A lifetime of hardship

Fatima and her grandchildren are at risk in the freezing Afghan winter

By Feridoon Aryan and Ajmal Sherzai
Winterization kits distribution
UNICEFAfghanistan/2022/Bidel
05 February 2022

HERAT, AFGHANISTAN - Fatima Haidar, 58, has had a tough life. For nearly six decades, she suffered the tyranny of war, poverty, and drought in her hometown in Jawand District, Badghis Province. All the male members in her family died in the violence, leaving Fatima, her daughter-in-law, and her grandchildren to fend for themselves.

With the situation ever worsening, Fatima was forced to leave everything behind and seek a better home for her family. The decision to leave her ancestral home was not easy, but one she had to make to keep her grandchildren from starving.

Two months ago, Fatima and her family arrived in Herat and settled inside a camp for displaced persons in Shaidayee.. After many years, Fatima and her family finally had a warm, safe, and peaceful place to stay, with stomachs full of food.

Life in the camp is still challenging, albeit better than in her hometown. Fatima and her family live in a makeshift tent and survive on the bare minimum. With no steady income, it is hard to make ends meet. To make matters worse, Afghanistan’s harsh winter has set in. January is typically the most brutal month, with temperatures in high altitudes dropping below -25 degrees Celsius. At times, in moments of desperation, Fatima even contemplated sending her grandchildren to the city to beg for coal, wood or rubber to burn and keep themselves warm.

“I tried to send my grandchildren to the city to beg, so that we could feed ourselves and have something to burn to keep the water dripping tent warm at night,” Fatima recalls bitterly.  

Around the same time, Fatima’s granddaughter broke her leg and needed urgent medical care to prevent sepsis. 

“I did not have enough money to buy blankets for my shivering family and also treat my granddaughter's broken leg,” said Fatima.

Winterization kits distribution
UNICEF Afghanistan/2022/Bidel
When UNICEF distributed winterization kits in Herat, Fatima shared the joy of warmth with her 12-year-old grandson, Janan.

When all hope seemed lost, UNICEF arrived bearing assistance for her family and 1,700 other families in the camp in dire need of blankets, tarpaulins and other materials to survive the freezing winters. Now that her family had something to stay warm, Fatima immediately rushed her granddaughter to the hospital in the provincial city capital in Herat for treatment.

Fatima admitted the last two months were very challenging. The family did not have much to keep themselves warm or to fill their stomachs. The tent was old, tattered, and it leaked.

“To be honest, I have had several nervous breakdowns. At times I even wanted to end my life to escape seeing my grandchildren in agony."

"In our moment of despair and helplessness, the blankets and tarpaulins from UNICEF meant a lot to me and my family,” added Fatima.

Winterization kits distribution
UNICEF Afghanistan/2022/Bidel
Fatima smiles with her grandchildren, enjoying the blankets to keep everyone warm and tarpaulin to stop the tent from leaking.

The escalating humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan is affecting millions of children and their family, many of whom are fighting for their survival. Families are being crushed by crippling poverty and hunger, and hundreds of thousands have been uprooted from their homes.

UNICEF is in a race against time to deliver critical support that will help families survive the freezing temperatures. This winter, UNICEF distributed 5,000 blankets, 1,700 tarpaulin and 1,700 buckets to 1,700 of the most vulnerable families in Herat Province. UNICEF is also distributing winterization kits in other provinces of Afghanistan to vulnerable families with pregnant and lactating women, families with children with disabilities, female headed households, and others. The kits are part of UNICEF’s emergency response to keep vulnerable children, mothers and families protected during the harsh Afghan winter.

UNICEF thanks the Government of Denmark, Government of Estonia, and UNICEF National Committees for their generous support to ensure families in Afghanistan receive winterization packages on time.