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- author Jackie French

Saturday 15 September 2012

Guest Post: A New Day in Afghanistan

KBR warmly welcomes Canadian author Deborah Ellis with this spine-tingling guest post on the inspiration behind her amazing journeys into an unknown world - and her resultant life-changing books. 

My involvement with Afghanistan began one day in September, 1996, when I opened the Toronto Star and saw that the new regime in Kabul had kicked women out of their jobs, girls out of school and had done all in its power to essentially make the female part of their nation disappear.

As a woman who is used to moving and being in the world – and who has always hated being told what to do! – I wanted to be of some use to the women in Afghanistan. I also wanted to learn from them.

In the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, I heard stories of horror and kindness, of depravity and courage. I learned about girls who were masquerading as boys in order to support their families. In order to share those stories, I wrote The Breadwinner (known as Parvana in Australia), followed by Parvana’s Journey and Mud City.
The money from these books goes to Women for Women in Afghanistan, a Canadian-based non-governmental organization that funds and supports small project inside Afghanistan that benefit women and children – schools, literacy programs, libraries and so on. Last winter, I decided to travel back to the area – this time to Kabul – to see some of these projects for myself and also to find out what had changed for the children of Afghanistan.

The book that resulted from that trip - called Kids of Kabul – contains a couple of dozen interviews with children living in a variety of situations. Some are in school. Some are barely existing in bone-grinding poverty. Others are the daughters of female Members of Parliament, and wonder each day their mother goes to work if she will be attacked again by forces who still want women to disappear.

A lot has changed in Afghanistan in the years since the Taliban fell. Some of the changes have been terrific. Some have not been. I wondered how the children in my novels – Parvana and Shauzia – would cope in this new Afghanistan. So I decided to write a fourth book for the series.

It is called My Name Is Parvana (in Australia, the title is Parvana’s Secret). It begins with Parvana in the custody of American forces, being questioned about what she was doing in a bombed-out school. It reflects, I hope, some of the complexities that make up post-Taliban Afghanistan.

You can’t take a country that has been constantly at war for nearly 35 years, and ruled for a time by a government that did its best to destroy anything touched with progress, and expect it to bounce back quickly. When people are used to there not being enough, corruption becomes a habit. When citizens are more used to their government being the problem instead of the solution, taking matters into their own hands becomes the first option, not the last resort. And when people who have been oppressed for a long time start to get a bit of knowledge, self-confidence and awareness of their human rights, it is not surprising when the old guard tries to get their upper hand back.

But bit by bit, by supporting the strength of people who have survived so much, the country can come back. It is possible for Afghanistan to become a garden again, for the new day to be brighter than yesterday, and for children there to think that school, three meals and a warm, safe bed to be just a regular day.

Learn more about Deborah's wonderful books here.