Since I was a little boy, like many immigrant children, I heard stories of the Motherland. The memoirs I listened to with rapture told of the exquisite hospitality of the people, the rugged beauty of the landscape and the overwhelming serenity which reigned.

It was three years back when I first travelled to Afghanistan with a close friend of mine. By the end of my trip, I was profoundly impressed and made a decision to return once I’d completed my degree.

Four months ago, I arrived in Afghanistan and came to live in Panjshir; the smallest province of Afghanistan. Just Northeast of Kabul, Panjshir encompasses a lush valley flanked on both sides by soaring mountains and riddled by a roaring river.

It was here where the Soviets carried out nine major offensives. The entire valley was bombed and burned to the ground. And yet today, the villages have been rebuilt, the mud homes proudly stand tall, the fields abundant with crops and the waterways burrowed once again. War ravaged Afghanistan. But the spirit of the people did not break. Beauty is found in unexpected times and places.

A month ago I carried out research on the agriculture of Panjshir. I drove with a guide throughout the valley and sat down with farmers. In the Afghan countryside, everyone is a Farmer. Even if you are a doctor or a teacher, you are still working the ancestral fields.

Mahdi down by the river in Panjshir Valley with the Hope House children.

I noticed a strange pattern in my conversations with the Farmers. When I asked them what they aspire for, I would get blank looks and irrelevant responses in return. One old man even snapped at me for asking silly questions. One does not have time to dream or aspire, when one is working every day to simply survive.

At nights when the moon rises from behind the peaks and shines on the mountainside villages, I see many homes as distant points of light. I know there are aspirations that live in these homes. Born and residing in the small but bold hearts of Afghanistan’s children.

I work at the Mahboba’s Promise Hope House in Panjshir, which is a home for orphan boys and girls. All these children have tragic stories, but none of their hardships have robbed them of the natural joy youth feel. Their ability to lie awake at night and dream of the future perseveres. They do not run away from school, they run to it.

I witness many gripping moments on these early morning treks. The local schools are built of mountain rocks and perched in the most remote and far-flung places. Children hike the mountainous terrain for hours to reach their classrooms.

There is an intense yearning for education. I’ve learnt that the children do not want dolls and clothes, rather they long to have a book, a notepad and a pencil.

Learn more about Mahboba’s Promise’s Hope Houses and their work in Afghanistan by visiting their website at www.mahbobaspromise.org.