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A day in Kashmir

My last week in Kashmir, India is filled with field visits to our newly established Child Friendly Spaces. We have set up recreational facilities for children in 72 of the poorest villages most affected by the ongoing conflict in Kahsmir. Their aim is to support children’s overall well-being and development. One month after opening, these spaces are a huge success — approximately 3,600 children play in the spaces on a regular basis. 

Over the past couple of days Andleeb, a super-intern who is working with us, and I have visited several villages to see how the spaces are running. We talk with children and the ‘animators’, the young women who run the play activities.

I have been amazed by the tremendous support the project received from the communities.  Most animators host the Child Friendly spaces in their own house on a voluntary basis. They have offered one large room of their house for indoor play activities.

The energy that the animators put into their work is amazing. Aaliyah (21) is not just involved in running the Child Friendly spaces. She’s also engaged in the women’s Child Protection Committee and informs women in the village about gender-based violence and (in)equality, advising women about domestic violence and trying to increase their parrticipation in village life.

Mehebob (18) is one of the youngest animators we recruited. Having completed the second year of her BA she’s already the most highly educated person in the village. She organises activities for children in the lunch break of the local primary school in cooperation with the school teacher. Together they have identified several children with psychosocial problems and, through home visits to the parents, they try to find suitable solutions for them.

In another village we are welcomed by Rahila (25), an open and energetic young woman who has several children with hearing and visual impairments in her group. We saw first-hand how these children are successfully included in activities and supported by other children by following their examples.

On our drive back to Srinagar the sun is shining, the fields are flourishing and the play activities are running. But let’s not forget why we started this project in the first place. Last summer the conflict in Kashmir erupted again, causing many violent deaths and a two-month non-stop curfew that made life in rural villages very difficult. In one of the villages we visited this week, 6 children and 45 men were slaughtered in a confrontation with militants last year. And the violence hasn’t stopped. In another village, a 7-year old girl was found dead last week, her throat was cut.

Being in Kashmir, you will hear many of these horrible and heartbreaking stories. But how tragic these stories might be, we must continue sharing them to make people not forget about the chronic crisis in Kashmir.

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