Inside Afghan orphanages
July 11th, 2011
08:45 AM ET

Former child refugee becomes hero to hundreds of orphans

Afghanistan has been called the worst place to be a child.

One in five will die before their 5th birthday, according to UNICEF. More than 600,000 children sleep on the streets. More than 2 million are orphans.

But one woman is trying to improve the lives of Afghan orphans and change the sobering statistics.

Andeisha Farid, 28, founded the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization in Kabul in 2008 to create orphanages that were safe environments, places to learn and paths to the future.

From Kabul, Farid talked with CNN about her own devastating childhood, teaching kids about tolerance and security concerns living in Afghanistan.

CNN: How did you get the idea of starting an orphanage? What inspired you?

Farid: I grew up in refugee camps in Iran and Pakistan. I've seen misery and pain, extreme poverty, war and hunger. I know what it's like to have nothing. The actual idea of starting an orphanage came to me later, while I was attending university in Pakistan. I saw street children begging for food. It was heartbreaking to see it.

It started with 20 kids in a small safe house in Islamabad and a wonderful husband-and-wife team looking after the children. The main plan was to make sure that the children go to school as well. When I saw how quickly they blossomed being in the safe house and going to school, I realized I should do more than feed and house these children. I wanted to empower them with a sense of security, with education and eventually independence.

I was sure that if we raise and educate them properly, if we provide them the opportunity to be doctor, an engineer and a future leader, they can give back to Afghanistan. It's what we desperately need.

CNN: Let's talk about your childhood. Clearly, that had a huge impact on you and what your dreams and goals for the future were.

Farid: I was born in Afghanistan in 1983. The day I was born, my village was turned into rubble by Soviet airstrikes. We migrated to Iran and settled in a remote refugee camp. The closest town was three hours away. There was nothing there. People in the camp had no access to a clinic, school or even clean drinking water. We had to walk for miles to get water. There was such a sense of loss and despair. I saw a pregnant women die in labor and children dying from diarrhea, things that could have been easily prevented if they had access to a clinic.

We lived in that camp for a few years, before my family decided to go back home to Afghanistan in 1992. The car ride home turned into a tragic journey. Iranian border police opened fire on our car. My 12-year-old brother was shot and killed. My father and 3-year-old sister were injured. Losing my brother was devastating.

When we returned to our village in Afghanistan, nothing was left. Everything had been destroyed. Only a few families were living there, surrounded by land mines. The country was embroiled in a civil war. The country's infrastructure had collapsed. Women were not safe; many were kidnapped and gang-raped. Children were also vulnerable. They became victims of child trafficking, abuse and child labor.

CNN: Some of these kids have seen or gone through terrible ordeals. Some have lost one or both parents ... and might feel angry or bitter about their past. How do you make extremism an unattractive option? What do you tell these kids who've gone through so much to give them hope?

Farid: For me, the key is education. Equal education for boys and girls. Young boys are recruited by the Taliban because of poverty and lack of education. We believe in basic freedoms that every human being enjoys. We don't force or push any child to pray or not to pray, to fast or not to fast. Individual freedoms and tolerance are critical. Our motto is respect for others regardless of gender, language, religion, race or color.

We have children from all over Afghanistan from different ethnic groups. They all live together. They realize everybody is equal. We want our girls and boys to grow in a secure environment and we want to make sure that nothing is imposed on any of these children. When they come to us, most of these kids are so ready to bury their past and move on.

CNN: How did you finance your idea, to make this dream into a reality?

Farid: We started by teaming up with a nonprofit group, Charity Help International. The idea was to finance every child through sponsorships. Today, we have around 650 children and 11 orphanages in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We hope every child will be sponsored by the generous contributions of individuals around the world. Many kids are still without sponsors. Some of our dedicated volunteers have also helped us with music classes and the library.

CNN: What about security concerns?

Farid: There are always security concerns for the kids and our staff when you live in Afghanistan. We have security guards who escort the kids to school. Girls are taken back and forth in a van. We live in a male-dominated country and society, so when we promote gender equality, when we give opportunities for girls to become musicians or leaders in the community, there WILL be resistance. Many of our girls speak proudly about gender equality. They want to put an end to corruption in the government. These young girls want to become politicians and social activists and journalists. For women, that is not socially or culturally accepted.

