No feed but a few snaps from Kandahar

I’ve been trying to figure out how to put in an automatic Instagram feed in the sidebar over there →
Haven’t managed it. Seems WordPress doesn’t allow iframe code. I did manage to put in a cute little button though.

Here are some snaps from Kandahar that I took on my phone:

Beautiful windows at Kandahar Airport

Snoozing in traffic

A stunning autorikshaw

Fruit and a sit-down

Polio campaign banner

A young couple tries to avoid getting run over

Student penpals in Afghanistan and Japan share hope amid hardship

By Alistair Gretarsson & Nanako Saito

FUKUSHIMA, Japan/KABUL, Afghanistan, 6 July 2012 – Sara’s dream of seeing Yuka has finally come true. The two teenagers were great friends although they had never actually met.

When the earthquake and tsunami hit eastern Japan in March 2011, Sara, who lives in Afghanistan and has lived through tough times herself, sent Yuka a letter of support. Yuka responded and a friendship was formed. But until today, they had no idea what the other even looked like.

Students at Yumoto High School in Fukushima, Japan, and at Tajwar Sultana High School in Kabul, Afghanistan, finally got the chance to meet virtually over a live video link using Google+ Hangout technology, just three days before a major international conference in Tokyo on the future of Afghanistan.

Sara and her fellow students in Kabul were introduced to their counterparts in Japan last year through the ‘Tegami’ letter project, which was initiated by the Japan Committee for UNICEF (JCU). They were curious to see what their penpals in Fukushima looked like and were thrilled to finally hear their voices.

During the live video link-up, the 10 girls in Kabul interacted for over an hour with the 34 students in Fukushima. The students on both sides had many questions, asking each other about their day-to-day lives, their hopes and dreams for the future, and even about their favourite foods.

They also discussed some serious topics, sharing their stories of the challenges they have faced and their ideas on how to build a better future together. “My wish is that we are united. We should work hard to become highly educated. We are the future of our country and we can build our country and our future again,” said 17 year-old Hasiba in Kabul.

Supporting each other

All these girls have one thing in common: They have suffered major calamities. Through their letters to each other, the teenagers built friendships and supported each other, forming a strong bond for life.

“Students in Kabul really encouraged us after the earthquake,” said16 year-old Akane Ohta in Fukushima. “Their compassion and friendship mean a lot to us. I was so excited to finally meet them today. This was a wonderful opportunity.”

Students in Yumoto High School, Fukushima, now study in a makeshift school building as their original building was severely damaged by the earthquake last year. The Tajwar Sultana High School was constructed through the 1,000 classrooms project implemented by UNICEF with funding from the Japanese Government.

The Minister of Education for Afghanistan Farooq Wardak attended this unique event in Kabul and spoke with students on both sides. He expressed his great appreciation for the solid friendships between the students, between their schools and between the two countries.

The Minister had a strong message for the students in Fukushima. “Please tell the world leaders who are meeting in Tokyo that it is not from a shortage of war machines that the world is suffering, but from a lack of equitable access to meaningful and quality education. This is what makes us all vulnerable to violence and destruction,” he said.

Hopes and dreams for the future

On 7 July, the day before the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan, the people of Japan will celebrate ‘Tanabata’, or the ‘Star Festival’, where people across the country make wishes for the future. Students in these two schools wrote down their hopes and dreams on paper slips and tied them to bamboo trees. These messages will be delivered to leaders attending the conference.

Back in the classroom in Kabul, the girls had some strong messages for the world leaders meeting at the conference in Tokyo, asking them to place education and the rights of women and children at the top of their agenda.

This was echoed by UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Peter Crowley. Speaking in Fukushima, he said, “Investing in education is an investment for the future, not just for development but also in promoting and sustaining peace and stability.” Addressing the students, he added, “Your courage in the face of adversity, whether in Fukushima or Kabul, is a tremendous source of mutual support and an inspiration to us all.”

Sara and Yuka have hopes of one day sitting together in the same room. “I want to see her again as I have so many questions for her,” said Sara.

“I hope we can do more for Afghanistan,” said Yuka. “I hope that Afghanistan will soon see a future that is peaceful, that has no more struggles and where everyone can continue to live in happiness.”

Even though the video link broke down several times during the interaction, the bond of friendship between these girls only grew stronger.

Published on 6 July 2012 at:

Meet the youth reporters of Korba, Chhattisgarh

Child Reporters - Korba, Chhattisgarh

On 2 and 3 June, 2011, we travelled to Korba, in northern Chhattisgarh state, to meet a group of truly inspiring young people: the local child reporters.

These young people are working to make their community a better place for children. From preventing child labour and ensuring that every child goes to school, to cleaning up their village to make it a safe environment for kids to live and play in.

