Afghanistan’s children need our help, says charity director who fled Kabul – The Times

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A few months before Hamidullah ­Abawi’s life was turned upside down and he found himself fleeing his country, he met a child whose face he would never forget.

The girl, who was no older than 16, was a survivor of a bomb attack at the Sayed al-Shuhada high school in west Kabul in May 2021. The attack occurred as girls were leaving and the streets were packed with residents. At least 85 of the girl’s fellow pupils, most of them girls aged 15 or 16 from the Hazara ­ethnic minority, died in the atrocity. Books and backpacks and bodies were scattered across the ground.

The teenage girl was close enough to the bomb blast that the shrapnel pierced her body. When Abawi, 28, met her the shrapnel had moved closer to her lungs. The doctors were worried it could eventually kill her.

“It was very serious for her, it was life-threatening,” explained Abawi, who now lives in Vancouver, Canada, where he is the chief executive officer of Street Child Canada.

Back then he was working for the international children’s charity in Kabul as the country director.

After the attack, the charity set up a mobile clinic and gave the traumatised girls social support, counselling and organised sport activities for them to take their minds off the horrors of the conflict and build resilience.

The girl Abawi met was unable to get the treatment she needed in Afghanistan, which is where Street Child stepped in. “She was suffering and it was quite painful for me to see. I spoke to her family and we paid for her treatment in Pakistan. When she heard we were ­paying her eyes teared up. She couldn’t believe she would get rid of the shrapnel in her body,” he said.

Street Child helps children living through conflict to access education but it has also done far more. Abawi said that when he started his job as a country director in Afghanistan, their team was about 50-strong. It eventually grew to more than 1,600 staff members, reaching out to more than 120,000 children, many of whom had never had the opportunity to be educated.

When the Taliban took over swathes of the country in the summer of 2021, a few months after the attack Street Child helped those who were displaced to Kabul due to intensified war, by ­distributing food and blankets. “It was a devastating scene, I saw the country collapsing and the provinces taken one by one. My team called me as the war intensified asking what they should do. It was my call to ensure they were safe,” Abawi said.

On the day the Taliban took Kabul, Abawi’s team members, realising the danger they faced, took the female ­employees to their homes.

For Abawi, staying in Afghanistan was not an option. After ensuring his team were safe, he left for Dubai with his wife. “My life was in danger because my parents and I had worked for the government. We felt ­unsafe because of the number of threats we had received prior to the takeover. The release of all the prisoners was a ­serious threat to us all,” he explained.

Every eligible pound donated to Street Child by readers of The Times and Sunday Times will be matched by the UK government up to £500,000

Every eligible pound donated to Street Child by readers of The Times and Sunday Times will be matched by the UK government up to £500,000

Abawi, who is from Kandahar but lived all his life in Kabul, has been tasked with fundraising for the charity’s global programmes in Canada. “We believe in going where the need is greatest and Afghanistan is where it is needed,” he said.

Christmas appeal: Street Child

Readers of The Times and ­Sunday Times have helped to raise nearly £1.89 million for charity this Christmas, with just days remaining to donate to the appeal. Street Child is one of three charities supported by the ­appeal; the others are Whizz Kidz, which provides children with wheelchairs, and Feeding Britain, which gives people ­access to healthy and nutritious food.

Every eligible pound donated to Street Child by readers of The Times and Sunday Times will be matched by the UK government up to £500,000. The first £225,000 donated will be matched by From Babies with Love, the gift brand that donates 100 per cent of its profit to vulnerable children, ­Boodles, the diamond retailer; and an anonymous donor, ­tripling each donation. The appeal closes on January 31.

The appeal closes on Wednesday, January 31. To donate visit or call 0151 284 2336.

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