Christmas in Afghanistan: Still feeling the spirit of giving

Dr Wee Teck Young (right) with student and farmer Abdulai, a member of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, a peacemaking group he set up.
Dr Wee Teck Young (right) with student and farmer Abdulai, a member of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, a peacemaking group he set up. PHOTO COURTESY OF WEE TECK YOUNG

Running an NGO in war-torn Afghanistan comes with its sacrifices

SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - My name is Wee Teck Young. The name the Afghans have given me is Hakim. I am 47.

I am working to set up a tailoring social enterprise, and I assist as the international coordinator of the Afghan Peace Volunteers.

For me, this Christmas and New Year's Day will be normal work days in Afghanistan - Sunday is the second work day of the Afghan week.

Besides, neither Christmas nor New Year's Day (on Jan 1) is celebrated by Afghans.

Christmas has always been a day for me to wish my older brother a happy birthday as he is a Christmas baby.

When I was back in Singapore last month, my parents and I took the opportunity to celebrate his birthday in advance.

On Christmas, I will be calling him, and perhaps sending a short video greeting from me and my Afghan friends.

Sending things to and from Afghanistan is expensive if done by DHL, and unreliable if done through the Afghan postal services. So, I get to bring back dried fruit items such as raisins only when I return to Singapore.

These days, I contact my parents twice a week through WeChat, which I think helps them to worry less for me.

WAR

After all, there is still a war going on in Afghanistan.

In fact, security has deteriorated since I started working in Afghanistan in 2004, when I moved from working among Afghan refugees in the Pakistan border-city of Quetta to Bamiyan Province, where I continued my medical humanitarian work.

My decision to work among Afghans began as an interest in the poverty and corruption prevalent in Central Asian countries. That decision has changed the course of my life, including how Dec 25 and Jan 1 have become less and less of a holiday, and the way I have become more inclined to spend better time with my family and friends back home as well as with my Afghan friends rather than to be busy with buying and accumulating material things.

Relationships have become more important to me through the years. Next year, I hope to begin sharing with Afghans and Singaporeans how relationships have given me richer ways of learning and living.


The author is a Singaporean doctor who has lived in Pakistan and Afghanistan since 2002. He started a non-governmental organisation Our Journey To Smile, later renamed Afghan Peace Volunteers, to promote non-violence. It runs a winter duvet project, through which duvets are produced by Afghan seamstresses to be distributed to poor families in Kabul. He spoke to The New Paper's Elaine Lee on Christmas Eve.