In January we delivered a new marimba, a large instrument costing more than £2,000 and bearing a passing resemblance to a xylophone, to the Afghan National Music Institute in Kabul. The story was reported in the national press and online.
I came across a comment on an online story along the lines of: “This is fine and well, but given the scale of the problems in Afghanistan, aren’t there more pressing issues that need to be addressed?” A reasonable enough comment, on the surface.
In order to answer this question, the Foundation needs to consider what we are trying to achieve with our funding and for us there is not a one-sentence answer. Other charities can give a simpler response – they have specialised in helping children, women’s literacy, education or health.
But we made a definite decision from the beginning, against advice, to employ a scattergun approach – a decision we do not regret.
We do fund people who find themselves in desperate situations, be it orphanages that have run out of food and fuel halfway through a freezing winter; women raped and tortured in their own homes who are unable to pay for hospital care; a refuge for women who have to hide from frightening family situations and need to rebuild their lives.
We also fund the middle ground: paying for operations to straighten children’s deformed limbs; literacy classes for girls who’ve been kept from attending school; scholarships for kids and for college students; basic midwifery and vaccinations in remote mountainous areas.
But we certainly do not apologise for funding lunches at the Afghan Children’s Circus, small community libraries to encourage reading as a pastime, and instruments for a music institute.
So often, the picture we get of Afghanistan is of roadside bombs, torture, rape and corruption. Together with the uncertainty of the next few years, this can only lead to a very negative view of the Afghan future, reflected in the shocking statistics of Afghan mental illness, depression and in the hundreds of cases a year of attempted suicide of young women by pouring cooking fuel over and setting fire to themselves.
We do not apologise for funding lunches at the Afghan Children’s Circus, small community libraries to encourage reading, and instruments for a music institute.
Playing or listening to music, joining or watching a children’s circus, reading: you only have to see how Afghan kids jump at the chance to take part in any of these to realise just how important the arts are in life.
Nobody is denying that parts of Afghan society are dysfunctional but surely part of rebuilding a nation with the resilience to sustain itself is to have youngsters with an interest in the future, and the hope of a country with some normality and a few pleasures.
You’ve got these things already. Don’t try and deny them to others by asking us to focus only on the starving and the depressing.