On the last day of August, I met a little girl named Guljumma. She’s seven years old, and she lives in Kabul at a place called Helmand Refugee Camp District 5.
Guljumma talked about what happened one morning last year when she was sleeping at home in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand Valley. At about 5 a.m., bombs exploded. Some people in her family died. She lost an arm.
With a soft matter-of-fact voice, Guljumma described those events. Her father, Wakil Tawos Khan, sat next to her. He took out copies of official forms that he has sent to the Afghan government.
Like the other parents who were gathered inside a crude tent in this squalid camp, Khan hasn’t gotten anywhere through official channels. He’s struggling to take care of his daughter. And he has additional duties because he’s a representative for 100 of the families in the camp, which is little more than ditches, mud structures and ragged canvas.
Khan pointed to a plastic bag containing a few pounds of rice. It was his responsibility to divide the rice for the 100 families.
Basics like food arrive at the camp only sporadically, Khan said. Donations come from Afghan businessmen. The government of Afghanistan does very little. The United Nations doesn’t help. Neither does the U.S. government.
Khan emphasized his eagerness to work. We have the skills, he said — give us some land and just dig a well, and we’ll do the rest. From the sound of his voice, hope is fraying.
You could say that the last time Guljumma and her father had meaningful contact with the U.S. government was when it bombed them.
If rhetoric were reality, this would be a war that’s about upholding humane values. But rhetoric is not reality.
The destructiveness of this war is reality for Guljumma and her father. And for hundreds of families at Helmand Refugee Camp District 5. And, in fact, for millions of Afghan people. The violence of this war — military, economic and social — keeps destroying the future. Every day and night.
Is the U.S. government willing to really help Guljumma, who now lives each day and night in the squalor of a refugee camp? Is the government willing to spend the equivalent of the cost of a single warhead to assist her?
So far, the answer is obscenely clear. But maybe we can force a change by contacting representatives and senators in Washington and demanding action — for Guljumma, for Wakil Tawos Khan, for all the other long-suffering residents of Helmand Refugee Camp District 5 and for all the victims of war in Afghanistan.
Success for one girl or one refugee camp might be a helpful baby step toward reversing the priorities that now have the U.S. government spending about 90 percent of its budget for Afghanistan on military efforts.
Official Washington could start a move toward decency now. Helmand Refugee Camp District 5 is easy to find. It’s in the capital of Afghanistan, on Charahe Qambar Road. A government that uses satellite guidance systems to aim missiles should be able to find it.