The roots of the Aainda Foundation lie in the dreams and aspirations of a determined woman who arrived in the Netherlands as an Afghan refugee in 2000. She was forced to abandon her motherland; the land where she was born and raised; the land where she had desperately hoped to watch her children grow up. Sadly, it was also the land of the Taliban, who destroyed everything she held dear, including the life of her husband.
Parwin, our chairperson, arrived in the Netherlands on a dark and rainy night. She had no idea where the smuggling train had taken them exactly. Amsterdam or Rotterdam, perhaps? It was just her and her three small children and she had no idea where to turn. She feared continued bomb sieges and rockets – a remnant of her war experience back home – but was soon at ease when she noticed how neatly all cars were parked in straight rows. “If people can worry about such trivial things, this must be a safe place, right?” She asked a man walking a small dog for directions to the nearest police station, who gestured in the direction she needed to go. When she found the police station, she explained that she and her children fled from Afghanistan, and that they were searching for her eldest son who had escaped Taliban oppression two years prior. They were told that he was currently also staying in the Netherlands.
What followed was a very difficult period. The fear that war had instilled in Parwin, kept following her around. Her first night in the Netherlands was spent in a large refugee tent. The wind whistling around the tent that night made its canvas tremble. Parwin feared for her family’s lives: “I travelled so far to bring my children to safety, and now we still die”. When she rushed outside to see what was going on, she noticed that even the camp personnel was very calm. It was then that she realised that everything was ok. They would be safe.
A long period of interviews, waiting, and moving from one refugee camp to the next followed. By singing and cooking together with other Afghan women she met in the refugee camps, she tried to remember the beautiful facets of her native land, and to slowly start to cope with the horrific memories and fears. This was not an easy process. When they finally managed to get a small house of their own in Maastricht, Parwin realized that though she had brought her children to safety and she could breathe easily, there was a lot that she had had to leave behind in that process. She had enjoyed a good education in Afghanistan, but her diploma was now close to worthless in the Netherlands. She had no job, couldn’t speak Dutch, and there was no family to rely on close by.
Fortunately, Parwin is not someone who gives up very easily. She understood that the time for grieving her past was now over, and the time had come to make new beginnings. Besides, she was fed up with feeling culturally uprooted, and instead wanted to leverage her exceptional position as an Afghan woman in the Netherlands for the better. In 2007, she decided to become a board member for the Ariana Foundation in order to use her privileged position as a woman in the Netherlands to help women in Afghanistan. “I am, after all, one of them”. Together with her oldest son she also published a cooking book with traditional Afghan recipes. The purpose of this book was to introduce Afghan children whose parents had died in the war, or those who grew up abroad, to the rich Afghan culture. In addition, they wanted to show Dutch people how beautiful Afghanistan can be if one is willing to look beyond the war that dominates the western media landscape.
Parwin travelled to Kabul in 2010 for the funeral of a relative. After the days of mourning, she went to visit some girls’ schools to talk to the principals, as well as the girls themselves and their parents. She wanted to understand what it was that they needed the most, and how this could be accomplished. Using money that she had collected from her family members in The Netherlands and Germany, she visited various Afghan families and gave some of that money to those who needed it the most. In 2013 Parwin travelled again to Kabul to have a look at the girls’ schools and to see what improvements had been made meanwhile. The stories she collected during that time were the direct inspiration for establishing the Aainda Foundation. With her own eyes, Parwin could see that amongst poor families, money was often fully spent on groceries, and how this meant that especially girls often ended up without the necessary requirements for attending school. “Somebody should bring those girls school supplies – not simply money”. On the way back to her new homeland, Parwin made a decision: “I’m going to do it. Aainda must be founded. Those girls deserve a good future, just like my kids have been lucky enough to receive”. On February 24th, 2014, Parwin’s dream became a reality.
In May 2015 I went to Kabul to help the two selected girls’ schools – Sir Asia and Nahjube Herawe – with basic school equipment. We had the possibility to help only 200 primary school pupils with the money we had collected so far. We decided to fill 100 school backpacks per school, each filled with a variety of 10 kinds of school supply.
Before I could go and hand out the school materials to the girls, I had to ask permission from the directors of the schools. Not everyone can enter the schools, because it might be dangerous for the children. With the help of neighborhood representatives we eventually got the permission. They also helped to find a smaller school when it turned out that we could not offer our school supplies to the Mahjube Herawe school. The director of that school wanted either to offer all 400 children a backpack or no one, since she was afraid that others would get jealous. These neighborhood representatives then helped to contact the Mermon Khajo school.
We handed out the school supplies on different days at the two schools. The children were very happy. We had asked Mohamad Musa, a photographer, to join us in order to record how the children responded to the gifts. Also in order to be transparent to our donators and to show to whom the school materials have been handed out. We also asked the children to make a drawing for the donators in order to thank them. We have photographed them together with their painting – proudly smiling.
There have been several moments that I was deeply touched. The first time was at Sir Asia school, when I noticed we had two backpacks shortage. I told the teacher, who checked the list and discovered that two girls of 7 years old had sneaked into the classroom, in order to get a backpack as well. The teacher expelled them from the classroom. They left with tears in their eyes, because they came also from poor families but they got nothing. I felt very sad for them, and I went to arrange extra backpacks especially for them, on my own account. I could not leave them without anything.
The second time I was deeply touched was at Mermon Khajo school. In this school boys and girls were in the same class. We decided also to hand backpacks to poor boys in the classroom. When the first boy in the classroom received a backpack full of school supplies, he was so happy that he hugged his backpack with tears in his eyes.
Some girls put all their school materials in their new backpack and threw away their old bag. For me that was a beautiful moment, which made me very happy, but at the same time so sad. We are only a drop in the ocean. But we should not forget that that ocean is made out of drops too.
We would like to thank the International Women-Club South Limburg for their support!