Sleepless 'mother of a thousand' worries for Afghan orphans

Mahboba Rawi is barely sleeping these days, worried instead about the "thousand children" that her charity Mahboba's Promise has in its care in Afghanistan.

>> Jill GralowReuters
Published : 18 August 2021, 11:57 AM
Updated : 18 August 2021, 11:57 AM

In a phone call from Sydney in the early hours of Wednesday, she reached a staff member at one of the four orphanages her organisation runs in Afghanistan. The staffer told her people are afraid now the Taliban are in control.

"I feel fear of life of my children. I am the mother of a thousand kids. I am worried about their safety and security and I worry about what might happen in the future for my work," Rawi said after the call.

Rawi, now 52, fled Afghanistan in the 1980s after Russia invaded the country, reaching Australia in 1984 as an 18-year-old. In 1992, she lost a 6-year-old son in a drowning accident and promised to dedicate herself to saving children.

Mahboba's Promise was the result. Besides the four orphanages, her group also runs a medical clinic and five schools for children and widows in Afghanistan.

The Taliban's rapid conquest of Afghanistan that followed US President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw American forces after 20 years of war has raised questions about the future of her work.

Many Afghans fear the Taliban will return to past harsh practices. During their 1996-2001 rule, women could not work and punishments such as stoning, whipping and hanging were common.

"I work very, very hard and I want to continue my work until the day I die, and hopefully they (the Taliban) will respect that," Rawi said.

While the Taliban have been putting on a moderate face, promising no retribution against opponents and respect for the rights of women, minorities and foreigners, many Afghans are sceptical and still fear round-ups of old enemies and activists.

The situation is "not normal", her staffer at the orphanage told Rawi. "All shops, supermarkets ... are closed right now and people very worried and don't believe the Taliban," he said, speaking in English on a WhatsApp call.

As fighting grew worse and the Taliban advanced, Rawi had to move children from one orphanage to another to keep them safe.

"I want Taliban to respect what I've done and what I have done is what our Prophet told us to do - to look after widows and orphans," she said.