Young activists from Afghanistan New Generation Organization (ANGO) distributed more than 500 outfits to Kabul’s most needy families and 100 pairs of gloves to city’s soldiers and municipality workers.By Rianna Starheim
On a cold winter night, a group of 25 young people navigated Kabul’s dark, winding alleyways by flashlight, carrying large plastic bags stuffed with clothing. They were volunteers with the Afghanistan New Generation Organization (ANGO), a group that aims to create networks of young activists to engage in civic initiatives within Afghanistan.
“Many people think Afghanistan is a hopeless place,” says Suleiman, a member of ANGO. “We come out to show there is some hope. We haven’t forgotten Afghanistan and we’re not hopeless for the country.”
Since ANGO was founded in 2011, more than 100 volunteers have gone through a civic engagement training program and carried out projects in Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif provinces. Service projects have included distributing flags on Afghanistan’s Independence Day, helping municipal workers clean the streets and planting trees in the shape of the word solh (“peace,” in Dari) on Kabul’s newly-christened “Peace Hill.”
After ANGO volunteers conceived of the idea to hold a clothing donation drive, they visited houses throughout the city to identify the most needy families. “We thought a lot about how we could have the biggest impact,” Suleiman says. “We wanted to find people who really need the clothes, but weren’t necessarily easy to find.
ANGO volunteers campaigned on social media and collected donations of 500 full sets of clothing, including jackets and other winter gear. They also bought 100 pairs of gloves. On the night of February 3, the group set out to deliver the clothing.
“It was really complicated to get to the houses because they were very poor neighborhoods with lots of mud and small streets,” Suleiman says. “We couldn’t find the first house, so we called the man and asked him to help us find it.”
A few minutes later, a man on crutches limped into the street, followed by a shivering child. The man had lost his leg in the civil war. The volunteers pointed to the bags they carried and told him they had come to deliver warm clothing to his family. The group entered the house and the man’s seven children, three girls and four boys, eagerly sorted through the clothing and chose outfits.
“The kids were so excited,” Suleiman says. “We thought we could make them even happier by letting them choose their own clothing. They were running around and saying ‘I want this one, I want that one.’”
One small boy was particularly attached to a large hoodie sweatshirt. “If I put it in my bag, it will get smaller for me,” he said. “Or you can grow into it,” a volunteer suggested.
The volunteers sat and talked with the newly dressed families before moving on to the next house.
After distributing the clothing to families, the ANGO volunteers drove around the city, stopping at each security checkpoint and municipality worker they passed to distribute more than 100 pairs of gloves.
“Giving gloves to the municipality workers was the most touching part of the night for me,” says Ilias, a member of ANGO. “The municipality workers are the unknown heroes of the city. They go out in the middle of the night and clean up the streets, but no one knows they exist. Talking with them and saying we appreciated their work meant a lot to us as a team.”
One municipality worker was so cold he couldn’t even shake hands with the volunteers. “He saluted us with both hands, he was so thankful,” Suleiman says.
After distributing the clothing and gloves, the volunteers returned to ANGO headquarters, where they debriefed the experience over pizza. “Everyone talked about how happy they felt,” Suleiman says. “The experience was as good for us as everyone who got the clothing.”
Ilias agrees. “This project helped both sides—the ones doing it and the ones receiving it. The smiles the families and soldier and municipality workers give us hope for what we are doing, and for Afghanistan. It gives us energy to move forward.”
Rianna Starheim has worked in journalism and human rights across the globe. In Afghanistan, she is an independent consultant for Rumi Consultancy, a local communication firm. She has also taught at the School of Leadership Afghanistan and consulted for Hagar Afghanistan. She is a student at Dartmouth College, studying Asian and Middle Eastern studies and Arabic.