The sun hasn’t yet risen as dozens of young men make their way up the dark hills outside Samangan’s provincial capital Aybak, shovels in hand; their faces covered by masks.

Before starting their work, everyone lines up to wash their hands at one of Afghanaid’s hand-washing stations, while one of the men checks everyone’s temperature.

Whoever is well and healthy resumes work in the early morning hours, digging deep trenches on the steep hillside, all of them working together to construct a watershed system that will irrigate the soon-to-be-planted almond trees and makes sure that flood waters won’t destroy, or wash away, the young plants.

“The coronavirus is spreading rapidly throughout Afghanistan, but we have found a way to keep going, ensuring that everyone is safe at the same time,” Haji Qudratullah (left), who takes every workers’s temperature in the morning, explained.

Coronavirus cases are now increasing rapidly throughout Afghanistan and, with many cities on lockdown across the country, millions are suffering from the economic implications.

“Our whole community ended up being unemployed when the coronavirus spread,” Haji explained, who lives in Khoga Sangbur, a small village of about 20 houses. “When Afghanaid approached us to see if we were interested in working, no one hesitated,” he laughed. Since then, men from every household have joined the big construction project that will eventually see 400 hectares of unused land turned into productive farmland.

“We have to take all the right precautions,” explained Wahidullah, the head of our office in Samangan. “This means keeping social distance and wearing a mask. We want to make sure everyone is healthy and, at the same time, during this planting season, we also want to ensure that farmland is being used.”

Food security is a concern throughout Afghanistan, with an estimated 14 million people facing emergency levels of food insecurity across the country.

“Continuing our work as usual isn’t easy, but we’re doing what we can to ensure that families have both an income and enough to eat,” explained Wahidullah.

In the backyard of her house, sitting in the shade, Rakia Nasari (below) admitted to being afraid of the coronavirus.

“Of course it is scary,” the 40-year-old said. “We’ve seen people die, and we have seen many more people lose their jobs.” Rakia is not one of them. For the past four months - before her city was put on lockdown, she has been growing hundreds of almond trees in her nursery, watering the young plants and making sure they are healthy - skills she learned on one of Afghanaid's training courses.

 

“I’m working from home and if I need help, I have my family around,” she said proudly. Fearing to become infected, Rakia is leaving her home less frequently - if she does, she wears both a mask and gloves.

“Before the coronavirus, I worked in the market selling food occasionally. Now that everything is closed I would be without an income,” she admitted. “The nursery has provided a distraction, as well as a vital source of food and money for my family.” Once the trees have grown, we have committed to purchasing them from Rakia.

Like other women in her community, she was approached by the village’s elders about enrolling in one of our training courses, learning new skills enabling them to feed their families and become self-sufficient. “Our family doesn’t have much - so I was keen to take part,” she explained. During the day, Rakia takes care of her five-year-old granddaughter Karima (below), whose mother continues to work as a household help.

The coronavirus pandemic came suddenly to the family. Life had seemed fine as everyone was getting ready for spring.

“It was a shock for many to lose their jobs and to wonder how to continue,” Rakia said. “Having Karima around and knowing that I will have a job for the next months has helped so much. I’m confident that we will make it through this time.”

How can you help people in Afghanistan?

Afghanaid is working incredibly hard to protect vulnerable communities like Rakia's during this novel Coronavirus crisis. During challenging times, donations from our supporters are an absolutely vital resource for Afghanaid, and will help to ensure we can continue to reach those who need it most, and provide vital assistance to the most vulnerable.

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