A week in Kabul with Judo for fred

Written by Birgit Ryningen

IMG_4405Marit Øvstedal and yours truly recently spent a week in Kabul, from 17 to 23 February. The purpose of our short stay was to check up on all of JFF’s activities, visit the dojos we’ve financed, meet the judo practicioners, and instruct and participate in judo classes… This was a rather optimistic plan, but with packed schedules from 7 AM to 9 PM every day, we were able to reach more or less all of our goals. After such a hectic week we have plenty to relate, but for the sake of brevity, here I’ll just say a few words about about the dojos we’ve built.

JFF has funded (that is, Norad has funded) the construction of four dojos in Kabul (as well as one in Mazar-e-Sharif): 3 mobile dojos for the Aschiana centres for street children, 1 dojo for the boys’ orphanage Tahi Maskan, and a large dojo for the Afghan Judo Federation.

Trening i en av de mobile dojoene.

Trening på en av de mobile dojoene i Kabul.
Judo practice at a mobile dojo in Kabul.

Aschiana

Bazmuhammad, en av Shafiqs studenter, nå trener på Aschiana.
Bazmuhammad, en av Shafiqs studenter, nå trener på Aschiana.

In the past, the Aschiana centres for street children were often forced to relocate, as they didn’t own any property of their own. This led Shafiq Eqrar to design and build the mobile dojos. Since his tragic passing, Aschiana has finally been able to buy a permanent property, and all the activity has been relocated there, in a permanent dojo. Shafiq used to be the driving force behind all of the judo activity at Aschiana, but after he passed away, his former students have stepped up and carried it forward. JFF has long been working to initiate judo practices for girls at the Aschiana centres, but the management has resisted it until very recently. Today, the girls, too, finally have access to the judo mats, and the number of girls who want to participate increases every day. The instructors at Aschiana, who used to be street children themselves, organise judo class after judo class, and the children are practically lining up to join in.

The children we’ve spoken to tell us that after they started practicing judo they feel stronger and healthier. They no longer engage in street fights, and they are helping more out at home. Most of them have a desire to win medals, but there are some who say they want to become judo instructors, so that they can help other children when they themselves grow up.

Trening på Aschiana-sentret for gatebarn. Desverre gikk strømmen mens vi var der, noe som er helt vanlig, men treningen gikk sin gang som vanlig.
Judo practice at the Aschiana centre for street children. Unfortunately, there was a power outage while we were there, but this is “business as usual” and the training went on like nothing had happened.
Vi snakker med noen av barna på Aschiana.
We’re talking to a few of the children at Aschiana.
Birgit og Marit med noen av gatebarna utenfor Aschianas nye og permanente bygg.
Birgit and Marit with some of the street children outside Aschiana’s new, permanent buildings.

The mobile dojos

Mødrene på SCAWNO
Mødrene på SCAWNO

Later, we went to visit the Support Children and Afghan Women in Need Organization (SCAWNO), where one of the mobile dojos originally constructed for Aschiana has now been relocated, and is in full use. Here we also got to meet some of the mothers of the judo children who train at SCAWNO. They told us that their children have become more polite and helpful after they started practicing judo. They also relate stories about judo practices in their living room, with aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings. We got the suspicion that the children and mothers tell us what they think we want to hear, but then one of the blue burqas tell us that her sons practice judo, and that they learned better behaviour as a consequence, but her 7(!!!) daughters are not allowed to do the same. Two of them are married, and the other five have to help out at home. Who else will do the house work if the girls are also allowed to practice judo? she asks. We conclude that there is still a way to go before the girls of Afghanistan can do what they wish. Another problem was also brought to light while we were talking to the mothers: Since there is a shortage of judo uniforms, the children share the ones they have. This means that the girls have to train in the same gis as the boys. Apparently, this is somewhat of an issue.

Barna på SCAWNO har hatt oppvisning for oss og etter showet bar de mattene tilbake til dojoen.
The children at SCAWNO put on a demonstration for us, and after the show, they  carried the mats back to the dojo.
Hon kesa gatame (SCAWNO)
Hon kesa gatame (SCAWNO)

At this point, I want to thank all of you back home for the judo uniforms you’ve bought in the form of christmas cards! Even though the children have to share them, almost everyone has a uniform at practice. However, since more and more children want to practice judo (and there are more and more judoka who grow up and are skilled enough to become new instructors), and the existing uniforms are in heavy use already, the need for new ones seems endless. We hereby promise to keep selling christmas cards!

The two remaining mobile dojos that were originally built for the Aschiana centres are now at two different locations on the outskirts of Kabul, and are in use by local judo clubs. We note that the dojos are in need of some repairs, but when questioned, the boys only complain about the lack of uniforms. Many of them are very poor, and a judo gi is expensive and, strictly speaking, not a life necessity. The boys tell us that they collect money to help  buy uniforms for those who can’t afford them. We’ve learned that it’s apparently not only the street children who are in need of uniforms.

En av de mobile dojoene opprinnelig bygget for Aschiana, nå i bruk hos SCAWNO. På grunn av stor pågang fra barn som ønsker å trene judo, ønsker SCAWNO å utvide dojoen.
One of the mobile dojos that were originally built for Aschiana, now in use by SCAWNO. Due to the large number of children who wish to practice judo, SCAWNO wants to expand the dojo.

