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    Posted July 30, 2013 by
    Kabul, Afghanistan
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Student voices in journalism

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    The Trash Collectors


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Student Islamuddin Noor kept seeing young children collecting trash outside American University of Afghanistan in Kabul, so he started to get to know them and decided to share their story. He spent two weeks documenting the lives of 11-year-old Wajma, her family and her two friends, Rayeesa and Suwaspari, in April and May 2013. “[Wajma’s] life is typical of the street children in the city. She goes to a government school from 6 a.m. until 9 a.m. in the hope that one day she will be able to change the life she and her family are living. How can someone be capable of learning when their life is so full of hardship?” Noor said.

    Wajma’s family has seen much hardship. Her father used to work in a brick kiln, but he left the job when his asthma made the work too difficult. The family depends on the income that Wajma and her brothers make on the streets. Wajma picks up trash, and her brothers, Wakil, 12, and Basir, 7, fetch cabs for people. Wajma’s older sister was sold as a housekeeper at age 9, Noor said.

    As for why Noor, 24, wanted to tell the story of these young trash collectors, he said, “I hope to achieve help for Wajma, Rayeesa, Suwaspari and their family so that they can go to school and don't need to pick up trash and or being sold like happening to daughters in this country.”

    Photo information: #2 Wajma, #3 Rayeesa, #6 Basir, #7 Wakil, #8 Wajma, her siblings, cousins and her father

    See more photos from his series on street children here
    - zdan, CNN iReport producer

    On a very hot day in Kabul, Wajma grabs a bag and starts to collect trash near the American University of Afghanistan. Nobody seems to take care of her or her friends, Suwaspari and Rayeesa. At 11 years old, she is one of the numerous children in Kabul who work on the streets. No one has ever noticed how innocent and beautiful she is, just as beautiful as the children who dress well, eat delicious food and live in luxury houses. The innocence and beauty of her are covered by the dark spots that the sun’s hot rays have marked on her face. In cold weather her skin is chapped, leaving dry spots on her face, hands and feet. Wajma is one of many street children suffering in order to help her family survive.


    Wajma lives in a small place in Darulaman Street in Kabul, Afghanistan. Her life is typical of the street children in the city. She goes to a government school from 6am until 9am in the hope that one day she will be able to change the life she and her family are living. How can someone be capable of learning when their life is so full of hardship? “She is not even able to write and read simple words,” her teacher says.
    After school she continues the day with Suwaspari and Rayeesa, searching for trash at “Deh Dana” and “Ala’od din square”. She begs outside the American University of Afghanistan to help her mother to feed the younger children in the family. Wajma says, “I really love seeing all the big cars and well-dressed people outside the university. I like to hang out here. It motivates me to change my life one day”.


    Wajma’s two brothers, Wakil and Basir, work on the streets too by finding passengers for the city cabs. They get 5 Afs from each car when it is full. They work in all weathers to earn 70-100 Afs a day to support their family. Wajma still can get to school but her brothers cannot. Probably they are never asked why they need to work on the streets when they could help shape the future of their country by studying.


    Wajma’s father is a traditional man and used to work in a brick kiln. Since he has got the excuse of asthma, he prefers to depend on the little cash his children earn from working on the streets. He does not spend time with his children but loves his pet bird. He sold his elder daughter seven years ago at the age of nine; for a little money, she went to another family to be their housekeeper. Selling a daughter is very common in Afghanistan. Wajma’s mother shared her story of a life full of sorrows but was too frightened of her husband to say it in a recording.


    Wajma’s mother is an Afghan woman living with the pain of losing her older daughter and having to see her children making a living on the streets. She has eight children: five daughters and three sons. For many years, Afghan women have been oppressed by tradition. They have been treated like machines for producing children rather than as life partners or human beings. Illiteracy in Afghanistan is common; that is one reason why so many children are born without their parents thinking of the financial implications.


    Wajma’s family lives in a house where the windows are covered with plastic to provide some shelter from the cold. Her mother says, “When it’s terribly cold in winter, most of the nights we spend sitting all together under an old blanket, because we can’t lie down and sleep on the freezing ground”. In winter, Wajma is not able to collect enough flammable material for their oven (which is called “Deg Dan” in the Dari Language) and for heating. Wajma says, “There is disgusting mud, the ground is sodden and very cold during the winter so I can’t find the things I need”. Most of us go winter shopping and buy warm clothes without thinking. No one realizes that children like Wajma don’t have the basics of clothing and shelter to save them from the cold.


    According to Mike Thomson’s BBC report, “some 37,000 children live on the streets of the Kabul”. Most of the children have lost their parents in the war. Widows have no other choice but to let their children go on the streets and earn some money to survive. These children are also the only resource for fathers who are disabled and lost their legs in the war. Since it is so common to see children on the streets, some people use their children this way when they are capable of work themselves and could send the children to school.


    Afghanistan is facing the enormous challenge of poverty. More than a decade has passed since the collapse of the Taliban government. Much money is being spent on military developments and the establishment of larger businesses. Meanwhile, innumerable children in the Afghan capital are helping their struggling families to survive.


    Wajma and the other street children have their dreams. They believe there will be change in their lives, one day.

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