the gift that lasts forever

Inside the Orphanage

when we hear the word orphanage, for most of us cavernous halls with rows of straw mattresses come to mind, cold and embattled attendants who have grown indifferent to crying, and dirty fingernails, soiled sheets, and lice-ridden hair. Whenever anyone visits an AFCECO orphanage, the first thing they notice is how clean it is and how happy the children are.

It is as NBC’s Brian Williams aptly noted, “a haven for Afghan children”, not so much a place sheltering orphans and giving them food, as it is a place where a new generation of progressive Afghan leaders can emerge.

The Dari word Parwarishga means, literally, “foster haven”. When people ask, any attempt to describe gives way to a simple question: “Have you been to visit the children yet?”

Most of the children are orphans, victims of child labor or street children who were forced to beg. They have been exposed to very hostile and painful environments. They enter the orphanage in a state of wonder. This new environment is a world apart from their prior lives, a place where they can sleep and eat without fear. Here they begin a new life based on peace, love and respect. Diverse as Afghanistan itself, AFCECO children have one thing in common: if they were not in the orphanage they would be victims of the street, of war, of poverty. They come from Farah, from Nuristan, from Mazar, Bamyan and Herat. They come from the most remote mountainside village where water is still hauled up from a river. With heartstrings attached to villages and family, they are not disconnected from their country, but rather those connections are reinforced. They learn how a family can grow.

A typical AFCECO home is three stories with spacious rooms. There is a courtyard where flowers grow. With 80 children living there, every day is bustling with activity. Bread is to be made, fl oors swept and laundry to be hung. Some children are off to school, others are gathering with a volunteer English teacher, while still others are upstairs in drama class preparing an Afghan version of a Greek tragedy. They all have responsibilities, and if anyone neglects their duty their peers hold them to it. At the age of 9 or 10, girls and boys are separated and go to their own orphanages.

They treat one another as they would any sibling. Their free time is spent playing games such as table tennis or jumping rope, or telling stories on the verandah while drinking afternoon tea. After school many go off to soccer or karate. They are given an hour in the evening to watch television but also have prescribed times in the library where they must do homework. Every week there are guests to attend to, journalists and volunteers interested in AFCECO, or sometimes a family member or sponsor visiting from afar. There is constant interaction between the orphanage and the outside world.

With each orphanage AFCECO opens, the need becomes clearer. As soon as it is announced, the orphanage is filled. Frustratingly, dozens of children must be “waitlisted” until another orphanage can be opened. Most extraordinary is the plethora of AFCECO children from Farah Province, from Kunar and Nuristan, areas more conservative than the Kandahar and Helmond Provinces so much the focus of NATO forces. These provinces are almost completely controlled by Taliban forces.

And yet, here the people are lining up to place their children in an orphanage where girls are taught to be equal, boys to allow it, and all are exposed to a secular and liberal arts education. What most every Afghan is looking for, what they see in this orphanage, is opportunity. How this opportunity is provided dissolves ideological boundaries, because AFCECO’s tenets are universally desirable: create a safe, clean, home-like environment, encourage alliances through diversity, and provide a dynamic education. All of this in an atmosphere of tolerance and respect. The impact of such daily living upon the children, and by proxy their families, cannot be overstated. The impact on girls is so profound that it strikes to the core of the problems facing Afghanistan. AFCECO’s girls don’t only realize their rights, they practice them. They stand up tall, their scarves fall from their heads, and they begin to dream. It is impossible to call such a place an orphanage, because these children are reclaiming their identity, are moving forward stronger and more resolved than ever imaginable in the milieu of Afghan society.

A Day in the Life of the Orphanage

A day begins at 5:30 a.m. when the 60 or so children stir and the housemother heats water and the house father goes off to market. Nobody needs to badger or otherwise nag the children.

The Story of Our Orphanages

The story of Parwarishga must begin with the modern history of Afghanistan. Nowhere, it seems has the poison of war come together with the poison of religious extremism


Taiba’s father was a soldier with the Afghan military. He was injured in an operation against the Taliban, leaving him permanently paralyzed in the legs. Taiba’s family lives in a small town in Nuristan.


12 years old


Rizwana was born to a complicated family. Her father was an addict and beat her mother severely. Her mother was finally able to get a divorce in order to save herself and her daughters. Unfortunately, her mother passed away after suffering several strokes when the girls were still very small and the girls had to live with their grandmother who also passed away. They eventually lived with their aunts and uncles and they always had to jump from one place to another. Rezwana’s older sisters were married off by their uncle and Rezwana continued to stay with one of her uncles.


13 years old


Bushra is from Nuristan. Her father used to work for the national television but after August last year when Taliban took power, he left his job as he did not want to work for the Taliban. Bushra’s father is really keen on her daughter on getting educated.


10 years old


Zomra’s father was a former soldier who fought in many battles against the Taliban. He left the army after witnessing Taliban torturing and brutally killing his father in law catching him after a battle and him making a very narrow escape. As a result of his trauma he developed depression and he has not been fully able to recover. His wife was also left deeply depres


10 years old


Zainab is a little girl from Nuristan. She comes from a large family and her parents want to send her to Kabul to enroll at a school. Currently girls in Nuristan can’t study and her mother wishes Zainab could study in Kabul, otherwise she would have to attend a religious madrassa in her town.


6 years old


Yumna is a cheerful little girl from Nuristan. She has two older sisters Zomra and Tamana. She is a curious girl and loves playing outdoors.


6 years old

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