Children are #NOTATARGET

Supporting children caught up the attack on Mirza Awlang village, Northern Afghanistan

By Farid Dastgeer
Sajad, aged 3, was wounded and lost both parents in the attack on Mirza Olang village.
UNICEF Afghanistan/2017/Shiwa Kiyanosh
15 August 2017

MAZAR, Afghanistan, 15 August 2017 — In recent weeks, children in the village of Mizra Walang, Sar-I-Pul Province, Northern Afghanistan have experienced things no child should ever have to.

The village, home to some 470 families, was attacked by non-state armed groups (NSAG) resulting in the death and kidnapping of several residents. Surviving children and their families fled their homes to nearby Sar-I-Pul city, traumatized and devastated.

There, UNICEF immediately mobilized Tabish, a social health education organization, to provide the displaced families with psychosocial support in coordination with the Child Protection Action Network (CPAN).

Nooria Yoldash, a psychological counselor
UNICEF Afghanistan/2017/Shiwa Kiyanosh
Nooria Yoldash, a psychological counselor, talks with displaced women who witnessed the violence in Mirza Olang village.

Speaking out their pain

‘’Children and women are seriously traumatized and have difficulty talking,” says Zahira, a psychological counsellor with Tabish and trained to work with women and children. “They cry, have nightmares, and are in shock. But when we talk with them and let them speak out their pain, they cry and feel better. We encourage them not to lose hope and focus on their strengths to cope with the situation. Children attach themselves to their mothers not to lose them. Their mothers say they also feel scared. At the mere sound of a door, they try to grab their children and run ’’

Tabish deployed a team of four psychological counsellors (two male and two female) to assess the situation and provide the appropriate first line response, which included Psychological First Aid and psychosocial support through the establishment of child friendly spaces, where individual and group counselling session was provided.

As many as 457 families relocated to the city, finding shelter in mosques or with relatives and friends, with little more than the clothes on their backs.

To meet the needs of the displaced families, especially affected women, UNICEF also provided hygiene and dignity kits to prevent the spread of disease. However, addressing the psychological distress will be much more long term.

Women displaced from Mizra Walang
UNICEF Afghanistan/2017/Shiwa Kiyanosh
Women displaced from Mizra Walang village receive group counselling provide by UNICEF implementing partner, Tabish.

Life-changing events

Among the families separated during the flight at least 25 lost family members and an estimated 88 children were left without care and support. The stories the counsellors hear are shocking. In one family, five children aged 3 to 17 lost both their parents. The youngest, Sajad, was injured in the attack by the bullet that killed his mother. The children are now being cared for by their uncle, Mohammad, who laments that his deceased brother was an innocent bystander in the tragedy, “Nawroz was a contracted teacher in the village earning 4,000 Afs (USD 60) per month and just doing his best to keep his family happy.’’

Nooria, another psychological counsellor, describes how 18-year-old Pary Gull is being helped to cope with the death of her brother-in-law who was shot right in front of her. ‘’During the first meeting she had difficulty in talking and felt that something was stuck in her throat which prevented her from talking and eating,” said Nooria. “However after receiving two sessions, she expressed that she is feeling better and will continue to visit us for counselling.’’

The recent events have been life-changing for the affected villagers of Mizra Walang. UNICEF and its partners continue to work to provide assistance to the children caught up in a conflict not of their making. Children are #NOTATARGET