A space for children

How a UNICEF-supported centre in Afghanistan helped soothe Habiba's trauma

By Feridoon Aryan
Habiba
UNICEF Afghanistan/2021
06 May 2021

When the incessant fighting and insecurity in Kunduz Province became too much, 11-year-old Habiba left everything behind to resettle with her family in Balkh Province.

“One day, the fighting was so bad, my father told us to run to the basement. We all hid there until the fighting was over,” recalls Habiba. “I held the hem of my mother’s dress and asked her to put her hands on my ears so I could not hear the big explosions.”

Habiba
UNICEF Afghanistan/2021/Merzaie

Habiba’s father, Agha Murad Daiee, decided to leave Kunduz to find a secure place for his family. He chose Balkh Province because he had relatives there.

All six family members moved into a temporary living space east of Mazar City, in a designated settlement set aside for displaced families like Habiba's. 

Habiba
UNICEF Afghanistan/2021/Merzaie

In Balkh Province, although she was safe from the explosions and conflict, Habiba was still reluctant to leave the house. Scared and unable to adjust to her new life, she wanted to stay in the sanctuary of her home. Habiba’s parents looked for different ways to help their daughter but they could not find services. As a result, her mental well-being deteriorated. At night, she would wake up screaming and beg her mother to hide her.

Habiba
UNICEF Afghanistan/2021/Merzaie

Maryam Hashemi, 22, heard about Habiba's trauma and convinced her family to allow Habiba to visit the child-friendly space where Maryam is a teacher.

This space was established for children like Habiba by the Government of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, and the implementing partner, Afghanistan Development and Welfare Services Organization. The centre is supported by UNICEF with funding from the European Union.

Habiba
UNICEF Afghanistan/2021/Merzaie

At the child-friendly space, 46 children attend in two shifts. Leaving behind their often-stressful home environment, they can play with their peers, learn new skills and become more confident. A talented artist, Habiba loves to play with colors and create decorations that brighten the space.

Habiba
UNICEF Afghanistan/2021/Merzaie

To help Habiba cope with the impact of the war, including the death of her relatives, Maryam works closely with Habiba so she forgets the ordeals she went through and focuses on the opportunities available now.   

“I have been through similar situations as many of the children here and I always wished for someone to help me. That’s why I decided to take Habiba under my wing and coax her out of her mental anguish. By encouraging her to try artwork, play with the other children, and become friends with other girls, I was able to help Habiba emerge from the difficult situation she was in,” says Maryam.

Habiba
UNICEF Afghanistan/2021/Merzaie

Since attending the child-friendly space, Habiba has healed from the terrible experiences she endured. In addition to speaking her native Turkmen language, she has now learned to speak Dari, and has made new friends. Her favorite game is leaping into the air with the skipping hoop. 

Habiba
UNICEF Afghanistan/2021/Merzaie

Habiba’s happy smile has returned.  

“After the ordeal my family went through, I thought I would never see my daughter smile or be happy again. I am so grateful that her mental state is stable,” says her mother, Bibi.