We meet her an early morning after a freezing night with heavy snow fall. Soft white snow blankets the makeshift tents in this informal settlement on the western outskirts of the Afghan capital, Kabul. The settlement consists of around 50 families. Like Salima and her family, most of them live in tents.
“I’m too ashamed to tell my schoolmates that I’m living in a tent. They wouldn’t understand. I have to study twice as hard as them to show them that I’m not weaker than they are,” she says.
1.2 million living in informal settlements
More than 1.2 million displaced people across Afghanistan are living in informal settlements. More than half of them are children.
As many as two-thirds of all people displaced outside their province are moving towards the five regional capitals of Kabul, Nangarhar, Kandahar, Balkh and Herat.
Outside her makeshift tent, a snowman with a red nose, a red cap and yellow gloves welcomes together with the neighbouring children. Some of them are dressed in thin summer clothes and without proper shoes.
“When I woke up and saw the snow covering the tents I thought, ‘I’ll make a snowman to make the children happy”, says Salima.
The only one in school
Salima is a very courageous girl and she dreams of a brighter future. She argued with her father to let her go to school, and now she is advocating for other girls in the settlement.
“I have already started teaching some of them, including my sister. You know, I’m the only one here going to school. All the other children are working collecting scrap from the street,” she says, and turns to the cheerful snowman outside her makeshift tent.
Out of the reported 3.7 million out-of-school children in Afghanistan, 60 per cent are girls, and in some provinces as many as 85 per cent of girls do not have the chance to go to school.
Over 1,000 schools were forcibly closed in 2018 due to a lack of security, which affected more than 545,000 children.
Displaced multiple times
Most of the families in the informal settlement were living as refugees in Pakistan, but returned to Afghanistan during 2015 and went back to their villages in Kunduz Province.
Soon after they arrived in Kunduz, this strategic north-eastern province was captured by the Taliban. Seizing the city of Kunduz was the biggest territorial gain for the Taliban in the past 14 years – it also drove thousands of Afghans from their homes.
Almost two-thirds of Afghans live in areas directly affected by conflict. More than half of them are under 18 years old (47.3 per cent of Afghanistan’s population of 35.7 million are under the age of 15). They are exposed to escalating violence, forced displacement, the loss of essential livelihoods and limited access to basic services.
Read also the story: “If you are 13-year-old living in Afghanistan”.