my pre-departure security briefing in London, admittedly a bit shaken, I am still determined to go ahead with it. Save the Children has been working in Afghanistan since 1976 and I am really excited at the prospect of visiting and learning more about our programme work in Kabul and Mazar-e-Sharif.
As I land in Kabul airport and wear my headscarf for the first time, I feel like I’m on a movie set as I see armoured vehicles all around and hear the constant drone of military helicopters. It’s not quite Top Gun, but close.
A friendly Save the Children driver picks me up in an unmarked car and as we leave the airport, I am fascinated with everything I see. On Kabul’s chaotic and dusty streets, I notice ancient looking buses with interesting slogans emblazoned on their sides such as “All to be Happy”, “Good your Journey” and best of all, “I am Mercedes Benz”. It is a somewhat pleasant diversion from the heavily armed police, uniformed troops and fortified compounds with sandbagged guard stations that I see around the city.
I pass buildings which still show evidence of bullet holes and shelling, there are no street or traffic lights and the only real signs of modern life are the Toyota Land Cruisers belonging to the UN and other international agencies.
On reaching the Save the Children office to a warm welcome from colleagues, I am immediately given another security briefing. I am told that we are always under threat of abduction or a suicide bombing, walking on the streets is forbidden, I cannot go anywhere without a Save the Children car and driver, I must always get clearance from the security co-ordinator and the country director and I must sign in and out of the office or staff house so everyone knows where I am at all times. On a brighter note, staff curfew is now 10pm. It used to be 8pm a few months ago.
I spend the afternoon getting a programmatic overview of Save the Children’s work in the country and I can’t wait to get out and visit our projects. In Afghanistan, we work in partnership with local NGO’s and government ministries to ensure that children have access to quality education, health care and protection and all our interventions are guided by a child rights approach. We are also working on scaling up our emergency preparedness and response activities.