Today I went to the Mera Kachowi Refugee Camp near Peshawar. I wanted to interview a few of the women who had taken AWN’s voter registration educational sessions, see what their impressions of the sessions had been and what their opinion of the upcoming election was, and take some pictures. As with most everything else in Afghanistan and Peshawar, things did not work out how I had planned.
The Mera Kachowi camp is located about 35 km from Peshawar and has a reputation for having the worst living conditions of all the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan. I can now believe this. The UNHCR has estimated that approximately 25,000 people live in this camp in small, one-room mud huts.
Shukria, a woman who works for AWN acting as my translator, and I pulled up to the camp and walked into a small courtyard where we were greeted by a few women who bade us to sit down. We were about to start interviewing Zarbabo, a confident and friendly young woman who had taken the AWN election training sessions, when a crowd of about 50 women and children began to crowd around us. Apparently word spreads fast when there is a foreigner in the camp.
The woman began to get excited and were pushing and shouting at us. I later learned that many of them thought I was at the camp to actually register them. The shouting and pushing got louder and more urgent to the point where I was afraid we were going to be crushed to death by the mob. I couldn’t help but think that although I had experienced a gunfight outside my house between rival commanders, rockets being fired into Kabul, and driving through minefields, this was the first time I have been truly scared this summer.
We tried to move our interview into one of the women’s houses. Shukria interviewed her and I took notes while another woman held the door closed against the ensuing mob. Within a few moments, however, the women had broken down the door (literally), and the crowd rushed into the house. Women were shouting their names at me, insisting I write them down. Looking back now, I think it is amazing how urgently these women wanted a chance to register to vote in Afghanistan’s first election. I cannot imagine the same situation occurring in America.
I sat down later and read Zarbabo’s interview. She talked about how she had not been aware before the AWN election training sessions that people were allowed to select the President. She wants to vote for a President who can improve the lives of her family, and other refugees in the camp. She writes, “AWN should speed our voice to others that we are in a bad position in our life, we passing our life with lots of difficulties. We want to register to vote because we have rights in our country to select our President.”
Another woman, Essa, writes that, “we want to register to vote to have a better Afghanistan. Now we know that it is our right to select any candidate we want and even we can candidate ourselves.” Both women talked about their poverty and poor living conditions and hope for a better future through the election process. It struck me for the first time how a simple election training program CAN educate people, make them aware of their rights, and give them hope for the future. For these refugees, its seems that hope is the only thing they have.
Posted By Sarah Schores (Afghanistan)
Posted Aug 3rd, 2004