Pashmina’s Story: From a Rural Home to An Urban Nightmare

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Children's faces are blurred to protect their identity

12-year-old Pashmina is small for her age, with a fair complexion, black hair and deep brown eyes.  She was named Pashmina because her family says she resembled the soft pashm wool made from Tibetan goats.

Pashmina was born in the suburbs of Jalalabad, Afghanistan.  She grew up surrounded by family in their ancestral home, a large fortress-like house surrounded by fields and orchards.  She had her own bed and a doll house made of dried mud that was a replica of their home where she and her young cousins used to play dolls. They also played outdoors in the fields while they tended the goats and took cold dips in the streams that pass through their orchards. She had good friends in school and frequently visited relatives and neighbors with her grandmother and aunts.  She attended marriages, engagement parties, and religious gatherings.  

Pashmina had to leave all that behind recently when her family fled Afghanistan to live in Pakistan.

This was not the first time Pashmina’s parents had taken refuge in Pakistan.  Their family had lived there as refugees for 40 years before changing conditions made it possible for them to return to Afghanistan.  As part of their repatriation, they had surrendered their refugee cards and the piece of land and house that their grandfather and uncles had leased in Pakistan.  It had been worth it to return home to their own land where her father and uncles set to work rebuilding the family home and restoring the orchards. Some of the uncles found construction work in nearby Jalalabad.  Their family prospered and Pashmina and her siblings and cousins were born.  

But just as everything seemed secure, the law and order situation in Afghanistan deteriorated. Fighting and bomb blasts made it unsafe to go into urban centers. Construction work in Jalalabad came to a halt. When the Taliban took over in 2021, the international aid agencies left and sanctions were imposed.  The economy came to a standstill.  There was no market for the fruit from their orchards, no work for the men in the city. 

The decision was made to return to Pakistan.  The crossing was difficult and dangerous. The borders were fenced, and without passports or valid visas, they were forced to pay a great deal of money just to cross into Pakistan.

And the family has come back to a Pakistan that is very different from before.  Without official refugee status, they are not entitled to the support they received the last time.  There have been no refugee camps waiting for them with UN gifts of food.  There has been no shelter provided, nor assistance finding work.

The house and land they had leased before is now someone else’s home.  Their former landlord is friendly, but has nothing to offer them but a small two-room mud hut without electricity or plumbing in a dark, narrow street. These two rooms are now home to Pashmina’s family as well as her two uncles and their families and the children of the eldest uncle who stayed behind with Pashmina’s grandparents to watch over the family home.

At night all of these people sleep crowded together on the mud floor in rooms that are worse then the stalls where they used to keep their cattle in Afghanistan.  During the day the children sit on the same floor with little to occupy them.   They cannot go to school because they don’t know the language and their family has no money for fees.  They cannot go outside of the tiny courtyard to play because the streets are too dangerous.  It feels like a prison.

Pakistan is not able to be the welcoming refuge it was in the past.  International relief agencies have cut back dramatically on their support for refugees.  Pakistan has been beset by floods and famine and runaway inflation.  There is little work for anyone in the pandemic-depressed economy.  The country is on the verge of bankruptcy.  The middle class is shrinking.  People are trampled when the few relief agencies still functioning try to distribute food.  Pashmina’s parents are desperately doing all they can to find enough food for the family, but the few jobs they have found pay little.  Her brothers and male cousins scavenge the garbage dumps for plastics, metals, and paper that can be sold for recycling.

Recently a good thing happened.  One of her uncles was working at a construction site near Brighter Tomorrow and learned about a class there for Afghan refugee children  – a class in their own language that will keep them prepared to re-enter school when it is once again safe for the family to return to Jalalabad.

Pashmina’s life is a little less sad these days.  She and two of her cousins now have a safe place to go to every day where she is served a calorie-rich meal.  She is making new friends who understand what she is going through.  She and her cousins are smiling more often, telling jokes, and finally beginning to hope for a happier future. 
There are many children like Pashmina needing support during this difficult time.  Brighter Tomorrow is committed to serving all the displaced Afghan children who come to us for help. Please consider making a gift to help us give hope to the children who are waiting for their turn.  A minimal contribution can pay the cost of providing a nutritious meal and basic education to one child each day for a month.