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Khyber crisis: an uncertain future

I was surprised to see children bubbling with excitement at Save the Children’s Temporary Learning Centre (TLC) in District Peshawar.

Displaced children and those from host communities enjoy drawing at our temporary learning centre in District Peshawar, Pakistan

These children were recently displaced from Khyber Agency and it was the first time in months that they’d been in a safe environment where they could play and learn.

They were too excited to sit down and listen to the TLC supervisor’s instructions. Their thirst to learn was beyond control.

Bursting with life

Children of all ages were present – drawing, reading, playing with toys, while others sat quietly looking at their new classmates.

But every child in the centre burst into action the moment storybooks and stationery items were revealed. The vitality of these vulnerable children went straight to my heart.

Children from Khyber Agency play games at Save the Children's temporary learning centre in Peshawar District

When the basic education session began, none of them were annoyed or complained of having to sit tightly together in the small space that was their classroom.

I recalled how my classmates and I reacted similarly at the end of class but never at the beginning. No teacher in the world is greeted like this by students on their first day at school.

Surviving bullets and bombs

After spending time at the TLC, I found out children’s favourite games, what they wanted to be when they grow up and their hobbies.

But I was particularly disturbed when they shared hair-raising experiences of fleeing from the conflict in Khyber Agency.

Most of them had walked for days in the harsh terrain to find transport to reach Peshawar. Some carried bags, which weighed more than their tiny bodies. Others survived gunfire and bomb blasts.

Children witnessed their loved ones pass away either because of the conflict or due to the lack of health facilities.

I was dumbfounded; watching the calm faces of the children as they narrated their harrowing tales. for them, it wasn’t unusual that their families struggle every day to survive and that death lurks around the corner.

Hospitality in the face of tragedy

Just as I was about to leave, five-year-old Zala grabbed my hand and asked if I’d like to have dinner with her family.

The TLC supervisor said that Zala’s baby sister had recently passed away because of fever and lack of treatment. Her family couldn’t afford taking her to a private clinic.

Yet Zala was oblivious of the tragedy and insisted on fulfilling her community’s hospitality. Her words shall forever echo in my heart.

An uncertain future

After a week in Peshawar, I cannot not help but despair at the cruel fate dished out to these children who continue to suffer because of the vested interest of adults.

Right now they are ignorant of the conflict’s disastrous effects, which has rendered them homeless, hungry, and vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

If this situation persists, will they lose their precious, childish innocence, their loving and trusting nature, and the smile and sparkle on the faces?

Written by Huzan Waqar, Save the Children, Pakistan

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