When your country is ravaged by years of unending war and hate and oppression, and your father is sick or injured or out of work or worse, you do what you can to feed your family.
Even if you’re all of 10 years old.
There are an estimated 40,000 children working the streets of Kabul – many of whom split time between school and full workdays spent selling trinkets, shining shoes and more to feed their families.
Stars and Stripes newspaper recently profiled a few of them – the most enterprising of which target a walled compound frequented by Westerners, particularly coalition troops. They’re pushovers for the kids, often paying much more for bracelets and such than they’re worth. The troops even give the kids food and water at times to help them through their rugged workdays.
In contrast, the newspaper reports, Afghan troops find ways to extort the kids – and to spread false and crippling rumors about the girls if they refuse to share their profits. One girl was forced to quit her sales after such a rumor began.
“For the Afghan people, the American people are good,” one girl told Stars and Stripes. “Not like Afghan people.”
Elsewhere, writes Stars and Stripes, Army medics such as Spc. Joe Kunsch spend much of their time tending to Afghan civilians and their injuries, especially children with cuts and scrapes and infections and more.
“Like many medics who came to Afghanistan to treat wounded Americans,” writes Stars and Stripes’ Matt Millham, “Kunsch often finds himself filling in as town doctor for people either too poor or too wary of Afghan physicians to seek local help.”
There’s not much they can do beyond basic first aid. They can’t even leave the townspeople with much in the way of medication, for fear of adverse reactions – and they can’t very well make follow-up visits.
You hear a lot in the media about American forces gone bad. But they are the vast exception. The rule is quiet, largely unheralded acts of love and humanitarianism that approach heroism. In many cases, as the experience of the young street vendors shows, the coalition troops treat Afghans better than Afgans do.
It may be one of the best things to come out of a horrid war: seeds of a new civility.
We pray those seeds grow with time.