By Maria Hayat
On December 4th of this year; candles were lit, vigils were held on the streets and the mountains mourned as Afghanistan lost one of its most beloved citizens. Dr Tetsu Nakamura, also known as ‘Uncle Murad’ by the Afghans, was fatally shot with his five workers in the area of Afghanistan that he put his life and soul into since the 1980s. Originating from a humble Japanese background, Dr Nakamura opened a hospital in 1991 in Afghanistan but soon realised that treating the patients can only go so far and thus Dr Nakamura embarked on long term anti-poverty measures. Since then, Dr Nakamura left his own country and devoted his life to helping out the poorest of the poor in Nangarhar. Previously neglected, poverty-stricken and drought-prone villages in Nangarhar have been bought back to life as gentle streams of water float and connect like veins to the fields that now radiate with colour. By 2019, Dr Nakamura had created 150 wells and eleven canals as well as a school, aiding 650,000 people. Now his legacy continues as his face is on Kam Air aeroplanes and multiple murals across Afghanistan to pay tributes to Dr Nakamura, who as a non-Afghan, dedicated his life to providing humanitarian support in our country. As a result of this, this piece is dedicated to Dr Nakamura for his transformative inputs in war-torn Afghanistan which were brought into light after his tragic death on a global scale. Therefore I would like to also highlight a few other individuals, like Dr Nakamura, whose humanitarian services are the backbone of our society amidst the conflict and insecurity that has been looming over our soil for over 40 years.
During my time in Afghanistan, I had the honour of visiting Anna’s Educational Centre. This was a school built and founded by Anna Hacker, an American teacher who taught in Afghanistan in the 70s and like any other foreigner visiting, fell in love with our country’s hospitable and welcoming culture. Hence, upon her return in 2005, Anna’s envision of building a school in Kabul became a reality and now has 350 students – 100 of them being women. From clothes to pencils and medicine, Anna’s Educational Centre facilitates free education for the street kids in Kabul whilst providing vulnerable mothers and women with vocational classes such as sewing and embroidery. This has allowed the females to sell their materials to local markets as a source of income for their families whilst taking away key skills. Anna has advocated for her Educational Centre in the US in order to run the school using donations so that the children on the streets have equal opportunities to go to school and continue having an education. All 250 of these children would have been on the streets day in and out, and illiterate as a result had it not been for Anna and her Centre’s staff accommodating the basic necessities for these children.
Enter Emergency Surgical Centre, founded by Italian surgeon Dr Gino Strada. This Italian non-profit organisation provides free food, medicine and surgeries to victims of war; the majority of them being civilians. The first medical facility was opened in 1999 in Panjshir and has been treating soldiers from both sides, retaining its neutrality until this day. For example, even today Tajik policemen who guard the entrance of Panjshir province take Taliban casualties to the Emergency Surgical Centre where they would be treated for free. Additionally, Dr Strada opened the first maternity centre in Panjshir helping to deliver around 600 births per month and meanwhile in Kabul, the Emergency hospital has 120-bed spaces with 352 local staff and in Lashkar-Gah, the surgical centre has 30% of their patients under the age of 14. Emergency also operates in 3 prisons across Afghanistan. Dr Strada has operated in many conflict zones including Sudan and Iraq yet has spent months in and out of Afghanistan since the Taliban occupation and now Emergency has treated over 6 million under 20 years of work by both Italian and Afghan doctors and nurses.
Finally, Afghanistan Demain, founded by Ehsan Mehrangais is another influential example of an individual who has returned to his homeland to improve the lives of those who are disadvantaged. Once a street kid himself, Mehrangais founded his own NGO in the hope to provide education and rehabilitation which he received when he was younger as he was fortunately saved and given a home. Today, Afghanistan Demain has three educational centres in the poorest neighbourhoods whilst providing food, clothes, hygiene management, regular check-ups and much more to 360 street kids and professional management to 40 young people.
Afghanistan has yet to experience peace, but our land has been lucky enough to have underground humanitarian work and support throughout the years. Dr Nakamura’s death has made us realise that there are individuals out there, regardless of their ethnicity, have committed to stay in Afghanistan and fill in the remnants that the conflict has left over; whether that has been schools or medical supplies being shut down or simply the abandonment of families on the streets. Thanks to individuals like Dr Nakamura, Anna Hacker, Dr Strada and other NGO, aid, humanitarian workers and volunteers, our mountains have been looked after. Like a horse whisperer adopts a sympathetic view of the motives, needs, and desires of the horse – our mountains and people have had their basic human rights met with the quiet ongoing aid deriving from Hacker and Mehrangais’s centres or Dr Gino’s hospitals or a well built by Dr Nakamura.