Canada and aid organizations are bringing hope and making a difference in Afghanistan, says a relief worker who just returned from working and living for several years in the troubled country.
For five years, Heather Bellamy was based in Kabul and central Afghanistan working on development projects, including a women’s park, a gardening project and an orphanage.
During the past three years, the 49-year-old volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse was based in the remote central portion of Bamiyan province creating a five-acre women’s and family park.
She selected the area because it was “badly traumatized” during the Taliban regime.
“There were entire villages where they rounded up the men and boys and shot them in the mosques.”
The Bamiyan people have a strong aversion to anything Taliban related, she said.
She said the people living there are very poor.
“They’re very Asian looking.” She said because of Asian ancestry, they can’t grow long beards and that angered the Taliban.
Bellamy said the Taliban doesn’t have much strength in the valley now thanks to the presence of United Nations forces, including Canada and the United States.
“Right now, the valley is quite safe. It’s probably one of the safest places in Afghanistan.”
She doesn’t know if foreign powers are making a difference in the country but her project made a difference, she said.
She conceded the Taliban are growing in strength year by year.
Bellamy said she is “burned out now” from the work and retired to come home to help take care of her aging parents.
“I would have lived in the village forever. I was happy there and felt useful,” she recalled as her face glowed with the memories.
“I had grown people crying when I left saying I was leaving them orphaned.
“They said we gave them fresh hope and excitement and beauty where there was nothing.”
She said the military is holding the lid on the situation, which gives aid groups a chance to make a difference.
She said the Bamiyan governor invited her aid group to build the women’s park, which is 14 km from the city of Bamiyan.
Bellamy had helped rebuild a women’s park in Kabul where she met the female minister of culture who became the Bamiyan governor.
“We saw that building a park just for women didn’t seem like enough because families needed to be healed.”
She said women have a special time to visit the park because it’s a highly segregated culture.
The park and other amenities took $500,000 to build and every cent was raised by Bellamy through her contacts. “I had to raise the money for my own living and the projects. By the grace of God, we found it all,” she said.
Money was raised through American, Canadian and German sources.
The park is an oasis in a barren area.
“Afghans would walk in and say ‘Wow nothing like this has ever been done in the country.’ ”
Bellamy said much of the credit for building and designing the project belongs to a Turkish architect Omar Bayer, who died recently.
“He brought incredible talent and finesse to this project. Without him we couldn’t have done this.”
The park is on a main tourist link to Kabul, which fits in with the reasoning to build the park.
The area has other attractions including the five Band-e-Amir dams on the Kalu River and the Buddhist shells that the Taliban tried unsuccessfully to blow up when they ruled the country.
The park is at the foot of an ancient citadel city called Shahr-e-zohak, which was attacked 1,800 years ago by Genghis Khan and laid to ruins in the 12th century.
The building project includes a two-storey teahouse, canteen, greenhouse in a horticultural training area, playground, walking paths and a volleyball court.
The project is self sustaining through admission sales and now provides full-time jobs for 18 people, who are widows, war wounded, orphan boys and landless farmers.
During its three-year construction, more than 100 families relied on the work.
Bellamy said the project is attempting to introduce vegetable and some fruit growing in the area because there was none before.
She said poor people begged farmers to let them pick weeds in their crop fields so they could cook the weeds for a vegetable.
She said although she does not have much medical knowledge, people came to her with medical problems.
“There isn’t a single optometrist in the area,” she said.
Bellamy, a native of Terrace, B.C., was visiting the sister in the Pine Lake area recently after serving the aid group for 15 years.
Samaritan’s Purse is a Calgary-based international Christian relief and development organization that provides aid to victims of war, disease, natural disaster, poverty, famine and persecution.