FSPA: nourishing life, nurturing nonviolence with duvets in Afghanistan

woman making duvet, boy looking at camera
unloading duvets
Woman being  paid for her work
young men with duvets
people waiting for duvets
taking duvets home
From top, a young woman works on a duvet while her child smiles for the camera; unloading completed duvets; woman being pad for her work (photos from "Our Journey to Smile YouTube channel); young men flash the peace sign while preparing to distribute duvets in Kabul; waiting in line for duvets; carrying duvets home. Photos courtesy of Hakim Young and Brian Terrell

Scores of refugees have died there. Most are children, the elderly. 

Yet something as simple as a blanket—a blanket—can help to sustain the warmth of life, stave off a frigid death. 

These people—refugees cloaked in political and climatic mortality—are struggling to survive the harsh winters of Kabul, Afghanistan. And so since 2010, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, an organization firmly rooted in “active nonviolent resistance to U.S. war-making,” has been a presence in Kabul’s refugee camps, witnessing the unacceptable conditions and wrapping those suffering in its Duvet Project. With the local assistance of Afghan Peace Volunteers and global support of organizations that include FSPA, the program is saving thousands of lives one heavy blanket—duvet—at a time. And the duvets don’t provide just physical sustenance but a means to self-sustainability for Kabul’s refugees as well. 

Three people share with us the bright fabric of their being in the Duvet Project.

“For the last three winters,” wrote the organization’s co-coordinator Brian Terrell after a trip to help with distribution in 2015, “Afghan Peace Volunteers have organized a cooperative of seamstresses who work for a decent wage producing the duvets then given away without cost. These blankets are life savers, not just as a means of sustaining warmth but also financial earnings and a sense of independence. Materials and wages are paid with donations from the U.S. and U.K.—money not given in charity, but a small gesture toward the reparations our countries owe to the people of Afghanistan. It’s a small step in rebuilding a social and economic infrastructure that has been devastated by war.

“In a taxi with some of the young volunteers, we followed a rented truck piled perilously high with brightly-colored duvets to a mosque where a crowd was already gathering to collect them. In a marvel of organization families each received two duvets, given with a sense of joy and respect. As the stack shrunk, however, the elation of abundance gave way to fear of scarcity. I remembered the prayer of Vincent de Paul, that the poor might forgive us for the bread we give them, as we are in reality only giving them back a small portion of what they have been deprived of ... of what is justly theirs.” 

Another representative of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Carolyn Coe, has traveled to Kabul and documented her experience there too. “They have descended from the mountainside. Women sit together in the cemetery not to mourn but to wait for duvet distribution to begin. I listen to one of them speak of war; tell me of the pain in her legs, her chest; ask for my help in receiving a pair of duvets. I tell her I don’t make the decisions here. Standing with the women I say ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ All other words fail me.

“Perhaps twice as many people as have the required paperwork to receive duvets arrive. The crowd presses toward the open gate, hoping. The people are desperate.

“Safeh Zakira, a member of the sewing cooperative that creates the duvets, says she wants to continue sewing. Before this work she would sometimes break the shells of almonds, using them as fuel. I wonder how much heat they generate. 

“Safeh tells me she hopes there will always be work for her, and not just with the duvet project. Afghanistan has a reported 40 percent rate of unemployment, but the unofficial estimate is higher at more than 80 percent. 

What the people need, she affirms, is jobs so they can provide for their family.”

Julia Walsh, FSPA, advocates for Voices for Creative Nonviolence and sponsors a ministry grant to aid the program, the people of Afghanistan. “My heart frequently feels broken when I consider the impacts of war and militarism. I fully support the organization’s mission to prevent war by telling the truth about U.S. involvement.

“I want to bless the women and their families with a livelihood and some warmth to survive the extreme winters. Doing so,” she says, “is enacting the works of mercy and other teachings Jesus gives to us in the Gospels.”   

To find more information about the Duvet Project, including a video of volunteers distributing duvets to those in dire need, visit the Voices for Creative Nonviolence website: http://vcnv.org.  

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