The coronavirus pandemic has obviously affected some of the people and organisations that the Linda Norgrove Foundation supports in Afghanistan, and so we are taking action where we can.
The coronavirus situation in Afghanistan is difficult to gauge as reliable statistics aren’t available, but it is clear that it is having a huge impact. Early in the pandemic, many thousands of Afghans who had been living and working in neighbouring Iran for decades, were expelled from the country and returned to Afghanistan. Many others returned voluntarily to Afghanistan from Iran and Pakistan.
This large movement of people in a short period of time resulted in the virus spreading quickly, especially in the western areas bordering Iran. The government has implemented a lockdown but most working class Afghans have no savings, are paid by the day or are subsistence farmers. Living hand to mouth, if they have no work, they have no means to buy food, so self-isolation isn’t a realistic option. Testing kits and PPE have proved hard to obtain after being snapped up by wealthier nations.
The students that we sponsor have had their studies severely disrupted and some have lost their part-time jobs.
Afghan universities are closed under the lockdown, which has had a mixed impact on the students we sponsor.
We support 43 medical students at five universities and 38 students at the Gawharshad Institute of Higher Education. Most universities are providing online classes but many students struggle to access a computer with a good internet connection. It is unclear whether exams will be held at the end of the semester, whether these will count towards their eventual graduation, or how students adversely affected by lack of internet will be treated.
In Ghazni province, where we sponsor 15 midwifery and nursing students, universities and colleges have closed. And the six medical students in Kabul who were doing practical post-graduate training in hospitals have all been sent home.
Hardship for students
Many students support themselves by part-time work such as teaching in private schools. However, these jobs were lost during lockdown and students have suffered hardship as a result.
To counter this, we have given all students a cash grant of $100 from LNF resources at Eid. This is in addition to the annual $100 gift to every student financed by personal donations from LNF trustees.
The overall situation is confusing, and we can only hope that it stabilises and improves before the start of the autumn semester. In the meantime, we are going ahead with the selection of another batch of students to start in October.
Groceries and face masks
We have also provided Covid-19 support in other areas.
We gave £6,000 to the staff of Gawharshad who, when the Institute was closed by lockdown, decided to mount a Covid-19 education campaign. They also gave groceries and antiseptic supplies to 70 under privileged families in Kabul affected by the outbreak. We paid for the goods; the school provided all labour, facilities and transport.
We supported the Afghan Children’s Circus with £2,000 so they could produce and distribute face masks, set up handwashing stations in refugee camps and put on public education initiatives.