The girls

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There are no girls’ practices in the two aforementioned dojos. Even though many girls now train at both Aschiana, SCAWNO and at “Olympic”, most girls still have additional problems. They’re not always allowed to train by their families. There are many places where they’re not allowed to go. In the winter, when the schools close for three months, many of them are stuck at home. Not everyone are allowed to train under male instructors. And many are not allowed at all. Lina has initiated training sessions for girls at several schools, and this is going well. Most of the girls are allowed to join in. She has also started a cooperation with the Ministry of Education, and she has a group of girls who practice in their  facilities. Female judo resource persons are like gold dust in Kabul. There are few of them, and most Afghan judo girls have to leave the mat permanently as soon as they get married (which tends to be early in life). Running a girls’ activity is hard work, but the joy of the girls on the mat makes one want to keep on fighting for their freedom to practice judo.

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Jentetrening hos Ministry of Education.
Girls training at the Ministry of Education.

The boys’ orphanage

IMG_4496The dojo which was built for the boys’ orphanage is in full use. It has been renovated once, and is in pretty good condition. Like the mobile dojos, this one also has no heating, nor air conditioning, but no-one complains. The boys who live at the orphanage generally live their lives behind tall walls, barbed wire and armed guards. They rarely visit the city outside; they even go to school at the orphanage. Judo is, unsurprisingly, a welcome addition to life behind the walls. Farhad Hazrati, who is the builder of, and the coordinator and instructor at, this dojo, often brings some of the boys to practice at “Olympic”, so that they can get outside and meet other people. He lets them take turns in who’s coming along, so that on average, each boy gets to go to “Olympic” one or two times each month.

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Judotrening på barnehjemmet for gutter.
Judo practice at the boys’ orphanage.

Olympic

IMG_3947This brings us to the last dojo which has been funded by JFF/Norad: the large dojo at “Olympic”. The Afghan National Olympic Committee has provided a property for the Afghan Judo Federation (AJF), and JFF/Norad has paid for the construction. (Many hours of volunteer work were also put in, together with money from own pockets, in order to complete the construction.) Today, the dojo at “Olympic” is the AJF’s pride and joy. Here they hold practices, competitions and meetings. Here, anyone who are able can train, and they host joint training sessions for all judo clubs, they have started a club cup, and they instruct courses. They have two sets of mats: an old one for everyday use, and a dedicated competition area donated by the IJF.

Jentetrening på Olympic.
Girls’ training at Olympic.
Kort pause i judotreningen på Olympic for bønnestund.
Short time-out during practice at Olympic, for prayers.

In closing

All things considered, coming back to Kabul was a very positive experience. What we do works. Our small contributions have a large effect. Today, JFF in Afghanistan consists of a group of young and enthusiastic judo practicioners with grand goals and ambitions. Of course, the security situation is an ever-present shadow looming over them. The girls have their extra problems. The street children live a rough life. The orphans are locked up. Most people have very little money. But they all practice judo. They meet on the mat, laugh, train and sweat. It’s almost as though there were neither war nor hunger just outside the dojo. They also send their thanks to the Norwegian judo community. They are grateful for all the uniforms. They say thanks for all the help and support.

Et besøk i Kabul inneholder ikke bare judo, men også mengder av tedrikking.
A visit to Kabul doesn’t only include judo, it also includes a lot of tea.
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3 thoughts on “A week in Kabul with Judo for fred

  1. As the strongest female judoka in Afghanistan, the first female to receive her 1st dan from tokai, japan and someone who is trying to fight for women’s rights in Afghanistan and world sport i have been having huge discrimination and political adversity from the orgs that you have been funding. I want to compete in rio 2016 and am receiving no support from the afghan judo federation or olympic committee. Please let me know how i can receive support for my olympic bid directly.

    1. Dear Fahima,

      We are very proud of you and your achievements in judo. We know that you have had a lot of difficulties in your sports career and it makes your achievements even more impressive! We are also glad to hear that you want to continue your competition career towards the 2016 Olympics, and sorry that you don’t feel that you have any support. You know that Judo for fred does not support the national team and high level judokas. We have budget for children and grassroots activities only. We cooperate closely with the Judo Barahe Solha (the Afghan Judo for fred board) with activities mainly for street children, orphans and schools. The national team is the Afghan Judo Federation’s responsibility and we don’t have any money for such activities. We will, however, be very happy to try to help you, for example, to get private sponsorship. We don’t have any good advice for you since we have tried to get sponsors for the national team earlier without success, but maybe it is easier for just one person? Today, most high level judokas from small federations get very little support from their federations and sponsorships are often the only money they receive for their hard work. If you write a request for sponsorship we will be happy to read through it and try to help you with the writing. We believe it is also a problem for the Afghan Judo Federation that you don’t live in Afghanistan anymore, but that is something that you and the Afghan Judo Federation have to agree on. Anyway, we really hope you succeed and if you have any questions or anything you think we can do to support you, please feel free write an e-mail to the board.

      All the best, and best of luck!
      Judo for fred

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