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Afghanistan: portraits of the blind

15-05-2009 Feature

Dad-e-Khuda, Zalmai and Jamaluddin are all blind and live in the Afghan Red Crescent Society’s Marastoon in Kabul. Here they find the support they need to cope with life, and have the opportunity to learn new skills that give hope for a better future.


  ©ICRC/VII/James Nachtwey/v-p-af-e-01513    
  Thirty-two-year-old Dad-e-Khuda lost his sight at 11 while playing with a piece of unexploded ordnance.    

 Dad-e-Khuda (32) was blinded by a piece of unexploded ordnance when he was 11 years old whilst playing with friends in a field. “At first, I felt nothing,” he recalls. “Then I sat on a stone and realized that my face wa s hurting.” He lost the sight in both eyes.

Today, Dad-e-Khuda is one of a handful of blind men who live in the Afghan Red Crescent Society’s Marastoon in Kabul. Literally a ‘place of refuge’, the Marastoon is home to over 100 destitute men, women and children from all over Afghanistan.

“I have been here for ten years,” says Dad-e-Khuda. “For the first four months, I did nothing, but then I started going to a school for the blind. I am now in the ninth grade.”

He hopes his studies might enable him to become a teacher. “And going to school also helps me to know about the world,” he says.

Although he shares his large, airy room with other inmates, Dad-e-Khuda leads a solitary existence, listening to and memorizing the Holy Quran. By his own admission he keeps to himself. “The Marastoon gives me food and clothes,” he remarks. “There is nothing else I need. My family visits me occasionally.”

“I’m staying here now,” he adds, referring to the Marastoon, “but I may not be here all my life. By learning the Holy Quran, I will be able to work and teach and live on my own.”


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  ©ICRC/VII/James Nachtwey/v-p-af-e-01512    
  Zalmai, who has lived in the Marastoon for 23 years, lost his sight gradually until he could no longer work.    

Fifty-four-year-old Zalmai has been living in the Marastoon for 23 years. He begins each day by reciting prayers, and spends much of the morning sitting in the sunshine outside his room chatting with the other blind men. His day ends with more prayers and recitations from the Holy Quran.

“There is no future for the blind,” he says. “It is like living underground.”

As a young man, Zalmai sold chewing gum and lottery tickets for a living, but his sight deteriorated and he fell on hard times. He was turned out of the house he lived in when he could no longer see, and ended up in the Marastoon.

“I will stay here as long as I get food,” he remarks. “God knows what will happen in the future.”


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  ©ICRC/J. Powell    
  Blind since childhood, Jamaluddin has a blind wife and a sighted seven-year-old daughter.    

 Jamaluddin’s family lived in a village some 30 kilometres from Kabul. He lost his sight at two years old when ‘local’ medicine was used to cure a pain in his eyes. “I will be blind for the rest of my life,” he sighs.

Thanks to the efforts of a Canadian couple who taught him Braille, Jamaluddin now has a teaching job at the school for the blind, and a settled future. ‘After they had finished teaching us, they returned to their own country,” says Jamaluddin, referring to his teachers. ‘They were good people. I pray for them every day.”

Although he would like to have his own home, house rents are far beyond what he can afford on his teacher’s salary. And he has found that people are unwilling to rent a house to someone who cannot see. He says, " People tell me, ‘you are blind. You will burn the house down one day.’ "

However, there are no such sentiments in the Marastoon, where Jamaluddin has been living with his blind wife and sighted young daughter for the past seven years. “The food is good,” he says with pleasure, “they give me clothes, and there is wood for the fire.”

Above all, he is happy he has work that takes him out of himself each day. “Come and visit the school,” he pleads. “There are lots of blind children. Don’t come to see me, come to see the children. If you can help them, it would be very kind.”

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