12/8/2013 – “I never knew my father, he was killed when I was only three months old, says Wali*, 18, standing behind the counter of his little shop. My mother then remarried, but both she and her husband were also killed when I was 12, so my brother and I have been staying with my uncle since then”. After 24 years of violence, stories such as this one abound in the picturesque Kashmir valley, in Northern India. The violence linked to the independentist insurgency that erupted in 1989 in this Himalayan region has left a trail of orphans and families deprived of their bread-earners, taking a strong toll on the youth of the region.
A few months ago, Wali was identified through an awareness camp organised by ActionAid as a potential beneficiary for a livelihood support program funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), destined to help the most vulnerable victims of the on-going conflict. Today, he is the proud owner of a grocery store, having received a cash grant that enabled him to buy an initial stock of products. “I run the shop when I finish my classes”, explains the young man, who has decided to keep studying “in case this business doesn’t pick up”. “I’ve only been doing it for three months, but the sales are pretty good: after deducting my costs, I make 200-300Rs a day”, he adds while meticulously flipping through his book of accounts. “This is of great help to us as, until now, I was the only earning member of the family, and it was very hard for me to make ends meet”, says his uncle, a driver who apart from taking care of the two orphans, has three children of his own.
In a nearby village, Nabi, 16, is testing out his brand new carpentry kit, making a cupboard under the guidance of an elder artisan. “I’m still an apprentice, but once I have better experience, I’ll be able to support my entire family with this job”, he explains. A source of income which comes as an enormous relief to his father, who is paralysed from the neck down since he jumped out of a second-floor window to escape a raid five years ago, and therefore unable to work. Since then, the family has had no income apart from a disability pension of 400Rs (approximately €6) a month. “We were relying entirely on the generosity of neighbours, says his mother. I couldn’t even buy the uniforms for my kids to go to school”. Thanks to Nabi’s new apprenticeship, all three of his younger siblings are now back on the benches and his mother’s anxiety attacks have greatly reduced.
Apart from giving teenagers a chance to fall on their feet in an environment that has deprived them of any opportunities, ECHO also funds medical support for children who have fallen victim to the conflict. Through another ECHO partner, Save The Children, dozens of youngsters have, for example, received cash grants to help their families pay for medical treatment they could not otherwise afford. Like that of Ahmed, 11, who had his kidney crushed in a stampede during a demonstration near his house three years ago, or Tarik, 15, who recently lost an eye to a stray bullet. “Without this support, my parents could never have paid for this kind of operation”, says Aisha, a shy girl of 17, whose entire body was mutilated by splinters after she was hit by a bomb blast while walking home from school in 2008.
Thanks to a physical rehabilitation centre run by Handicap International and its local partner, HOPE, several other children have also had the opportunity to regain mobility through the provision of free prostheses. Like Muhammed, 10, who had to have his left leg amputated after getting tangled up in a high power line when he jumped off a roof in 2010, panicking as he saw security forces coming towards his village. “We had been approached by a private company to buy an artificial limb, but it costs a fortune” whispers his elder cousin. For three years, Ahmed used to get depressed when he saw his friends go out and play as he couldn’t go with them, so we used to tell him we would buy it, but that was just to keep his spirits up, as we knew very well that we couldn’t. Today, we don’t have to lie anymore, and Mohammad can enjoy his childhood again”.
By Pierre Prakash, Regional Information Officer for South Asia
*all names have been modified