“The forgotten” think about peace

At the Intellectually Disabled Children’s educational center, I spoke with a child who had big dreams in his small world. He was tired of war and murder, and expressed his desire in a short sentence: “I ask President Ghani for peace.” The children of this educational center are people that no one in Afghan society cares about, and their families consider them the “forgotten generation.” They are ridiculed, harassed, and bullied in the streets and are considered “crazy.” Many of these children are isolated due to misbehavior in the community and cannot leave their house without family members, even though some of them have the talent to do a lot of things and can be effective members of society.

Surveys by government agencies show that sometimes, even their own families are reluctant to care for these children, and in some cases, people with autism and Down syndrome are left in the streets and treatment centers. There are two types of the disease, congenital Down syndrome and autism in the first two years of life. Their appearance and physical shape are different from normal people and they do not develop mentally. A special educational center for intellectually disabled children has recently been established in Herat. The idea of building this center was first proposed by Anita Danishgar, an Afghan immigrant living in the Netherlands. During a trip to Herat a few years ago, she thought of doing something for this group.

In collaboration with the Afghan Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, she established a center for educating intellectually disabled children to provide social skills training for patients with autism and Down syndrome. I met Tamim in one of the classrooms of this center. He stuttered and could hardly speak. He told that he was a member of a family of 12 and he was happy to be in this center, where he could be with other children. Another child was sitting next to Tamim, listening carefully to what we had to say. Wazir Ahmad was very interested in “reading and writing” and his dream was to one day become a doctor.

He took the pen I was holding and took notes with it and wrote his name on a piece of paper. He had a lot to say, and asked me to sit on the floor and listen to him. He narrated that he was harassed and ridiculed in the streets and while using public transport, and that it was difficult for him to get out of the house.

I listened to Wazir Ahmad for about 10 minutes and I did not want to interrupt him during his speech; it was as if he was upset about being ignored in society and wanted to find someone who would pay attention to his talents and abilities. A little further away, some little girls were sitting. One of them could not speak properly, but she wanted me to listen to what she had to say. I could hardly understand Parimah’s words, but the children close to her were trying to help me understand.

Her dream was to one day become a teacher to teach children to become dentists. She knew nothing of what was going on outside the walls of the Center for Intellectually Disabled Children and was overwhelmed by her world. Sharafuddin, a member of Parimah’s class, was concerned about the situation in the country. I had not asked him anything yet, but he shared what was in his heart. “I am afraid of war, I see on TV that people are being killed,” he said in a childish voice. “I have nothing to do with the Taliban. I want peace from President Ghani and he must bring peace.”

He knew some prominent political figures in the country and believed that Dr. Abdullah and President Ghani should find a way to end the war and killing in the country and save the people from the current situation. In his view, children could not achieve their dreams so long as there was a war. Forozan Forotan, a teacher at the Educational Center for Intellectually Disabled Children in Herat, believes that little attention has been paid to this group in Afghan society so far and that people do not know how to treat patients with autism and Down syndrome.

Aisha and Habiba, mothers whose children have autism and Down syndrome, told me that in some cases these children are abused in society, but they have taught their children how to participate in social activities.

During his visit to Herat, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, Bashir Ahmad Tayang admitted that in Afghanistan, people have little awareness of intellectually disabled children, and in some cases, some families leave them on the streets and in treatment centers. “More needs to be done to care for children with autism and Down syndrome in Afghanistan,” said Sayed Khalil Qatali, deputy director of the EMC, which set up an educational center for intellectually disabled children.

At a time when the people of Afghanistan are worried about “war and peace” and their future, the minds of children with autism and Down syndrome are also occupied with the country’s turmoil and the continuing war and killing, and people like Sharafuddin dream about the end of the war and the establishment of peace.