Mega-award-winning author Deborah Ellis‘s active interest in Afghanistan began in 1996 when she heard about the Taliban takeover of that country “and the crimes they perpetrated against women and girls.” She became involved with the Afghan communities in her native Canada, then traveled to meet Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Russia, and most recently returned to Kabul just last year. In a land ravaged by decades of neverending war, “[t]he real losers are the Afghan people, especially the women and children.”
By giving voice to the Afghan community in numerous books – Women of the Afghan War for adults, and the ever-popular middle grade/young adult Breadwinner Trilogy (The Breadwinner, Parvana’s Journey, and Mud City) – Ellis has single-handedly raised over a million dollars in book royalties for Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and Street Kid International. Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan benefits again with all royalties from Kids in Kabul, Ellis’ latest title. [Take note: be patient a little longer … that memorable Breadwinner trilogy is about to grow, with a brand new sequel, My Name Is Parvana, hitting U.S. shelves next month!]
Post-9/11, Afghanistan remains a war zone; even after the Taliban government was officially ousted, the Afghan people have not had peace for the past 11 years. “The billions and billions spent on the war, which might have been spent on education, health care, housing and rebuilding a civil society, have been spent on weapons,” Ellis soberly writes in her “Introduction.” Although more than half of Afghan children don’t have access to education, they’re making every effort to better their lives, as best as they can amidst violence, corruption, repression, and worse. Ellis traveled for a week in Kabul (because of security reasons, she couldn’t move beyond the dangerous capital) in early 2011 to talk to children.
The 27 girls and boys included here range from ages 11 to 17, most with photographs revealing their thoughtful young faces (which, I admit, makes me worry about their safety now that they are so easily identifiable). Each of their stories is introduced with relevant, contextual, cultural details from Ellis’ sharp observations. Most of the children are fatherless, many are orphans. Some are going to school, some will never have the chance. All have survived horrors no child should, including watching loved ones murdered, the brutality of child marriage, loss of home, safety, basic rights, even limbs.
“I want to be a doctor, of course. This the dream of many Afghans because we have seen so much death and suffering,” says 16-year-old Aman.
“At school I have learned that there are better ways to do things than all this war, war, war all the time. It’s the younger generation that will change that. My generation. Me,” says Mustala, 13.
“Sometimes we play on the big field at the stadium, the same stadium the Taliban used for all the terrible things they did – the shootings, cutting of people’s hands, the executions and torture. When we play there … it is like getting some justice for all those women who were hurt. We play for them as much as ourselves,” says 16-year-old Palwasha.
“I am happiest when I am in this library. All of our problems can be solved with these books,” says Sigrullah, 14.
Against challenging, sometime inhumane conditions, these children manage to thrive: “It is good to be hopeful,” Ellis reminds, “and if the future could be in the hands of this generation of young people, with their eagerness, openness and determination, then Afghanistan could indeed be a garden again.”
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult, Adult