CNN: How has running the orphanages changed your life?

Farid: For one, I have realized how fortunate I've been to receive an education despite all I I've gone through. It gives me hope. I knew there were two choices in front of me: one was to sit in a corner of a room and obey my husband and have many children. Or I could dedicate my life to help Afghan children get the same level education (I received). When I see how these kids turn their lives around, it makes me proud and so happy. My life has become sweeter, richer through the program. At 28, I also have a lot of gray hair, but this is something that I wanted to do for Afghanistan. I see it as a drop in the ocean. ... There are many other kids that still need help.

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soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. pamiri

    God safe you all children, wethere you are in AFghanistan or in other country and at least you are free from tensions that you are facing in some parts of the AFghanistan,

    from Kabul

    July 12, 2011 at 3:42 am | Report abuse |
  2. pamiri

    do not defame my screen name pamiri, you are not pamiri you are defaming my nam, do not do that,

    I respect to all girls especially to Afghan girls
    from Kabul

    July 12, 2011 at 3:39 am | Report abuse |
    • salerno

      You respect the girls just with your mouth.

      July 13, 2011 at 3:50 am | Report abuse |
  3. Carole Clarke

    If the Taliban come to power again she will be killed for daring to make them look bad. The Taliban say they are about religion but they are really for being in total control of everything and being gods on earth with the power of life and death. Sadly, they have even fooled themselves into thinking they act for good reasons but it's just men wanting power.

    July 11, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan from Detroit, MI

      Wrong Carole, it's the United States, Great Britain and France that want to take complete control of Afghanistan. The Taliban are simply defending what's theirs in the first place!

      July 11, 2011 at 7:40 pm | Report abuse |
      • Dan from Chicago, IL

        How can you call any country the property of any certain group of people! The land is for all the people to work, share and enjoy in NOT just the Taliban to dictate how one should live in it!

        July 11, 2011 at 7:59 pm | Report abuse |
      • salerno

        The american should let afghan people decide what is right or wrong, without imposing their ideologies .

        July 13, 2011 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Dan from Chicago, IL

      What you have learned is the devils way of life NOT God's! God would rather you try to help the sinner and to love him so that he may understand the way God loves. As you know Gos is all powerful and if he wanted to he could have exterminated the devil and the angles who tried to overpower Him, But he did not. He cast them to earth in hopes that they would understand the love of God. If He did not do away with the devil and the fallen angles what gives you the right to kill sinners! DO YOU THINK THAT YOU CAN MAKE LIFE BETTER THAN GOD?

      July 11, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • salerno

      Dan – All the western way of living is evil. It is not based on any superior principle, but just on individual satisfaction and lower grade mentality.

      July 12, 2011 at 3:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Dan from Chicago, IL

      That's like saying all Muslims are terrorists! And i THOUGHT you said you have nothing against the American people? YOU are a HYPOCRITE! There are many people with evil minds, BUT the most evil are those who kill, torture and maim people for their own sense of power! THESE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO WILL BURN IN HELL FOREVER!

      July 12, 2011 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
    • salerno

      Dan – I have nothing against the american people, but the western way of living is evil not just for the muslims, but for the christians too. The Pope often criticized american and western customs for what is regarding the $exuality, the consumerism, the wars, the genetic manipulations. My position is slightly different as I suopport genetic manipulation for good reasons (therapy, agriculture). My criticism is alittle bit broader as I see the evil in the goal of individual happiness, as it is considered in a materialistic and pro-consumerism way.

      July 12, 2011 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
  4. Dan from Detroit, MI

    Now I expect that these pro-Western people are going to teach these children to say "Allah Akbar, but Capitalism,Akbar-er" and exude the glories of the Western powers over Islam as well as to collaborate with NATO.

    July 11, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • salerno

      This is the risk.

      July 11, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • George Patton

      Quite true Dan, quite true. The right-wing thugs in Washington won't waste any time in their efforts to brainwash these kids no matter how much it may cost the U.S. Treasury!

      July 11, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |