October 19th, 2010
12:36 PM ET

Working instead of school, the boy mechanics of Kabul

The grease-covered orange overalls can't hide 14-year-old Nazer Ahmad's frail frame. As he leans under the hood of a wrecked car, torn plastic sandals on his feet, I know I cannot possibly understand the life this young boy is forced to lead in war-torn Afghanistan -
where jobs are few, pay is appalling, and young children must work rather than
go to school and play with their friends.

Nazer is one of the boy mechanics of the Sarai Malim yard in western
Kabul. CNN producer Matiullah Mati has brought me here. As an Afghan, Mati sees
a side of life here that the NATO generals and politicians never see.

There are dozens of young boys here - thin and frail because of a lack
of nutrition brought on by staggering poverty. They are typically brought to
the muddy yard by a male relative. Dozens of ramshackle huts, lean-tos and tiny
one-room buildings house auto mechanics and repair shops where cars, buses and
trucks are brought by local Afghans to be fixed. There is no safety gear.
Welding sparks hit one young boy's eye as Nazer carries large pieces of metal
across the yard. Another young boy struggles under the weight of large pails of
supplies he is carrying.

Nazer agrees to sit for a few minutes to talk to me, with Mati
translating. His words are few. I quickly learn he works ten hours a day, six
days a week. The boss pays him less than a dollar a day. And his wages are the
only income for his family of five. His father was blinded years ago in a
Soviet rocket attack and cannot work. His mother has two other small children
at home. Nazer has had three years of school. Then, last year, his uncle
brought him here.

It takes Nazer one hour to walk from his one-room home to the yard. He
arrives at 7 a.m. and begins to work. He and the boys get a morning and noon
meal. At the end of his ten-hour day, this small boy walks home again, often in
the very lonely dark.

When I ask if he ever plays with friends, I get a heartbreaking answer of
one word: "No." In Nazer's world there is no time for play. He tells me he just
works and there is "no time for fun." He tells me he is happy to have the job
and be able to help his family.

But these boy mechanics of Kabul do have dreams of another life for
themselves - and, remarkably, for their country. Nazer tells me he would like
to go back to school and become a teacher. He says he feels it's a way he can
"serve" his country.

Throughout our chat, Nazer never smiles. Not once.

Across the yard we meet 12-year-old Mohammed Azam inside one of the dark
shops, bent over his cooking pots. His father brings him here to cook for the
workers and then he can go to school. Mohammed says he doesn't want to be a
mechanic. He says he wants to be a doctor so he can "serve society."

Mohammed's father Najibullah has a philosophical outlook tempered by the
reality of life in this country. "Knowledge is good, education is good. But
most of these boys are poor and they must work."

soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Dan in Lafayette, IN

    Din or sharia is not work it is law dummy! Jesus meant what was from the heart that you had done for someone you idiot!

    October 19, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Joseph McCarthy

    I can say this; If the Communists stayed in power,this young man would be in school now building toward his future instead of on the streets hustling for a living.

    October 19, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Prophet Mohammed

      It doesn't speak much for Afghanistan's future (the lack of education for the children) but at least they are making an honest living and contributing to society and therefore not a target for the Taliban to earn some "quick cash" as a sucide bomber or IED planter.

      October 20, 2010 at 12:14 am | Report abuse |
      • LarryKegel(US Army)

        The Communist of today are more like being the Democracy than the Communist way of thing!!!

        October 28, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
      • LarryKegel(US Army)

        Is that Why the US is trying to keep the Poor American People that way??? So that They can make this a 3rd world Country??? Because if the Tea Party get into office that is what They will try to do to this Country!!!

        October 28, 2010 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • S Eanwar

      Joseph u broke the silence, Some one actually has some thing to CONTRIBUTE here, the on going goons chatter is an insult to what the comments were originally meant to serve.

      On the subject matter, yes what most people forget that since 1979 the country is in war, no schools, no commerce. But lets us ensure that this kids next generation will have the opportunity to go to a decent school, and build a future for himself.

      October 23, 2010 at 1:29 am | Report abuse |
  3. Dan in Lafayette, IN

    Why don't you tell that to this poor boy's father who is disabled and cannot work because of Soviet aggression and expansionism which now the Islamic extremists have taken over their evil misdeeds!

    October 19, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • The Prophet Mohammed

      If Bin Laden is taken alive it will just confirm what all the rest of us already know, he's a punk coward. He did say he will never be taken alive but will be a Martyr (i.e "Just as Dead") and he has people around him whose sole purpose is to shoot him if he's in danger of being captured.

      October 22, 2010 at 2:07 am | Report abuse |