The child reporters programme, implemented in Chhattisgarh by the Mayaram Surjan Foundation and supported by UNICEF, has more than 1200 active young journalists in 100 blocks. Every two weeks, the best stories are chosen from across the state and published in a newspaper called Bal Swaraj, or ‘Children’s Republic’.

We talked to them to learn about the issues that they are most passionate about, tried to understand what drove them to the cause and listened to their stories of fighting for child rights and making a real difference to their community.

With continuous updates, photographs and video clips on our Facebook page (and also on Youtube and on Twitter), UNICEF supporters across India followed the stories of these young reporters as they unfolded and asked questions to these child reporters through Facebook and Twitter to which these child reporters responded.

Day 1 – Thursday, 2 June 2011

We started our journey on 2 June 2011 and met a group of young confident reporters in Chhattisgarh.

They were an energetic group and certainly not shy to speak their mind. Not only do they know about their rights and entitlements, they are also confident enough to articulate their thoughts and ideas in front of their parents, teachers and community leaders. Click here to read what the child reporters shared with us.

Fifteen-year-old child reporter, Vikas Shrivastava has written a news article on irregularities in the ration card distribution system, whereby families belonging to higher income groups in his village were getting cards meant for those Below Poverty Line.

He’s very aware of the seriousness of this issue and he plans to raise it again during one of their village meetings.


We met up with 14-year-old child reporter Narmada Sahu who shared with us how she managed to get the defunct science laboratory in her school in Chhattisgarh fully functioning.


While we were busy listening to stories shared by a group of truly inspiring young reporters in Korba, our photographer was busy documenting the lives of Narmada Sahu and Vikas Shrivastava who are making a real difference in their community by writing about it and making their voices heard.

Take a look at this Photo Essay documenting the Lives of Young Reporters to get a peek into the lives of two young reporters and also read the comments of UNICEF supporters praising the efforts of Narmada Sahu and Vikas Shrivastava.

Photo Essay documenting the Lives of Young Reporters

Narmada Sahu also took us to her school where she showed us the boundary wall she campaigned for and the classroom where the new lab equipment will be set up.


Later Vikas shared with us how he is campaigning for a family in his village to get a Below Poverty Line Ration Card, which will help this family to get access to government


Day 2 – Wednesday, 3 June 2011:

On the second day of our journey, the 3rd of June, 2011 of our journey, we met the young reporters from Badmar village.

They are the face of the children of Korba District and advocates for child rights across the state. They are ‘change agents’ and they are going about the job beautifully.

Click here to read all about the Child Reporters Group in Badmar Village. Also don’t forget to read the comments and questions posed by UNICEF supporters to the child reporters on our Facebook page

We met 14-year-old youth reporter, Kavita Mahant and 15-year-old Himshila Kumari Yadav. Kavita and Himshila have been campaigning for the repair of the roof of the village anganwadi (child day care) centre. The roof has been leaking heavily whenever it rains, ever since a tree fell on it during last year’s monsoon.


Take a look at this photo Essay documenting the Lives of Young Reporters in Badmar Village

Our photographer got to get a peek into the lives of young reporters who are the face of the children of Korba district and advocates for child rights across Chhattisgarh State. Please take a look at the photoessay and don’t forget to read the comments and questions posed by UNICEF supporters to these child reporters.

We also met 16-year-old reporter Anil Kumar Rathiya who is worried about the threat to the health of the people in his village because of the dirty water is in their village pond. He is planning to bring this issue up with the village elders at the next panchayat meeting (local village council).


Later that afternoon, we sat down with the child reporters group to tell them about all the great feedback UNICEF supporters have been giving them on their work. They really loved hearing about what the supporters had said. We also asked them some of the questions that UNICEF supporters had been asking, such as whether they are scared when they raise sensitive issues in their community and what they want to do when they grow up. Here’s a video of what they said.


The final post: Saying farewell but not goodbye to the Child Reporters of Korba, Chhattisgarh

After two days with the Child Reporters of Korba, Chhattisgarh, getting to know them and hearing the stories of their lives and of their work, we said goodbye for now, although the Child Reporters Programme continues here and across the state. These young people have inspired us with their enthusiasm, confidence and determination.

Aware of their rights as well as their social responsibilities they are brimming with ideas and aspirations for the future. But will they get all the opportunities they deserve and that will allow them to reach their full potential?

Click here to read the final post that bids farewell to the young reporters of Chhattisgarh.

Also, don’t forget that you can read all of these posts, readers’ reactions, thoughts and questions on the UNICEF India Facebook page.

