After the bleak, cold and dark winter comes New Year in Afghanistan. Nawroz, meaning ‘new day’, marks the beginning of the spring equinox. Afghan families are about to celebrate a special time together and with friends, feasting and listening to music. Nawroz is particularly special for children as it is customary for fathers to spoil them with presents.
Traditionally, this ancient festival, stretches back 3000 years to its roots in Persia. In Afghanistan it is observed for around two weeks culminating on the first day of the New Year, 21 March. It is a time to spring clean houses, wear new clothes, visit friends and families and feast on haft mewa, a mix of raisins, dried apricots, prunes, fresh fruit and nuts, along with samanak, a wheat germ dish. Women are very involved in both the preparation of food and in the celebrations.
Unfortunately, this joyous time isn’t shared by all Afghans. After 30 years of war and destruction, Afghanistan has been left with a terrible legacy of over 2 million orphans.
Most orphans completely miss out on celebrating Nawroz. Some are lucky, they are the ones that find their way to one of three Hope Houses built and run by Mahboba’s Promise with funding provided by Australians. Mahboba Rawi who married an Australian and settled here in the 1990’s, founded the not for profit after responding to calls for help from an Afghan doctor working in a refugee camp in Pakistan.
From humble beginnings the organisation grew to include three Hope House centres across Afghanistan housing 120 orphans.
Currently among the orphan children is Yasmeena. When her mother was pregnant with her, the Taliban assassinated her father. When her pregnant mother gave birth, she gave Yasmeena to her in-laws and left without nursing her. She soon remarried and Yasmeena and her brother, with no parents to look after them, had little hope in their lives until they reached Hope House.
Yasmeena is a cute girl, but her face shows all the hallmarks of a traumatic upbringing that no young child should have to live through. On Mahboba’s recent visit to Afghanistan she spent time with Yasmeena and her older brother Aarmaan. Already there has been a significant improvement from the love and care they are receiving at Hope House.
Other orphans like Zararin are also living happily at Hope House. He says, “When I lost my father, no one gave me love. My uncle used to kiss his children. When I saw this I thought that if my father was alive, he would do the same thing and give me love”. Nine year old Nouriya with tears in her eyes told Mahboba that, ‘since my father died in a bombing, we cannot celebrate Nawroz. I feel so sad I cannot enjoy this time like other children”.
Mahboba says a fundamental goal of her organisation is to give joy to children like Yasmeena, Zararin and Nouriya. She says, money can’t buy a loving parent but it can help ensure they are well cared for.
Each year Mahboba’s Promise conducts a campaign to raise funds to provide a little celebration and joy to orphans during this festive period.