John and Lorna Norgrove reflect on a year’s work by the Foundation, from campaigning to bring female Afghan students to the UK to providing emergency aid to families headed by women in Afghanistan.
Our hope this year was that, in addition to our projects in Afghanistan, we would be able to bring 20 students to continue their studies here in Scotland, eventually qualifying as doctors and hopefully working within our NHS. Our hopes have not been realised.
In August, given the lack of progress, we started a campaign to raise awareness and pressurise politicians to try to find a route through for the students. Many supporters subsequently lobbied their MPs.
Our own MP brought the issue to the attention of the Prime Minister; several times it has been brought up in Westminster in both the Commons and the Lords, and also in the Scottish Parliament. Many articles have appeared in the press including the Sunday Times. We have been interviewed numerous times for tv and radio. What else can we do?
From trainee doctors to a closed existence
The five Scottish medical schools have agreed to take them; the Scottish Government would charge them only home student fees if they had the ACRS visa. Everyone we speak to is supportive but, so far, there has been no movement from the Home Office who control visas and immigration.
Our students have gone from being trainee doctors to facing a closed existence, consigned to cooking, cleaning and looking after children. Many aren’t allowed to leave the house without a male chaperone, some fear for their lives and others are likely to be married off against their will. They are in utter despair and desperately need our help.
We feel terrible their hopes have been lifted but, as time passes – and it’s two years now – it begins to look less likely we will succeed. Maybe things will change after the general election. Then again, given it was a Conservative government promise and with the refugee situation worldwide, maybe they won’t.
But we’re going to keep trying. Hopefully something will give somewhere and a route will become possible. Meanwhile, some of these women are suicidal. We hope they can cope.
Respite for women and children
Despite the Taliban’s ban on the education of teenage girls, we have found some chinks in the system’s armour: funding graduate doctors to train for three years at the CURE hospital, paying for 20 young women to study midwifery in Faizabad, providing small grants towards internet study and including numeracy and literacy training within most projects.
Now that we no longer fund university scholarships, we have more to spend on other projects. Mostly towards helping those families headed by women who remain at the bottom of society, wondering where the next meal is coming from, shivering in a dark, damp room with little prospect of things improving.
It’s less appealing than providing women with an opportunity to become doctors – sustaining the desperate feels like shovelling money into a black hole.
But it’s not about us, is it? The important thing is that this gives some women and children in desperate situations a respite from the daily grind of trying to get a few Afghanis together to be able buy some bread and tea to see themselves through another night. This is no exaggeration.
Foundation continues to grow
If we have learned anything over the past 13 years, it is that we should be wary about predicting Afghanistan’s future.
The Taliban appear to have a strong control over the country, although there will always remain regionalism, local variations and a complex balance of power. There appears to be a significant split between the attitudes of those in control in Kabul and the Emir’s faction in Kandahar.
Opium production is a likely source of future conflict. Afghanistan had become the largest supplier of heroin in the world and, to their credit, the Taliban have banned opium poppy cultivation.
The resulting 85% reduction in one year has resulted in rural livelihoods taking a real battering and, as savings and opium stocks run out, as hunger becomes more acute, and as opium prices rise, there is likely to be pushback from the Taliban supporters in rural areas. It’s a complex story but you can read more about it on the Alcis website.
Here in the UK, the Linda Norgrove Foundation continues to grow. We take no governmental funding and our success in attracting private donors appears to be down to two factors: we are one of the few organisations continuing to work with locally based charities in Afghanistan and, despite our administrative charges rising, we are still mostly run by volunteers. All UK costs are paid, so we can continue to boast that every penny donated gets to Afghanistan.
Thank you again for your generous support.
John and Lorna Norgrove