Text and videos: Alistair Gretarsson & Priyanka Chaturvedi
All photographs: © UNICEF India / Niklas Halle’n

(See the full story on the UNICEF India website and on the UNICEF India Facebook page)

Korba, Chhattisgarh:

An education programme empowers adolescent girls to thrive in rural India

By Alistair Gretarsson

CHANDRAPUR, India, 17 March 2011 – In some of India’s most remote tribal areas, adolescent girls are finally being given the opportunity to thrive.

Traditionally, women in such areas marry young and often give birth to children when they are not physically or emotionally ready, at great danger to their own lives. But in at least one district, things are changing.

Anusaya, 14, lives in the village of Antapur in the district of Chandrapur, Maharashtra, central India. She is extremely shy but smiles easily. Until very recently, Anusaya spent her days at home cooking and cleaning, or in the fields, picking cotton under the hot sun to contribute to her family’s meagre income.

Today she plans to go back to school. It’s a complete turnaround from a few months ago when her parents started to plan her marriage. At that point, Anusaya had already been out of school for two years.

Return to school

Rukma, 24, is a ‘prerika’, or volunteer facilitator, at the local Deepshikha adolescent girls’ group. The Deepshikha programme works to educate and empower girls and ensure their increased participation in decision making that affects them.

When she came across Anusaya crying out of fear about her impending marriage, Rukma decided to speak with her parents. Anusaya’s parents had married young, and believed it was in their child’s best interest to do the same. After repeated visits from Rukma, they agreed to call off the marriage.

Because of Rukma’s efforts, 15 adolescent girls have now returned to school. Women here do not usually speak in public, but Rukma believes they should be able to talk to anyone.

“The girls ask me, ‘How will we ever get rid of our fears?’” says Rukma. “We are trying to give them the confidence and an education so that they can grow stronger.

The girls have already come a long way. “In the past, they didn’t even have the courage to leave the house,” says Rukma.

Empowering girls

Every child’s right to free expression is a guiding principle of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Now the adolescent girls in Chandrapur are becoming active members of their community and are themselves challenging discriminatory beliefs and practices.

Deepshikha was launched by UNICEF in 2008 in partnership with the Government of Maharashtra and local non-governmental organizations. There are now more than 2,200 Deepshikha groups in four districts in Maharashtra, reaching more than 50,000 adolescent girls.

“You can make a difference – a big difference – by capitalising on the energies of young women,” says Chief of Field Office for UNICEF Maharashtra Tejinder Sandhu. “Investing in an adolescent girl also means that you are investing not just in an individual, but a whole family.”

Potential ‘prerikas’ are identified by local village committees and nominated for a 20-day training programme in which they learn about child rights, health, and sex and gender issues.

After the first 10-day training session, each one goes back to her village, identifies local adolescent girls and invites them to form a Deepshikha group.

Widening horizons

After completing 40 sessions, each Deepshikha is encouraged to form a Self-Help Group (SHG). The SHG opens up a savings bank account, with small amounts of money added each time, to form a small-scale fund. This is accessible to group members who need to cover essential education and healthcare costs. The money can also be put toward small business ventures.

Reshma, 17, is bright-eyed and confident. A few years ago, her parents decided she shouldn’t attend school. Reshma began learning how to sew clothes but soon realised that she wanted to do more. When the Deepshikha group started in her village, she decided she wanted to be part of it.

“The first time I attended a Deepshikha session, my parents were confused and they told me I wasn’t allowed to go,” says Reshma. “But then, when I told them what I’d learned about how to improve our community, they agreed to let me.”

Reshma’s has since grown in self-confidence and her father is now a fervent support of the Deepshikha programme. “Look at the change in all these girls. They’re working so hard now and they have so much courage,” he says.

Of his daughter, he adds: “If she can now learn something, she can become someone.”

Published on 17 March 2011 at:

Pregnancy and childbirth support in Pakistan; Maternal, Newborn and Child Health programmes

By Alistair Gretarsson

THATTA, Pakistan, 19 October 2010 – When the floods hit the town of Belosheher in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh last August, Haleema Gafoor, 20, was in the final weeks of her pregnancy. With waters quickly submerging their home, she and her family had no choice but to flee.

“When the flood waters came and we left our home, I was so pregnant and in so much pain that I was sure that I would die on the road,” said Ms. Gafoor.

Ms. Gafoor and her husband finally managed to get space on a bus coming to the district’s main town of Thatta. When they arrived, a local landlord allowed them to camp on his land in a vacant lot between a few houses in the centre of town.

Across Pakistan, the flood waters are now finally receding and people are returning home, often to heavily damaged or destroyed houses and devastated livelihoods. Many have been surviving in hastily built camps for weeks on end and, in some cases, for months. The long journey of rebuilding lives has just begun for most and the needs are still immense.

Mobile outreach

In conditions like these, pregnant women are particularly at risk.

The Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) programme is a government-run programme, supported by UNICEF, which provides essential care to women during pregnancy and birth and to both mother and child in the first weeks of life. Here in Thatta, three tented MNCH centres have been set up to provide these essential services to those who have fled the flooding and are living in the surrounding camps.

Many women, however, are either unaware of these services or are unable to make the journey to the tented MNCH centres. To extend the reach of these services and to ensure that all pregnant get the care they need, UNICEF is supporting mobile outreach teams.

Each team includes one doctor, a lady health worker and a community midwife. They seek out women who are pregnant or have recently given birth and provide them with essential ante-natal, peri-natal and neo-natal care. When necessary, the team refers the patient to the nearest hospital, but distances are long and sometimes there simply isn’t enough time for referral.

Birth in a tent

It was one of these teams that met Ms. Gafoor during one of their routine rounds of the camps. During an ante-natal check-up, the team, led by Dr. Rehana Rafique Memon, advised Ms. Gafoor to alert them when she was going into labour.

Yet when the day came and Ms. Gafoor called the MNCH team for help, she was already very close to giving birth. She was rushed to the tent where, within half an hour and on a simple rope bed, she gave birth to a baby girl. She named her daughter Lalee, after her grandmother.

The challenges to delivering essential services to those affected by the flooding will continue to grow in the coming months as more people return home, causing a geographical spread of those in need. The Government of Pakistan, UNICEF and the humanitarian community are rapidly scaling up early recovery efforts across the country to respond to the changing nature of this emergency.

Meanwhile, UNICEF is working to build services to reach even more people than before the floods with life-saving health, nutrition, sanitation and education services. UNICEF works on long-term, sustainable solutions to improve the health and well-being of Pakistan’s women and children now and into the future.

Published on 19 October 2010 at:

Water and sanitation are most urgent needs as Pakistan’s flood crisis persists

By Alistair Gretarsson

THATTA, Pakistan, 11 October 2010 – There’s a cruel irony that hangs over Pakistan’s vast, tented camps in the wake of the country’s devastating floods. While water is what damaged or destroyed nearly two million homes and affected the lives of more than 20 million people just weeks ago, today water exactly is what those people need most.

The flood emergency in Pakistan is far from over. While the waters have receded in some areas and thousands of families are returning home, there is often little or nothing for them to return to. Meanwhile UNICEF and its partners are working to provide the most essential services – including safe water and sanitation – to those who still cannot return home.

Families stranded

Shazia, 22, is a mother of five who arrived at a camp in Thatta, a town in Pakistan’s southern-most province of Sindh, with her husband and her children more than a month ago. They are one of the more than 153,000 people in Sindh province alone that are currently being reached by UNICEF with safe water. Here in Thatta, the family receives its clean water at a UNICEF-supported water filtration plant.

“The land where we use to live is still covered with water as high as my shoulder, and our house is so damaged that we can’t return,” said Shazia. “I don’t know when we will be able to go back.”

Those whose homes are still flooded or have been destroyed beyond repair – often the poorest and most vulnerable families – have no choice but to remain here in the camps, on the roadside or wherever they have found shelter. In order to prevent the spread of disease, their most urgent needs now are clean water, good hygiene and proper sanitation.

Water is essential

The sprawling camps surrounding the town of Thatta are dry, dusty and strewn with the rubbish and waste of the thousands of people who now live here. Tents dot the arid desert landscape as far as the eye can see with only an occasional prickly bush as vegetation. Despite the end of summer, flies are everywhere and the heat is suffocating.

In each tent, however, one of the most precious items is the bucket, the jerrycan or the plastic bottles that store the water on which everyone’s existence here depends.

Since the flooding began, UNICEF has been distributing these essential supplies to families across the country. But finding the water to fill them has been one of the emergency’s core challenges: water must come from somewhere, and it has to be clean.

Millions reached, more in need

Here in Thatta, UNICEF and its partners have set up a water filtration site to clean water from a local canal. Women and girls line up at the plant several times a day to fill their containers. The filtration plant also distributes safe water to three large water bladders – huge plastic storage sacks – that are placed strategically across the camps.

“We need more bladders,” said Aftab Ahmed Tunio, who works with Muslim Aid, the UNICEF non-governmental partner that runs the filtration plant. “These women are walking one or two kilometres, maybe three to four times a day, to collect water for their families. We need to be able to bring the water closer to them,” he said.

Across the flood-affected areas of Pakistan, UNICEF is providing safe drinking water to over 2.5 million people every day. But much more still needs to be done.

As the flood waters recede, funds are drying up. Less than half of the money UNICEF needs to sustain its efforts over the next 12 months has been received to date, with the largest chunk of this unmet funding set to improve the country’s water, sanitation and hygiene situation. If Pakistan is to stave off a potential second wave of suffering, more help is urgently needed.

Published on 11 October 2010 at: