At the rustic refugee camps on the no man's land that straddles
the mine-ridden border of Afghanistan and Tajikistan, groups of
Afghan children, many of them dirty and barefoot, can be seen stirring
up the dust with energetic games of football.
The fact that the children have taken to the game with incredible
gusto is no surprise. Football is a universal favourite. What is
unusual is that this is the first time many of the children are
playing organised football - even kite flying was banned when the
Taliban took control of Northern Afghanistan.
"They didn't play until they came here because the situation
was bad and they couldn't play not only football but not even simple
games," says Kholis Sadurdinov, of Save the Children Fund (SCF-UK),
as he tossed a ball around with UNICEF staff and a group of Afghan
The arrival of soccer and other games on this barren wasteland,
where an estimated 5,000 children are living in four camps, couldn't
come soon enough. Now, thanks to balls and other recreational equipment
provided by UNICEF and SCF-UK, young boys and girls make football
a regular event at the Karaol settlement on Island No. 9 (which
is named after a Russian border post). Most of the children and
adults are from the nearby town of Eman Saeb, but some from as far
away as Kabul and Kandahar.
Aid workers say the football games are the first time they have
ever heard some of the children laugh and scream with joy. They
find themselves in the unusual position of having to teach young
boys and girls how to play. Come up close to many of the children,
they say, and you can spot the haunted look in their eyes caused
by years of unrest and instability.
||Afghan children learn to play again.
Mine Sungun, a UNICEF child protection officer from Turkey, says
that until recently, children had nothing to do in their spare time.
Now, regular classes are held in the mornings in makeshift tent
schools and are followed by football, volleyball and other group
One teenage boy, Abdullah, says he and his friends have been playing
football only for about two months but look forward every day to
the chance to race after the ball on the open field near their school
Karaol's commander says that in the future competition football
will be held with other nearby settlements and that the children
are eager to make their teams stronger. "The children really
like playing football a lot. They know that children usually play
in teams so they are learning that. They will have some competitions
While many of the families in the camps are expected to start heading
home in the spring, the threat of renewed fighting between warlords
and instability in their villages means that many could stay for
quite some time.